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(Since it may be relevant, I am in the UK.)

There are many sites where people can place items they want to sell to potential buyers. For example, gumtree or facebook marketplace. One potential worry for buyers is that they may buy something (e.g. a phone) with cash off someone on one of these sites, and then have the person make an insurance claim on this item and say it was stolen (or alternatively, the item was stolen to begin with, and the seller gets caught). Then the buyer has lost their money, and (I assume) the item must be returned to the real owner.

My question is, how can a buyer protect themselves from this?


Some thoughts:

To prevent the person from saying I stole it off them, perhaps it would be sufficient for them to give me the receipt they got from the store that they purchased the item from. Another alternative is to only pay by card (not cash), but this significantly reduces the number of items one can purchase, since most sellers seem to accept cash only.

I am not sure how one can prevent against accidentally buying stolen goods other than watching for signs (like the seller being in a rush to sell) and not buying if it seems dodgy.

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  • By the way, I am not sure if there are more appropriate tags. Please feel free to edit anything in if you feel it fits the question well. – John Doe Apr 20 '18 at 19:07
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    Basically you can't. Most people are honest but everyone gets taken once in a while. As you mentioned keep your eyes open for suspicious activity and go with your gut feelings if something doesn't seem right. – kweinert Apr 21 '18 at 13:23
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    The example you cite happened to me on ebay. I realized very late that the seller had reported the phone stolen and got a new one from O2( I confirmed from O2) and I could not raise a dispute on paypal. Paypal is one way to protect yourself, so in case anything goes wrong you have something to work with. A shady seller would try to stay away from Paypal. And gumtree is more or less filled up with fraudsters so be on your guard. And if you pay cash, your only help will be police, but it might be difficult for them to recover your money. – DumbCoder Apr 23 '18 at 8:14
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Simple, take a screenshot of the ad.

You then have evidence that it is the seller who is being dishonest and not you. Better still if you have other evidence such as SMS, emails between you and the seller discussing the price, collection etc.

Should even more evidence be required, ie if someone is trying to take you to court, the platform used, Ebay, Gumtree etc will have useful audit trails that can be used if required.

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You pose two different scenarios here.

If the item is stolen from an innocent victim, then sold to you

I think generally it's probably pretty much impossible to trace down something like this unless it's exceptionally unique in some way. How would they find you, the innocent buyer? The thief has no incentive to report you: they've already offloaded the item and got the cash. Any police reports potentially linking back to them is bad news.

To avoid this, just be sensible. Don't deal with anyone who you know or suspect to be a thief. Other than that, you have done your due diligence. You cannot know for certain that the item is genuine but this is not your ethical responsibility.

If the police somehow manage to recover the item, it will be returned to the original owner which would suck for you but is probably statistically very unlikely.

In this case, the victim's relationship to their insurer does not effect you at all.

If the fraudster reports it as stolen when it wasn't

How often do you think someone would get away with this? They would have to submit a claim to their insurer, who would probably want a police report - the incorrect filing of which is a serious crime. They may also have to pay a premium, eating in to any potential profits. Also, insurers are great at hunting down bogus claims - they have to be because it saves them a lot of money, and they would not uphold these multiple times without a serious investigation.

On your side, if the police come to you accusing you of theft, you just have to hope that the truth will come out in the end. It usually does.

In this case, I reckon the risk of attempting this is just too great to offset any potential financial gain. They would have to deliberately involve two parties, one of which is impartial, and the other has a vested interest in exposing their lies. Fraudsters do not want any part of this. They are cowardly, and deliberately so.

  • "pretty much impossible to trace down something like this" In the case of a phone there are plenty with a "find my phone" app. – DJClayworth Apr 27 '18 at 16:35
  • @DJClayworth I'd personally expect anyone selling a phone to at least do a factory reset, if not for my sake then for their own privacy. It would be pretty suspicious if they left stuff like that still enabled, though I suppose it's not impossible. – Michael Apr 27 '18 at 16:49

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