Citizens’ Advice is warning buyers to beware, as thousands of people are reporting being ripped-off whilst using online marketplaces. Citizens’ Advice received  more than 13,000 complaints about problems with online marketplaces. According to the report, 76% of adults in the UK use online marketplaces. An online marketplace is a website, or app, which facilitates shopping from many different sources. The operator of the marketplace does not own any inventory, their business is to present other people’s inventory to a user and facilitate a transaction. eBay is the ultimate example of an online marketplace; they sell everything to everybody.

As more and more people are using online marketplaces as a preferred method of shopping, Citizens’ Advice is warning consumers about the dangers of using these sites. More than 13,000 people reported problems with shopping on online marketplaces and the average loss for customers was £215. The report also says that 50% of people who had problems, had further issues trying to resolve it. Complaints have increased by 35% over the past 4 years. The research also highlighted the fact most people, when using online marketplaces, didn’t know if they were shopping with a business or an individual seller. In addition, over 50% of customers didn’t know they have fewer rights when purchasing products from a private seller.

If you purchase an item from a private seller it is, unfortunately, a buyer beware principle. The seller is not allowed to mis-describe anything they are selling, but they can omit information. Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said: “Far too many people are being ripped off on online marketplaces. This National Consumer Week, we want to make sure customers know what to look out for when making a purchase – and their rights if something goes wrong. With millions of people trying to find a bargain online, buyers need to beware when purchasing items through online marketplaces. Before clicking the buy button, it is really important people check the product information available otherwise they risk being left out-of-pocket.”

What are your rights when using an online marketplace ?
Your consumer rights depend on whether you bought from an individual seller or a business. If you buy from a trader or retailer then your rights are no different than if you’d bought from any other online store. Some online marketplaces offer protection for buyers, and even if the item you buy is second hand, you have the same rights as if the item were new. When you buy from an individual (as opposed to a retailer), it’s not as uncomplicated. While the goods you get must be as they were described to you by the seller, there’s no obligation on the seller to disclose any faults. But misrepresenting goods isn’t allowed. For example, something second-hand should not be described as new. If it is, the seller will be in breach of contract. If a seller takes your money but doesn’t send you anything, or if a buyer takes your item without paying, this will also be a clear breach of contract.

Here are Citizens Advice’s tips for using online marketplaces:

Check the product details
This should include: photos; a description; cost of the item; delivery charges; contact details for the seller; and any cancellation rights. It should also be clear if it’s being sold by a trader or private seller – this is important as your rights are different. It is wise to read previous reviews as these can often flag potential issues, but watch out for fake reviews. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Take screenshots of the item you want to buy
This will come in handy if the item you receive is different to what you saw on the website.

Use a payment method that protects you
You’ll have a better chance of getting your money back if there’s a problem by using a card or Paypal, particularly if it’s an overseas seller. Avoid paying by bank transfer.

Go back to the seller if there’s a problem
Explain what’s happened, how you’d like them to fix it and give a deadline for them to respond. If they don’t sort it out, see if there’s an alternative dispute determination service that can help. Report them and the online marketplace to Trading Standards if you think the issue is unfair.

Getting your money back from a private seller
The product description needs to be accurate, but if information is missing you won’t be able to ask for your money back. If the item doesn’t match the photos on the website, you may also have grounds to ask for your money back.