Mercari Scams: Is This Online Marketplace Legit?

Be smart when you're shopping online

A conceptual illustration of a Mercari scammer.

Lifewire / Theresa Chiechi 

eBay, Craigslist, and other online shopping sites are highly popular because they allow people to buy or sell products of all kinds, typically at large discounts. Other sites include a mobile app called Mercari. If you're wondering whether or not Mercari is a legitimate business, the answer is yes.

Humans will sometimes find a way to turn even innocent sales activities on sites like these into a scam. There are several ways to protect yourself even on a technically safe site like Mercari.

What Is the Mercari Scam?

There is no single scam associated with Mercari. However, there are many different complaints from sellers and buyers who use the site, partially because Mercari withholds funds from sellers until buyers are satisfied with their purchase.

There are also heavy restrictions on the types of products sold, which sellers can sometime unknowingly violate. If they do, the entire transaction can be cancelled or the seller's account can be suspended or revoked. In addition, there are multiple rules and fees that appear to frustrate both buyers and sellers, including a rating system similar to that of eBay. Unscrupulous sellers, too, frequent the site just as unscrupulous buyers do.

Mercari is a mobile app for iOS and Android users. The Japanese company was founded with the idea of creating a mobile marketplace for buyers and sellers. New, used, and handmade items are all sold on the site.

The combination of these factors have led to multiple complaints across community forums on the internet, with some people referring to the site in general as a scam. Others insist their specific situation must be part of a scam.

While all of the complaints might be genuine, the word scam refers to a fraudulent scheme performed by a dishonest individual, group, or company in an attempt obtain money or something else of value. This general description does not appear to describe Mercari itself although it can describe many of the activities users claim occur on the site between buyers and sellers.

How Does the Mercari Scam Work?

In the case of Mercari, scams are typically in the form of a seller attempting to sell products that are either fake or damaged; or involve buyers who have no intention of paying for products they purchase, so they claim bogus damage or other problems in an attempt to get items for free.

Funds are not released to sellers until the buyer confirms the item arrived as describe and completes the purchase by rating the seller. Once that action is complete, the seller can then rate the buyer.

How Do Scammers Find Mercari Victims?

Scam sellers will offer fake or fraudulent goods for sale. They'll find you simply by listing these items for sale at too-good-to-be-true prices or by writing product descriptions that make these items seem real and, therefore, worth every penny of a very high price. Since they aren't paid until the buyer approves the purchase, it's not easy for sellers to scam buyers.

Scam buyers will purchase items and attempt to use payment methods that aren't approved through Mercari, offer sob stories to entice sellers to lower prices, claim products arrived damaged, send back items damaged when sellers have sent out undamaged goods, etc.

The possibilities for scams are as endless as there are humans, even though Mercari has a variety of rules about sales and returns.

How Do I Avoid Getting Involved in a Mercari Scam?

On any online shopping site, it's important to carefully research not only what you are buying but who you are buying it from. Sellers have fewer options because they can't refuse to sell to someone.

Sellers

  • Take multiple photos of all the products you ship.

  • Ensure you are in compliance with sales rules.

  • Keep your feedback scores as high as possible.

Buyers

  • Do your research to confirm items are legitimate.

  • Check the seller's feedback and scores left by other buyers.

  • Ask questions using the private messaging system.

I'm Already a Victim. What Should I Do?

The standard recourse for a victim of a Mercari scam is to file a complaint through Mercari customer service. If you feel the site itself has somehow perpetuated the problem, stop using the site.

Additional actions can include filing a police report and, depending on circumstances, even filing a fraud victim statement with the three major credit bureaus.

How Do I Avoid Being Targeted for a Mercari Scam?

Your best bet is to be proactive and stay vigilant. While the Mercari site itself is a genuine business, there are many websites that are fake from the start. You can spot scam websites if you're paying close attention but one big clue to consider is how you landed on the site: Did your web browser suddenly redirect you to an unfamiliar site or did you purposely seek it out?

Scam websites can often be part of a computer virus, so it's important to always keep your antivirus software updated. Those programs are designed to help spot fraudulent sites or detect suspicious activity on your computer.

Additionally, know what phishing scams and other email scams look like so that you don't accidentally end up on a scam website. Pharming scams, too, are a specific type of scam that direct users to fake websites specifically to steal personal and financial information.