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7 Ways To Determine If Your Online Seller Is Legitimate

Updated on May 30th, 2024

Regular readers of the blog will be aware that we’re big fans of online shopping. It’s probably the best platform out there for makers to independently set up shop and sell their creations. It’s also a fabulous marketplace to browse and buy everything from handcrafted trinkets to stunning antiques.

People have made six figures through their online stores, which has prompted a lot of wishful thinkers into believing they can too. Unfortunately, this is where the problems start!

With so much potential to make money online, we’ll all undoubtedly come across sellers that aren’t legitimate. They often sell products that aren’t their own or sell fake products posing as something else. In either case, we’re seeing how people can lose money and get scammed if not careful. 

So, we’ve put together a handy guide to help us all to spot those illegitimate sellers. With this guide, we’ll all know exactly how to tell if a seller is legit or not! 

Check out our top tips to stay safe from scammers:

Check the seller reviews

In this digital age, checking out a restaurant, hair salon, or shop, always begins with reading the reviews. Of course, Etsy displays a star rating with every product listing, showing a general overview of how well-received a seller is or not. We recommend checking out sellers with less than 4 stars, which might seem harsh, but it’s not difficult to achieve good ratings on a marketplace like Etsy.

Brands simply have to sell good-quality products at affordable prices, while offering a great customer experience. If they’re dropping in the 3 or 2-star ranges, there’s a problem. Reviews allow us to hear from people who have bought the products, and help to determine if they are authentic. A combination of looking through the seller’s store description and reviews, will enable shoppers to find genuine sellers of branded products. 

To investigate further, make sure to read reviews for the store itself, rather than the specific product. It’s important to look at what people are saying, and if there are lots of reviews with no comments, there might be something fishy going on.

Search for a seller with a good chunk of reviews, most of which are positive. It’s helpful to try and find any negative reviews, so we can see why people have left low ratings. Unfortunately, for some legit sellers, people do leave reviews for things out of their control – like shipping times. 

For example, if everyone says that the goods are fake or arrive damaged, and they don’t allow refunds, that’s a massive red flag! However, if recurrent comments about the same issues are mentioned in negative reviews, perhaps this is just a bad seller.

Sort reviews by newest, not recommended

This is another tip relating to reviews, and although it’s a simple one, it can make a huge difference. By default, Etsy shows a set of recommended reviews. Usually, these are the best reviews a shop has been given within the last week or so, which can give a skewed view of what people think of the seller.

All they need to do is create fake accounts and leave positive reviews to influence buyers into seeming legit. Sorting by the newest reviews will show every single review that’s been posted. It gives a more balanced look, which could reveal some negative reviews that were previously hidden by the recommended setting.

Check for specific certifications or licenses

There are a lot of products that can be sold online that don’t require any certifications to make them legitimate. For instance, people can create their own Christmas decorations and sell them with no issues at all. Typically, licenses or certifications are more of an issue when someone is selling products made by a specific brand. For example, a lot of people go on Etsy to find YETI products. To know whether a seller is truthfully selling YETI products, look at their store description and see if it says they’re a “licensed YETI dealer.” 

Saying this, and here’s where things get a little complicated, sellers technically don’t need a license to sell branded products on Etsy. So, it’s kind of back to square one in figuring out if someone is legit or not, by reading the store description to see if they mention that the products are 100% legitimate or not. If they don’t, that’s a bit of a red flag.

What’s more, there’s definitely an issue with certifications for some products on Etsy – mainly those relating to the medical field. The best example of this is back in 2020 when the coronavirus pandemic first burst onto the scene. Everyone started panicking and looked for ways to protect themselves. The mask mandate came out, leading floods of people to start selling face masks on Etsy.

According to reports from Business Insider in 2020, over 300 listings for n95 respirator masks were listed on Etsy for ridiculous prices. Unfortunately, the majority of these listings were not genuine, because the masks didn’t come with the certification listed by the CDC to protect against viruses. As a result, lots of people were scammed into buying N95 masks, when really they were getting something that didn’t protect them at all. 

It’s one of the biggest examples of sellers on Etsy taking advantage of naive buyers. But, this can thankfully be avoided by checking to see if a product listing has the right certification – if a certification is needed. So, the onus is on buyers to check if something comes with a certification or not. A bit of online research will help to find the answer, and then we can look at sellers on Etsy to see if they display that certification. If they don’t, it’s a good idea to avoid them.

Use secure payment methods

Regular Etsy shoppers will know that almost all sellers offer PayPal and other credit/debit card payment options. Some even offer things like Klarna, which gives customers the option to pay in installments. 

If a seller offers limited payment methods, alarm bells should start ringing. PayPal has become standard practice on Etsy, because it is the most secure transaction method for both buyers and sellers. Any financial disputes with a seller will almost always result in a refund if paid via PayPal. So, if the option isn’t there, it isn’t as safe.

Etsy sellers that aren’t legitimate will usually only accept debit card payments, because this way, it’s easy for them to get paid and refuse to give it back. Keep an eye on this, and be sure to use PayPal whenever buying something on Etsy, to be on the safe side. 

Another thing to note regarding payments is that Etsy can force a refund on certain products. So, if a person becomes worried that they’ve been scammed or lured in by an illegitimate seller, contact Etsy directly to try and get a refund. 

Try talking to the seller

One of the great things about Etsy is that it gives customers a direct line to the seller. When looking at a product to purchase, scroll down to see the ‘Meet your sellers’ tab on the right side of the screen. Here, there should be a button to message the seller, along with some information on how long they usually take to reply. 

A seller that doesn’t let shoppers contact them isn’t doing a good job. Or, if after contacting them they don’t reply, that’s another bad sign. Sellers that send aggressive replies or refuse to respond to specific questions about the legitimacy of their products, are probably not worth it.

One of the easiest ways to ensure a seller is legit is talking to them directly. A message or two is all it takes to feel confident that a product is from a legitimate seller. 

Look at the seller’s policies

All Etsy sellers have policies that relate to things like returns and exchanges, and it’s very important to look through these before making a purchase, to check their policy on returns or canceled orders. 

Realistically, legit sellers are going to allow returns, refunds, and cancellations on orders. They should also offer exchanges, which shows that they’re willing to let customers swap items or get a refund on a dissatisfactory product. Sellers that don’t accept returns or cancellations should be viewed with some scrutiny. 

This includes food products and other intimate items, which are harder for sellers to exchange or accept returns on.

In instances like this, it doesn’t necessarily mean a seller is fake if they don’t accept returns. What we’re talking about are sellers who have no reason not to allow cancellations, refunds, and returns, yet have a policy where they don’t accept them. It can be confusing, but it’s often easy to tell when a seller is legitimate or not based on their policies for the products they sell. 

Check the photos

This is a fundamental rule when shopping on any online marketplace. Whether it’s Etsy or Depop, always look at the photos posted by the seller. They reveal a lot about both the products and the seller and allow us to quickly pinpoint when someone might not be genuine.

Good photos will show the products in as much detail as possible, from multiple angles, showing dimensions and size comparisons. They should also look like photos that have been taken by the seller, rather than pulled from a different website.

It’s possible to actually check this by searching using Google Images Search. Right-click on an image in the listing and save it to your computer. Next, upload the image to Google Images Search. If the search pulls up the exact same images from different websites, it could indicate that the seller is falsely passing stuff off as handmade, when they’re in fact buying from elsewhere and drop shipping it to make a profit. 

Also, the general quality of photos will show if someone is legit or not. If the photos are all poor quality and rushed, avoid buying from that person. It may seem harsh, but legit sellers will take the time to capture great product photos for buyers. 

Summary: How can I tell if a shop is legit?

The bad news is that there isn’t one single place we can go to check if a shop is legit. The way the website is set up allows anyone to create a shop and start selling goods. However, the tips and checks we have listed above will help us all to see if a seller is safe to buy from.

We encourage everyone to go through each check before feeling confident enough to buy. Yes, it’s a lot of effort, but it helps us all to avoid scams and shop with confidence. 

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