It has come to my attention that there are a number of scammers currently operating on Craigslist and Gumtree. They are offering very high value items and insist on bank transfer payment, before disappearing into the ether. Please beware.
When purchasing any high value item second hand from a distance, it is not easy to ascertain how genuine the sale is. Start by confirming they really own the item. Ask for further photos, maybe a photo with your email address on a post-it note. Go one step further and setup a video Skype call; an easy way for them to show the item, confirm it is working and exists. If you are going to part with several thousand pounds, then the seller should have no qualms putting this extra bit of effort in. That is unless they are dodgy and don’t really have the item.
When it comes to pay, ensure the recipient details of the bank transfer match up with who you have been in contact with. Many organised schemes employ different people for the listing, managing communication, setting up the bank account and finally withdrawing the money. If any aspects of the deal change midway: contact names change, bank account holder names differ etc, then something is likely to be fishy.
Remember with a bank transfer or Western Union transfer, you have no come back. You cannot reverse these and you have no buyer protection. Be very wary using these payment methods. Preferable is PayPal. Granted fees are involved, but they do offer buyer protection (separate to ebay’s buyer protection). I have had to resort to this myself before now. Do double check their terms to ensure your purchase will be covered. Finally, with PayPal, you can pay using Credit Card, which in turn will bring its own protection and insurance.
Ultimately, if you are intending to spend a large sum of money and are also paying a lot for courier/postal insurance, do consider spending a day travelling to collect. Fuel/train fare may not be much more than the courier insurance, plus you have peace of mind in meeting the seller, seeing the item first hand and confirming it is exactly what you expected. But do also be wary of walking into a strangers house in a shady neighbourhood with a few grand cash in pocket! You can always do the bank transfer, whilst at their house after seeing the item (either through phone or online banking).
Be careful out there. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is…