Santander has issued a important warning to all its customers after £7.3 million was lost to purchase scams last year.

On average, a victim of the scam lost £500 to the scams, which see criminals pose as sellers on online marketplaces.

The scammers post fake adverts offering items for sale which are not as described or simply do not exist.

The buyer is encouraged to send the money via a method that does not offer relevant protection such as a bank transfer.

To combat the scam, Santander has teamed up with Gumtree to warn customers what they need to be aware of.

Chris Ainsley, Head of Fraud Risk Management at Santander said: “More than ever, scammers are homing in on our love of grabbing a bargain, whether it’s that ‘impossible’ to come by collectible or a new phone.

“It’s great to see online marketplaces like Gumtree taking strides towards not only removing scam posts from their site but also putting measures in place to stop them appearing in the first place.

"Customers should always be wary of an item for sale that seems too good to be true, but the more that can be done to stop criminals from creating these posts in the first place, the better.”

Joseph Rindsland, Head of Trust & Safety, Gumtree said:“We’ve invested heavily in recent years in technology to prevent scam posts making it to our site and thanks to this, the volume of suspicious listings we’re having to remove is falling month on month.

“But scammers are tenacious, and we still removed tens of thousands of posts in 2023. That’s tens of thousands of opportunities for criminals to take customer’s hard-earned cash, which is why we’re teaming up with Santander to advise our users how they can better protect themselves.”

This is what you need to know about how the scams work:

  • Criminals advertise goods on social media and through listings on genuine selling sites.
  • Once you enquire about the item, the apparent ‘seller’ will often be quite pushy to try and make the sale take place.
  • The seller will usually come up with reasons why you are unable to view the item in person and create a sense of urgency that the item is in high demand to convince you to buy it now.
  • The seller will then ask you to use a payment method that does not offer relevant protection, such as ‘PayPal Friends & Family’ service or through a bank transfer.
  • Once you've paid, you lose contact with the seller and either receive nothing or your purchase arrives, but it is fundamentally different to that advertise.

How to protect yourself from scams

These criminals are very clever, but sometimes warning signs could help you identify them:

Too good to be true?

An item priced under the recommended selling value should always be a red flag. But it doesn’t need to be a high value purchase, criminals will post everything that’s in demand, from that impossible to find collectible figure to the latest sold-out toy.

Shop local

Most selling sites, like Gumtree, can be filtered depending on postcode and location. Shop local, and make sure you see the item in person first. To help protect customers, Santander recently introduced a new fraud warning that won’t allow a customer to make a purchase from Facebook Marketplace, unless they confirm they have seen it in person first.

Stay secure

Always use secure payment methods where you can. PayPal (buying goods) and debit and credit cards can offer more protection than a bank transfer. Any attempts to communicate outside of an official site like Gumtree should also be treated with suspicion.

Slow down

To check whether a seller is genuine, take the time to look at how long the seller has been a member of the selling site for and check out the seller’s profile, including reviews from other buyers.