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Smart Consumer: Your online dos and don'ts

We're all familiar with tried-and-tested print classified ads, and how best to use them. But if you venture online to buy and sell second-hand goods, you need to take precautions to make sure that you don't get burned.

Ireland's biggest classifieds website is donedeal.ie. Launched in 2005, €56m worth of goods are shifted each month through the site.

Cars are the biggest category, followed by motorbikes, dogs, horses and farming. But anything goes, as co-founder Fred Karlsson revealed that one woman even sold a plane!

At Buy & Sell, as well as weekly publications, their website (buyandsell.ie) attracts 487,000 users every week.

In 2009 the value traded through Buy & Sell was €948m.

There are many more sites out there that enable you to buy, sell and swap, so here's what you need to known to stay safe:

1 Talk to the seller You should definitely pick up your phone and speak to the seller and if you can't, ask yourself why not.

Check that the seller has a landline number and arrange to view the goods at their home address.

2 Checking the goods Examine your goods thoroughly to make sure everything is okay before handing over the money.

Do not pay via money transfer as you won't be able to track down the seller if something goes wrong.

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3 Selling safely Be wary of people who will only communicate by email. If you are selling a car or bike, don't let them test-drive it alone.

4 Trust the source Be aware of emails that contain incorrect spelling, punctuation and requests for personal information.

Don't click on an email link sent to you unless you know or trust the source.

5 Avoid scams If you're accepting a bank draft or cheque wait until it has cleared (it could take up to a week) before handing over the goods.

Don't accept bank drafts for more than the asking price as this is often the sign of a scam.