Caveat emptor is Latin for "Let the buyer beware", and with the growth of
social networking, the need for the buyer to be aware has never been greater.
Since the birth of ebay in 1998, anyone has been able to sell anything they want in
an on-line auction here and elsewhere on the many other "pop-up" auction sites. When Facebook
launched in 2004, it was only a matter of time before people were taking advantage of
social media to sell things on-line to a whole new audience. But what protection is there to
the buyer of anything from a social media website? A recent turn of events on a group on Facebook
led me to investigate further...
A member had bought a car on the strength of an advert posted by the seller. The advert painted
a picture of a car that had been well looked after, had recently had a vast amount of money spent
on it to bring it up to standard, and above all he was an active member of the group. He would
regularly post helpful tips, gave advice when people were struggling. All in all, you could consider
him to be a pillar of the community. In view of this, questions were asked on private messages and
eventually money exchange hands without the car being seen by the buyer. The car was trailed from the
north of England to the buyers home elsewhere.
An initial post of the car arriving on the back of a trailer, opened up a number worrying comments
from other group members. Within a matter of a day, a follow up post was issued by the buyer - advising
of the problems that had occurred with the purchase, and to top it off a break down. The car was
basically in a poor way and should not have been sold.
I know what you're thinking... it was a car they should have known better and gone to look at it
prior to cash changing hands, and yes I agree with you. But it's easy to be taken in by someone who
you think is a trusting member of the community.
A similar thing has happened to me, as ashamed as I am to admit it. A member posted an advert on
a Facebook group, for some alloy wheels they were selling for a Rover 75. Having shown a picture
of them to my Dad, he said he'd like them for his recently purchased 75. I kept an eye on them, and
noted eventually that the price had come down. After an exchange of private messages, I agreed a
revised price - without centre caps to be included, as I'd already secured some for the existing wheels.
We went to collect from the sellers house that afternoon, as he needed them out of the way. All in
all transaction completed successfully, and we were chuffed with our new purchase.
A week or so later, we realised that the centre caps we had bought would not fit the car as the
wheel centre was slightly different. I contacted the seller of the wheels, and asked whether he'd sold
the centre caps. He advised me that he hadn't - and wanted £10 per cap (he was making more on the caps
than he was on the original price with the caps included), a little miffed, we agreed the price as
we needed the caps for the wheels and funds were sent via Paypal using the Friends & Family option.
Having not heard from the seller for a few days, I contacted him to find out if he'd posted the
caps. He advised that he had sent them, and that they should be with me shortly. A week passed, and
I'd still received nothing. Another exchange of messages had occurred assuring me that they had been
sent, and it wasn't the first time parcels sent from this Post Office had been delayed. I was beginning
to feel a little nervous about this transaction... Had the wheel centres been sold before, was there
something else afoot, who knew?
After nearly two weeks, another couple of messages were sent from me to the seller, who has now
chosen to ignore all communications, and requests for proof of postage from the seller. Throughout our
last exchange of messages a refund was agreed and processed by the seller. As the funds were being
requested from his bank account, it required time to clear before it would be available back in my
Paypal account. I sat patiently waiting, in which the seller advised me that the wheel centres had
finally turned back up with him. A few days later the refund failed, so I asked for the centres to be
sent to me (with a view that we'd either have a spare set, or a set to sell). Another week passed, but
finally they arrived. I was lucky, albeit feeling somewhat battered and bruised by the experience.
So, what protection is there for buyers on Facebook? Put very simply, very little. What can you do
to stop yourself falling foul of unscrupulous sellers? We've pulled together some of top tips for
both buyers and sellers:
Top tips for buyers
1. Always see the item you're going to buy (particularly if we're talking about cars).
2. Never do a direct transfer into the sellers bank account.
3. Avoid using the friends & family option when sending funds by Paypal, as there is very little chance of you
receiving a refund if things do go wrong.
4. Try to use a market place such as ebay, that way there are ways and means of being able to dispute
a purchase. It will give you the confidence, and peace of mind that you will actually get your item.
Top tips for sellers
1. Try to avoid the temptation to list items on Facebook etc, if the prospective buyer has
fraudulently hacked into a Paypal account to send you funds - you'll end up loosing the item, and the funds!
2. If you've taken the plunge and listed your item on ebay, be wary of those who ask you to end the auction early
and sell to them. You are not covered by ebay's policies and could therefore end up minus your item, and minus the
3. If you're selling a car, and the buyer has not brought the cash with them, but they want it. Always take a deposit,
and give them a receipt for it. That way, you've got piece of mind that even if they don't come back you've not
unnecessarily paid for advertising that you may have to pay for again. The buyer will also feel more confident if you've
given them a receipt for their deposit. As a rule, a good receipt includes your full name, address, contact telephone
number, details of the vehicle being sold (such as make, model, registration number, colour etc), and your signature.
Whilst not, technically, a legally binding document, there have been cases were buyers have been able to recoup deposits
from sellers if they have tried to do the dirty.
4. Good pictures, and an accurate description are a must for a trouble free sale. Ensure you list any defects accurately,
as knowing about these upfront is less likely to cause issues further down the line.
Finally, whether you are buying or selling the experience should be relatively straight forward and cause you no problems.
Remember, buying and selling has never been so easy, but it is always worth remembering "caveat emptor".