Last updated on October 15th, 2023
So you’re looking to buy a used appliance? This guide will help you avoid being scammed when looking to buy an appliance on Facebook marketplace, Gumtree, eBay or most other online marketplace platforms. I’ve written it in the context of Melbourne, Australia. I’m sure many of the lessons will apply universally, but there’s likely some that won’t. Before coming on board at Whybuy, I sold hundreds of used appliances. I met all the players, learnt all the dirty tricks, heard many customers’ stories, and fell prey to most of these scams myself.
If you don’t want the hassle of buying, don’t want to deal with scams, dishonesty, breakdowns, delivery, and don’t feel the compulsion to own things – consider Whybuy. You’ll get better value the more appliances you have, and delivery is free to the inner suburbs of Melbourne. We don’t have lock in contracts – you can return the appliances whenever you want without cost. We’re very cost competitive against buying new, and depending on how you value your time (cleaning, delivery, inspecting), and how you assess the risks (property damage moving in, risk of being scammed etc) – we are very competitive against buying used as well. A washer dryer and fridge starts at less than $15 a week for all three!
If you want to go ahead with buying second hand, in this article we will cover how to identify scammers and dodgy professionals so you can get the best value for your money while reducing your chances of being duped. We’ll cover the different types of sellers, how likely each one is to scam you, and how to identify any red flags before you hand over any money.
Before we go onto that there are two basic rules that apply to all sellers:
- Always inspect at the sellers premises. A seller who knows you can’t find them after the fact is more likely to scam you.
- Never agree to meet at a third location (often McDonalds) for an inspection and swap. If the seller is pushing for this, often they have picked up a nice looking machine from hard rubbish, they’re selling it as working, without testing it at all. A nice looking machine on hard rubbish is almost certainly faulty.
Types of sellers
Let’s look at the three different types of sellers and who is most likely to scam you.
- Top tier retailers or trade sellers who offer credit/debit card payments are the least likely to scam you. Most banks offer a chargeback service so it deters dishonest retailers from offering this payment option, making it easier you to spot the good sellers from the bad. You will likely pay the most for your appliance with these more reputable companies. A 1% chance or lower if you pay with your credit or debit card.
- A private seller is also very unlikely to scam you however you do run a 5%-10% chance. They will be the cheapest or most expensive as they don’t know what the appliance is worth, so will either under price or over price the item.
- A retailer or trade seller who does not offer credit/debit card payment, requiring only cash or bank transfer as payment is the most likely to rip you off. There is 20%-30% chance of this happening. You will generally pay more than a private seller and less from a one that accepts credit card payments however you will receive some kind of warranty, varying degrees of cleanliness and delivery options.
The private seller
A private seller is just a regular person with an appliance they no longer want. The private seller can offer the best value, because they are the most likely to over or undervalue the appliance. To work out whether you’re dealing with a private or retail seller, ask if they have any other appliances to look at, as usually a private seller won’t have multiples of the same item. You can also check their store or commerce profile. Read their reviews as well if possible, as the better the feedback the less likely you will be scammed. They are also unlikely to be dishonest if you meet them at their house as most people don’t want someone they’ve wronged showing up at their door later down the track. The usual scam you will get with a private seller is that the appliance works, but it doesn’t work properly. It might be really loud. Or a leaky seal on a dishwasher. Just a little bit broken. And they won’t tell you. Other times but more rarely, the appliance will be completely broken. Often if there is an issue with the appliance, the seller will also be selling it cheaper than it should be – probably out of guilt. They don’t feel so bad as to not sell you their faulty machine, but they will often sell it much cheaper than it would usually be worth. So if it’s cheap – be a bit wary. The only way to minimise your risk with the private seller is to see the appliance running and doing a few basic tests.
Basic appliance tests
- For all appliances – Unplug the machine and run the power cord through your closed hand feeling for any breaks or tears.
- For a TV – Turn it on make sure the volume works and the screen is good with no stripes or dead pixels.
- For a washer – Turn it on – empty – any cycle – watch it fill. Make sure it stops filling by itself. Once filled, turn knob to spin cycle. Watch it drain. Watch it spin for at least 5 minutes (Is it loud?). Now some washers sound like jets taking off on spin, but they are largely older models. If you’re looking at an empty direct drive or inverter model it should be very quiet on spin without any clothes.
- For a fridge – Make sure its cold. Ask the seller to make sure its on for you before you get there. If its off, turn it on and let it run for 15 minutes, leave doors shut. It should feel cold in the freezer. Check the seals aren’t ripped or torn, especially at the bottom near the ground. Make sure you run your hand along the bottom of a fridge door seal before you buy it, you’ll feel any tears Look for cracked plastic door shelves – often expensive or impossible to replace. Check the light works, especially if LED. There’s a lot of ways to scam someone with a fridge, but unfortunately not many tests you can run to protect yourself.
- For a dryer – Turn it on – empty – on a time dry cycle– and let it run for 5 minutes. Make sure the drum turns, and the dryer heats up. A common trap and a very common fault here is that the motor capacitor is shot and the motor struggles to start turning. If you turn the dryer on and off quickly, letting the drum stop rotating in between, you may get it so that the drum won’t start spinning at all and you will just hear an electrical buzzing – that’s a capacitor failure, which is a relatively easy and cheap fix, but if its just a cheap vented dryer, will likely cost more than what you pay for the dryer to have repaired.
If a private seller won’t let you see the appliance running is doesn’t have to be a deal breaker, just make sure it’s cheap enough to be worth the risk.
Why is offering credit or debit card payment so important?
Paying with a card that allows you to request a chargeback from your bank mitigates much of the risk of dodgy sellers – and for this reason dishonest sellers won’t offer this payment option. It’s important even if you opt to pay with cash or bank transfer to one of these sellers, which I do not recommend. Always pay with credit or debit card if you can when buying an appliance. If you pay this way, and the seller refuses to honour a warranty issue or is being in any way difficult, you just request a chargeback from your bank, and in almost every case, the bank will claw the money back from the seller and refund it into your account, while also charging the seller a fee for the privilege. It’s relatively easy to do do a chargeback, only taking 5-30 minutes depending on your bank. Paying with cash does not give you this guarantee, and neither does a bank transfer as the seller has to agree to return the funds, which they will never do.
The professional seller
As previously mentioned, the more reputable sellers will offer credit/debit card payment options – just look for the card terminal or ask if you can with a credit or debit card. There’s not much more to it than that. They are the least likely to scam you, but the most expensive. Now, we will concentrate on those retailers who do not offer card payment. About 70% of these sellers will not be dodgy. That leaves you with a 1 in 3 chance of getting scammed if you go in blind with one of these sellers. You might wonder why you’d bother with these riskier retailers. They are cheaper than the retailers offering card payments, and generally when you’re buying second hand, its not because you want to spend any more than you’d need to on appliances or you’d just buy new. They offer deliveries and warranties unlike most private sellers. You can often get a fridge, washer, dryer, and TV in one place. Maybe you’ve driven across town only to find yourself in one of these guys warehouse. There are many reasons.
There are two main types of dodgy:
- Unprofessional: A person with little to no training who doesn’t really know what they’re doing.
- Scammer: An person who is outright scamming you into buying a completely untested appliance, or a known broken appliance, or a completely non existent appliance.
The scammer is pretty self explanatory, however the unprofessional warrants more explanation. They make a tonne of mistakes and their workmanship is poor and often unsafe. Most in the industry are self taught – and in this – most were unprofessional at the start. Given time and enough machines to practice on they might become professionals. Many never progress though. They just want to take the money and do the least work possible, not bothering to try and learn and understand appliances better. They just want to make a quick buck! You don’t want to buy a potentially unsafe, improperly tested, and badly repaired machine from a guy whose just learning – from themselves! Delivery drivers subcontracted by reputable retailers are often culprits. They deliver new appliances to customers and take away the broken ones, repair, then on sell them.
They often have little interest in after sales service. Their warranties are usually lies, as when you experience issues with your appliance once paid for, they will block your messages or dodge your calls. When you show up at their warehouse, and speak to the very same person who sold you the machine, you will often be told that they are merely an intermidiary – it was their friend’s machine you have bought. Its a common scam. It is his friend you need to contact to sort out the warranty. Unfortunately there is no fixed address and the friend can only be reached by phone. You give up trying to contact them and are stuck with a faulty appliance. It is important then, that you find yourself an actual professional who sells you a properly tested and repaired appliance, and if they’ve made a mistake or there’s been an oversight – they actually honour their warranty by repairing the machine or refunding you.
Allow me to give you an anecdote to drive my point home here. I once watched as an unprofessional did this very thing while a very upset young man threatened to beat him with a trolley pole (which he had in his hand) after he had been sold a very expensive and very broken washer and dryer. The man who sold him the appliance was vehement in the face of having his head beaten in with a trolley pole, that the young man needed to talk to his friend, whose appliance it was. Imagine that – selling someone a dodgy appliance, and in the face of having your skull cracked open you neither call the police, nor agree to give the money back. Now I didn’t know this next part until a few days later when one of my friends from another appliance business told me – It was actually his friend’s appliance – a known scammer – but his friend was sitting 50 metres away out the back when this went down. The moral of the story is this – Once these guys have your money, you’re not getting it back.
So how do you avoid the scammers and unprofessionals?
You should try and find an appliance guy or gal and maintain a relationship with them. Once you have one, you can just keep going back to them. The best way to find your trustworthy appliance person is really simple in theory – by referral. Do you have friends or family in your city? Colleagues? Neighbours? Ask them if they have bought a second hand appliance, and if they’ve had any issues. Ideally find someone who did have an issue, but it was remedied quickly and without hassle by the seller. A good seller will have a warranty claim rate of about 5 percent. Once you find them – save their number so you can go back to them next time. I used to focus mostly on fridges, but I was more than happy to pass on the numbers of reputable professionals for other appliances.
If you can’t find someone from a trusted referral you can at least find out if they are likely to honour their warranty. I have a trick that helps you sort this out before you even go to inspect the appliance. This trick works better with two people with access to the same listing. Firstly determine if they’re a retailer. Instead of asking “Is this available?” Ask “Do you have other appliances for sale, or only this one?” If they respond that they do have other appliances available, you know its likely a retailer. Now share the listing to a friend and have them write to the reseller “Hey mate, I bought an appliance off you a month ago, and I’m having an issue with it, can you come take a look.” If there’s no response, I’d absolutely go elsewhere. If you have the sellers phone number this trick works better, and you don’t need two people. Simply send them an SMS stating you have a warranty issue from an appliance you purchased and see if they return your call. If they don’t get back to you or are difficult to contact – walk away.
What should I look for at the inspection?
ALWAYS go and physically inspect the appliance! Doing this adds a level of accountability – theoretically you know where to find the person if they don’t answer your calls or texts. Another reason to inspect is to verify the condition. Appliances can be made to look very good for photos (especially stainless steel), but look crap in reality. I would never sell stainless to buyers sight unseen because it always looks perfect in photographs, when it almost always has scratches and dents. In fact when I was a retailer, I refused most customers who would not inspect. A true professional does not need the headache of showing up to a customers house only to have an argument with the customer over the condition of the appliance. So if the seller is refusing to sell you something you haven’t looked at, they’re probably legitimate.
You should also take note of the condition of the place they are selling the appliance from. A dilapidated factory or backyard with broken machines strewn everywhere with a guy who looks likes he is living in the factory with a beat up van out front who only takes cash and no evidence of a good record keeping system is more likely to be an unprofessional or scammer. That said – It must be pointed out that some of the best guys in the game work in these conditions. So if you do arrive somewhere looking dubious but it’s because you have been referred, chances are you have found a good seller who can offer you a reliable appliance for a reasonable price. They have built a reputation for being trustworthy and enjoy repeat customers and operate on word of mouth whilst maintaining low overheads. If you arrived at these conditions from an ad of eBay, Gumtree or Facebook ad though, it is cause for some concern.
Physically inspecting the appliance
In this situation you don’t really need to see the appliance running. It’s all about trust with the retail and trade sellers. It’s different to buying from a private seller, because they know as little as you do about the appliances. If a professional scammer wants to fake a working appliance, they will have no trouble at all. It’s just not very useful to test it. If you want to test it follow the same procedures outlined earlier.
Most sellers are going to be a bit annoyed if you want to see the appliance running, even if they don’t show it. It’s not an unreasonable request by you, but it is a pain for the seller (especially for washing machines), as most buyers will just take you at your word, and hooking up the machine to maybe get a sale is a hassle. You’re potentially becoming a high maintenance customer, and many sellers will actively push high maintenance customers away. Most customers don’t realise that its not only them choosing the seller, but the seller chooses which buyers they want to sell to. They can make it a smooth process with deep discounts and free delivery, or they can be non-negotiable and a little bit unfriendly. The more red flags of being a difficult customer the seller sees, the more they will try to politely drive you away. Good sellers don’t need your business.
Try and avoid buying an appliance from too far away. When you do, you get pot committed to buying an appliance from this seller because you’ve travelled so far, so you’ll ignore red flags. Warranty service will be slower, and delivery fees higher. Always get delivery, especially if it’s a fridge. If you pick the fridge up and install it yourself, the seller will always have the excuse that you have damaged the fridge by transporting it incorrectly, and/or not letting it rest at the destination before turning it in. Which you may well have done. A fridge broken by incorrect transporting is not worth fixing – its now scrap metal. If you don’t need delivery – you’re better off buying from a private seller. Additionally, any warranty may be conditional on you returning the appliance yourself. When I delivered, my condition was that I would fix the appliance where it stood. If you took it, I might make you bring it back, or make you wait until another job took me your way. Ask the seller about their warranty conditions. Make sure you’re across them.
Warranty and proof of purchase
Ask the seller what proof they will get of their warranty. I know some trustworthy guys who just use the Facebook chat history – so a proper system is not a hard and fast rule here. Anything I ever sold came with a sticker, that stated what date it sold on, how much it sold for, how long the warranty is, and had my phone number. This is certainly more ideal. Many do not want to provide receipts as many are off books cash operations. I wouldn’t be too stressed about this kind of dodginess, the tax man might be upset, but it’s not a good indicator of whether the seller will scam you.