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Ins and outs of online markets

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Expert tips to help you make the buys that best suit your needs without putting safety at risk

Online community marketplaces, such as Facebook Marketplace, can be a wallet-friendly way to furnish your home, but they can be daunting if you don’t know how they work.

Here are guidelines from experts to navigate these forums.

Do your research

If you see something that is too good to be true, chances are it is, says Rob Douglas, a former private investigator and security consultant whose area of expertise is identify theft. Respond to complete ads that list important information such as dimensions, materials, condition, brand and age of the item.

If details are missing, ask questions to determine whether the item is for you. Orlando Soria, a designer and host of HGTV’s Unspouse My House, suggests comparing the price listed in an ad to other retailers to see whether it’s reasonable. For vintage items, call and visit stores that specialise in used furniture. 

For high-value items such as antiques, ask for certificates of authenticity or appraisal. When you see the item in person, closely inspect it from all angles to make sure it’s in good condition (or at least the condition you were expecting) and that it matches the description.

Turn the piece around, look underneath it, open drawers, look at joints and where pieces fit together, and examine the hardware. If there are discrepancies, say so. Do a “squeak test” for furniture and “smell test” for items with fabric. Lean on the piece to see whether it is sturdy and smell upholstered areas. 

Move quickly, but have a plan

If you see something you want, contact the seller as soon as possible. As a seller, it makes sense to offer the item to multiple buyers and see who bites first, which means you could be left behind. uyers should arrange to see items early in the day and be upfront about your interest.

Make sure you know the dimensions of the item. Before you buy, measure doorways, lifts and staircases you’ll need to move through at home.

Protect yourself

No deal is worth compromising your safety, so exercise caution and use common sense. Douglas advises buyers and sellers to familiarise themselves with their chosen platform’s best practices and safety tools.

Facebook offers tips for personal safety and avoiding scams. Report suspicious postings or bad actors to the platform as soon as you see this happening. 

Try to verify who you’re dealing with: If the platform has user accounts, look at the seller’s account to see whether their profile appears legitimate and whether they’ve sold items in the past (Facebook Marketplace lets wouldbe buyers see the seller’s other marketplace activities).

Pull metadata from photos to see where they were posted from to get a general idea of someone’s location. Put photos into a Google Images search to see whether they appear anywhere else. Take a friend with when you look at items.

Tell someone where you’re going, and meet in public spaces during the day to exchange items and payment. Beyond your physical wellbeing, safeguard your personal information. With Facebook Marketplace, much of your key identifying info is available on your profile.

Douglas advises using Facebook’s privacy settings to limit who can see your basic info and to keep contact on Facebook Messenger. Deal in cash only. 

Don’t give out your bank account number, and don’t wire funds.

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