How to avoid getting scammed on large purchases

Carlton Boyce / 18 January 2016

Don't get caught out by scammers when buying high value items or making large purchases.

Trust but verify was the guiding principle adopted by both sides during arms limitation negotiations between the United States and Russia in the 1980s. 

Frankly, if it’s good enough to ensure world peace during the dying days of the Cold War, it’s probably good enough to be used as your motto when buying high-value items.

Here’s our guide to stop you getting scammed.

Research the company

Your first port of call should be to check that the company actually exists. 

Review sites like Trustpilot and Yelp are a great source of information, using crowd-sourced reviews to give you an honest and unbiased view of the company you are dealing with. 

Of course, if you’re dealing with an online retailer like eBay or Amazon, there is a buyer review sitting there for you to read (plus a host of safety nets in place to protect you).

Other things you can check quickly and easily include the company’s address if you are buying over the phone or internet. 

Read our guide to spotting a scam email.

You are looking for a physical address, rather than a P.O. Box, and Google Street View will show you the actually building: is it the sort of place you would be comfortable walking in to and handing over a wad of money? If not, you shouldn’t be shopping with them – even remotely.

Finally, you can check a company’s status online through Companies House. This gives a wealth of information, including the names of the directors. 

The prudent will Google the names of the directors too: I’ve done this and once discovered that the man I’d been dealing with had criminal convictions for fraud and his company owed significant sums. Needless to say, I spent my £3,000 elsewhere…

Have you heard about the petrol and rings scam?

Google the phone number

An even quicker way to check a company or individual is to Google the telephone number. You’ll be surprised at how often you’ll get a hit that links to a warning.

Google the seller’s name

This is a simple way to check out a private seller. Nine times out of ten you’ll draw a blank, but when you do get a hit it’s rarely good news.

Buying a second hand car? Read our guide to scams to avoid.

Pay with a credit card

If you are buying something, then paying with your credit card gives you extra protection under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act.

As long as you’ve paid a minimum of £100 on your card, section 75 makes the credit card company equally liable for any losses you might incur, something that is worth remembering when you’re buying a high-value item.

Consider PayPal

PayPal gives similar protection and can be useful if you are buying from an individual and so can’t use your credit card.

Read our guide to shopping safely on eBay.

Escrow accounts

Never pay into an escrow account. There are, I’m sure, legitimate escrow accounts out there, but many are not and there is simply no reason to ever use one.

Don’t read the fine print

If there is a lot of fine print to read and agree to, then it might well be a scam. Think about it: you don’t go through that rigmarole when you’re buying from M&S, do you? If they’ve put fine print in there you can guarantee there’s a scam buried in it somewhere.

Watch out for scammers in supermarket car parks...

Use your intuition

Finally, use your intuition. We’ve evolved over millions of years into the most adaptable and successful animals that have ever walked the face of the earth and we’ve done so by having a finely tuned sense of danger, so if a deal feels wrong, or just looks too good to be true, it probably is and you should just walk away.

Have you got any tips on how to avoid being scammed when you’re buying high-value items? If so, we’d love to hear about them in the comments section below!

For more useful tips and information, browse our money articles.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.