Staying vigilant when buying online

As promised in my previous post, I will be sharing how scammers make use of online marketplace platform to scam unknowing buyers. Most of the content below are derived from my experience in running GameTrader.SG and GadgetTrader.SG.

Rise of consumer-to-consumer trading platform

A few years back, Yahoo Auction was arguably the king of online trading platform in Singapore. Even Ebay was not a strong competition to Yahoo Auction at that time. Online classified such as 88db and GumTree were always there too but they never gained critical mass or become super popular. Yahoo Auction Singapore was then shut down in 2008 and the popularity of C2C marketplace declined.

Fast forward to today, there are now many platforms for people to buy and sell their stuff. Amongst them are general trading platforms such as Carousell, Qoo10 and the recent Trezo by SPH. There are also more dedicated ones like SgCarMartGameTrader.SG and GadgetTrader.SG which cater to a specific genre of items.

Of course the most impressive platform is none other than Carousell which raised $6M late last year and have experienced tremendous growth in terms of user base.

Most sellers on these platform are genuine individuals. However, online scams are on the rise and the authorities have even created website to educate the public. You may think that you are an experienced online shopper and you will not fall for such scams. You maybe wrong.

Tell tale signs of a scammer

a) Price of goods is un-un-un-believably cheap

The most easy give-away of a scammer which most people tends to ignore is goods sold at ridiculously cheap price.

Cheap PS4

For example, you saw this ad online on a PS4 that cost only SGD400. A quick google will reveal that a typical PS4 would cost above $500. Furthermore the set is brand new! Sounds too good to be true? Yes it is too good to be true!

Typically the seller will only contact you via email or private message (if it is present in the trading platform) so as to hide his identity. He will ask you to transfer the money to a bank account and promise to deliver the goods to you.

After some time, you realised that the item did not reach you. So you contacted the seller again and he mentioned that the item is stuck at the custom and he would need you to transfer more money to him. And so you did. Soon after you realised that you have been conned, you tried to contact the seller again but there will be no more replies. A police report is your next best option.

How to avoid

To prevent yourself from getting scammed, always checked the market price of the item of interest before committing to any purchase. If the price is way lower than market price, exercise caution. Ask for a meet-up and before making the payment.

b) Seller uses only email to contact you and not via mobile number

The next tell tale sign of a scammer is his mode of contact. Typically, reputable sellers and shops are more than willing to contact you via mobile number since it is the fastest and simplest mode of contact. As such contact numbers are traceable by the police, scammers would prefer to use anonymised mode of contact such as email or any private messaging system on the platform.

If you asked for the contact number and the seller refused to share, it may be best to walk away from the deal.

c) Making payments via Paypal/Alipay or even bank account

Other methods includes payment via facilities such as Paypal and Alipay. A scammer will typically ask you to make top-up to their accounts as mode of payment. Unless you are very sure that the seller is reputable, refrain from doing that.

Transferring money to bank accounts are generally traceable. There have been a few cases where scammers asked buyers to transfer money to a bank account. Turns out that the bank account belongs to companies that have a prepaid wallet system. Some websites such as 65daigou allow their user to transfer money into their bank account as a form of top up for their digital wallet. The credits within the wallet can then be withdrawn by their user or used for purchases. An email is all it takes to create a user account on such sites. So do not think that bank transfer are fully traceable.

Transferring money to foreign banks may be even more difficult for the police to take action. So think twice before sending money overseas.

How to avoid

The best way to avoid such scam is to do cash-on-delivery. Pay in cash only upon seeing the goods. Meeting up the seller is recommended. If you really need to do bank account transfer, you can do a quick google of the bank account number that was passed to you. A private bank account should not appear on any websites.

d) User rating

This is a bit of a no brainer. Of course you would want to deal with someone with a good user rating on the platform. However, you should also be mindful that not all ratings may be genuine. There is nothing to stop a scammer from creating multiple accounts. Use the ratings as a guideline but not as a foolproof way of filtering out scammers.

User rating

Always stay vigilant

I know this article may sounds like a message from the police but I can assure you that I am not working in the police force. Coming from an operator of online marketplace platform, I feel really bad whenever I received emails from the users that they have been scammed on my platform. While we have messages to warn user of potential scammers, some time the system may fail to pick up such individuals. It will still be best for our users to understand how such scammers operate and avoid them.

As we get more accustomed to transacting online, we should always stay alert and be mindful that there will always be scammers out there in the wild. So the next time you buy anything online, check and double check the credential of the seller before you make the purchase.


Disclaimer: The writer operates both the GameTrader.SG and GadgetTrader.SG platform in Singapore.

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Price to pay when you put too much trust in e-commerce – My lesson with

Have you just purchased something from a website call Olaprice? If so, please check your bank statement regularly to make sure that they don’t charge you a $88 Ola Premium membership fee.

“What $88? I have only purchase a $13.40 bluetooth headset and know nothing about this $88 membership.” Or so I thought. You may have unknowingly be mislead into this ‘purchase’. This is what happened to me.

It all started with a Facebook sponsored post regarding a flash deal similar to the one below:

Ola Price Deal...

According to the Facebook page, some of my friends have liked Olaprice. Maybe they have purchased something from the site before. Alright, I think I will buy this item from them. (I have actually purchased a bluetooth headset from the site but couldn’t find the post anymore, so I am using a random power bank example).

Friends maybe victims too.

Clicking on the post will bring you to I added the item to my cart and checkout.

Next, I did a quick scan of possible telltale signs of a legitimate e-commerce site:

  • Design and appearance seems legitimate for an e-commerce site (big mistake…). 
  • SSL cert checked (the little lock that appears beside the URL marks a secure transaction).
  • Final amount checked.

Alright, seemed ok to enter my credit card number. Given no other payment options such as Paypal, I entered my credit card number into the form without much doubt.

SSL Cert Check

To my horror, when I was checking my credit card bill a few weeks later, I found a charge of $88 from a merchant called OLA P.

Secret $88 charge

I called up OCBC immediately and found out that it was a charge from a miscellaneous merchant. Remembering my purchase from weeks ago, I thought something is amiss with my previous purchase from

A quick google returned a hardwarezone discussion on an alleged scam and also this Facebook page on Streetdeal (somehow related to Olaprice I guess). I went back to the site and try to go through the purchase flow to see what I have missed out. This is what I saw:

Hidden $88

There is indeed a little checkbox which is checked by default regarding a quarterly charge for Premium membership! And the best part is the charge is not included in the total price! This is a very misleading for the consumer!

I quickly file a dispute with Olaprice through OCBC and was advised to terminate this card. The bank will issue another card with different number to prevent this rogue merchant from charging me again. Despite the inconvenience, I relented as I would not want Olaprice to be charging me again without my knowledge.

Some of you may wonder, isn’t there an OTP (one-time-password) send to your phone for credit card transaction? The answer is yes, only if the merchant turn it on as well. So apparently, Olaprice did not turn on the OTP feature of credit card for obvious reason.

Lessons learnt from this incident:

  • Never give your credit card details readily to any site. Use facility such as Paypal if possible
  • Not all E-commerce site is reputable. Check and double check. Never look just at the appearance. Even if your friend like their page, it may not be legit. They themselves could be victims.
  • Always check your credit card statement every month.

Till today, I have yet to receive the bluetooth headset. Olaprice have yet to give me a reply on the refund.

Where is my bluetooth headset
Where is my bluetooth headset?
Are you also a victim? Share this article with your friends so that others will not fall for this scam again.

In the next post, I will share with you other scams on the internet.

 **UPDATE JULY 2015**

Finally after close to 2 months, I have gotten my refund from Olaprice. If you are a victim too, please raise a fraud case to your bank quickly. You may be able to get your money back. By the way, my earphone came but is now broken after a month of use. 


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