How to Avoid Being Scammed When Buying Used Bikes

I fell for my first and only fraud while searching online for concert tickets to a sold-out show. I sent the money for tickets via PayPal after speaking with the seller in the comments section of the show’s Facebook events page (and ignoring all the red signals). I never heard from her again. That day, I learned a $20 lesson: When shopping online for used items, even on sites with buyer and seller protections, the onus is primarily on you to protect yourself against scammers.

Consumers reported almost 173,000 incidents of online retail fraud to the Federal Trade Commission (PDF) in 2019; it was the third most common type of complaint, trailing only impostor scams and telephone scams. Being alert while purchasing and selling on a third-party resale website is critical since “often, these frauds take money that the consumer knowingly transfers from a bank account,” according to Eric Coakley, a Denver-based consumer protection attorney. As a result, if you’ve been duped, you have virtually little legal redress.

Whether you’ve been misled in the past (and want to prevent being duped again) or haven’t been duped in the past (and want to avoid being duped in the future), you should always exercise caution when browsing a resale site. Here are several steps you can take to safeguard yourself, along with recommendations for resale sites that Wirecutter team members utilize.

Use a reputable resale website

Conduct your own background investigation on the website you intend to use before purchasing or selling anything online. Depop, ThredUp, and Poshmark, all of which specialize in apparel and accessory sales, authenticate vintage and designer items to ensure purchasers are getting the real deal. Additionally, The RealReal, a luxury consignment site, takes great care to check the authenticity of high-end items. Local apps such as Nextdoor, OfferUp, and Letgo forego internet payments in favor of in-person transactions as a security measure. Facebook Marketplace and eBay allow you to purchase and sell products locally or online, with the latter offering fraud protection. Swappa, a technology sales platform, demands verification photos—photos of the object, as well as a handwritten unique code sent to the seller by Swappa. Bicycle Bluebook, an online marketplace for used bicycles, mandates all sellers to disclose serial numbers, which serve as validation and evidence that the bike has not been reported stolen.

If possible, meet in person

Local or neighborhood applications and websites such as Nextdoor and Facebook Marketplace encourage in-person transactions whenever possible. If you buy and sell in person, it’s more difficult to be duped: as a buyer, you can inspect the product before handing over the money; as a seller, you may pocket the cash immediately. Additionally, you will not have to worry about missing or damaged deliveries. Simply ensure that you take all necessary precautions prior to the exchange, such as meeting in a public location—many police stations offer rendezvous areas. It’s also a good idea to inform a friend or family member about your plans.

Use a resale website that includes seller safeguards

When selling anything online, you’re always at danger of dealing with an unscrupulous buyer, which is why it’s critical to verify that the site you’re using is looking out for your best interests. Poshmark, for example, will give the seller a pre-paid shipping label only after the customer has paid for the item; thereafter, the site operates as a middleman between the seller and the buyer, withholding payment until the buyer accepts the item. Depop urges merchants to wait until payment has cleared before shipping things; if a buyer cancels the transaction after it has been completed, the seller can make a claim, and Depop will address the issue to USPS or PayPal. For sellers who have not been paid, eBay recommends submitting an unpaid-item case through the site’s resolution center; the seller will instantly receive a credit for the unpaid item if the case is resolved without the buyer paying.

Always make or receive payments as a buyer via the website or app

Numerous resale websites incorporate security measures to safeguard their consumers, but only when payments are made through their websites. When evaluating resale apps and websites, carefully examine their buyer protection policies; you’ll want to search for companies that offer a complete refund if an item does not arrive, is not as advertised, or arrives damaged. Thorin Klosowski, Wirecutter’s lead editor for privacy and security, recommends that you always transfer payments by credit card (rather than debit card). “That way, it will be easier to monitor fraud,” he says, adding that you will be able to freeze your account and file a fraud complaint with the credit card provider if something goes wrong.

Don’t ignore red flags

Once you’ve initiated contact with a vendor or buyer, take note of anything unusual. “If someone makes unusual requests, refuses to answer basic inquiries, communicates solely outside the app, or requests a deposit, those are red flags,” says Jonathan Lowe, vice president of corporate communications and public relations at Letgo, a neighborhood resale app. Additionally, be suspicious of anyone who requests payment (or requests payment from you) in an unusual or sophisticated manner, such as with gift cards or money orders. Any seller who suggests that you may obtain an item cheaper or faster by paying through a means other than the resale app you’re using (such as bank transfers, PayPal, or another app method) is likely defrauding you as well, according to Dominic Rose, Depop’s COO.

Consider the user profile in detail

Users are required to create a profile on the majority of resale websites. Before concluding a transaction, review the information contained in that person’s profile. It should be comprehensive, with all fields filled up and a photograph of the user included. Numerous websites allow users to offer feedback on a buyer or seller; go through these reviews for possible red flags. “This can be a critical indicator of a transaction’s success,” explains Ashley Settle, a senior manager at eBay. “You’ll see when the user last sold something and what consumers had to say about their experience.” If you come across anything that appears suspicious, seek out another buyer or seller.

Inquire about product photographs

Additionally, request that the seller add anything in the photo to demonstrate that it was taken lately, such as a sticky note with your name or the date next to the item you wish to purchase. If they are unable or unwilling to comply with your request, you should take your business elsewhere. When purchasing a more expensive antique, vintage, or luxury item, Rose from Depop recommends always requesting certificates of authenticity, serial numbers, and photographs of labels and stitching to guarantee you’re getting the genuine article.

Always inform the authorities of the scammer

If you believe a buyer or seller is taking advantage of others, notify the website’s administrators. Some sites allow you to report a user directly; others require you to email the user’s details to an email address. If you believe you have been a victim of a scam, Coakley recommends filing a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission and your local attorney general, as well as filing a police report. Though those agencies typically lack the resources necessary to investigate every complaint, Coakley notes that complaints are recorded in a database; the number of complaints about a particular scam is one of the factors an agency considers when deciding whether to devote resources to investigating it.

Bear in mind those phrases

Nowadays, many individuals purchase used bicycles online. After all, it is possible to score a wonderful deal, as many individuals purchase bikes with the best of intentions but never use them. However, if you’re considering purchasing a used bike, there are a few things to keep in mind while purchasing a used bike online.

“I’m not very knowledgeable about bicycles.”

Keep an eye out for this because it could mean: “I know the bike is total crap, so I’m going to pretend ignorance so you don’t call back and yell at me when it falls apart.”

Of course, it could simply mean they don’t know anything about bikes – which is fine if you do.

“The photo doesn’t show a saddle, but I have one/you can get one for a really low price.”

This most likely means “it’s stolen.” (Because some people remove their saddles when they park their bikes to deter bike thieves, which unfortunately does not always work.)

“The photo doesn’t show a front wheel, but I have one/you can get one for a really low price.”

“It’s been stolen.” (Because some people remove their front wheels when they park their bikes to deter bike thieves, but this doesn’t always work.)

“It’s hardly ever used!” or “I’ve only ridden four times!”

There could be a very good reason why it hasn’t been used much. And the reason could be that it’s a bad bike. And if the current owner despises it so much, why would you want to spend money on a bike you don’t want to ride?

BUT, if they have a compelling reason not to ride it, such as back surgery, that’s a different story. Let’s not forget that many people buy bikes with the intention of cycling and getting in shape, but then don’t. That, of course, will not happen to you!

“I have to sell this bike today!”

“It’s been stolen.”

“Must GO!”

“It’s unquestionably stolen.

”“Rare!” “Vintage!” “Seldom discovered!”

Typically, these sentences imply that there is nothing positive to say about the bike, with the vendor hoping that you will feel it is a rare find that you should get before anybody else does… Moreover, in general, the bike is not uncommon, as you will quickly discover if you conduct additional Internet research. Certain vendors appear to believe that the word “old” is spelt “v-i-n-t-a-g-e.”

When are these dealers going to comprehend that an old, worthless bike is still worthless? Simply because it has been collecting dust in their garage for 50 years does not mean it has magically transformed into a “vintage” bike worth hundreds of dollars. Almost every motorcycle advertisement I’ve ever seen had the phrase “vintage,” which simply meant “old.”

Of course, excluding all bikes labeled “vintage” would be problematic if you are seeking for a genuine vintage motorcycle (and there are sometimes some of these for sale online). Once again, it’s a matter of conducting research to validate the seller’s assertion.