This article was written for people making purchases of paintball equipment, but the information is applicable to almost all forums.
When you're searching for a used paintball gun, it's only natural to look for the best price possible. Unless you have a friend who is selling his gear at an incredible price, it's almost certain that the best price you find will be on an online forum such as PBNation or Special Ops. While you may have to search through dozens of listings, eventually you'll find the gun you want. Then, the real work begins. I have made many successful forum purchases, but it pays to be careful and do things the right way.
Find What You Want To Buy
Start by picking a forum
and then beginning the long look through the classifieds section. While forums have search functions, the inconsistent naming, spelling and classifying of equipment can be difficult to search through, and it's often best to just go page by page through the forums and click on links that may look promising. It's really a needle in a haystack type search, but finding your prize at the end makes it worth it.
Look for Feedback
Many sites allow users to leave feedback after a successful online sale has gone through. While some sites have a built-in feedback system where it's easy to see what a seller has sold and who bought it, most simply allow sellers to create a feedback thread where people who buy from them can leave feedback. Additionally, many sellers give links to eBay or other sites where they also have feedback.
Be aware that positive feedback is not necessarily an indication that the seller can be trusted. Since forums have no real way of tracking who sets up an account, dishonest sellers can arrange to leave themselves false positive feedback. One way to check for this is to see how long the seller has been a member of the forum, how active he is and also check to see how long those that leave feedback have been members. If you find a seller that has been a member of the forum for one month and has six positive feedbacks from people who have also been members for less than a month and have only made a total of three posts, you may want to think twice about dealing with that seller. On the other hand, a three-year member of the forum who has a dozen positive feedbacks from other long-term members is probably a good person to do business with.
Whenever I see a something questionable about feedback I really think twice before I proceed with the trade - the person might be legitimate, but I'm usually not willing to risk it.
Talk With the Seller
Start off by sending the seller a PM (personal message) or an email. Tell him that you're interested in buying what he's offering and either say that you agree to the price he's offering or else offer a lower price. While a little haggling is completely normal, it shouldn't take too long to establish a firm price for the piece of equipment and for any additional fees such as paypal fees or shipping costs. Establish clearly all the terms of the sale including when you will pay and when the seller will ship. Assure that the seller will send you a tracking number on your purchase. Make sure all of your agreed upon prices are clearly stated in your emails or PMs and keep a copy of all your correspondence.
Once you've agreed on a price, you need to make sure that you're dealing with a legitimate person. I always ask for the sellers name, phone number and address before doing anything more. I then do a reverse address search on the phone number to make sure the address matches up with the address I was given and then I call the seller. While talking with the seller, confirm all of the details of the deal and if the seller is under 18 (which is common), make sure you speak with his parent or guardian to make sure the parent approves.
While some sellers only want cash or a money order, most sellers will accept PayPal, and that is the only way that I am willing to pay since it is the best way to keep track of your payment and it does offer you a recourse if there is a problem. When you are ready to buy, have the seller send you a payment request for the agreed upon amount to your PayPal account and then pay. If you do agree to buy with a money order, make sure that you really trust the seller because once the money is sent you have no easy way to get your money back if the seller doesn't ship you the promised equipment.
Getting Your Purchase
Since you already requested a tracking number, you should be able to follow your purchase's progress as it's shipped to you. Once your package comes, make sure that it's as the seller described and then be sure to leave the seller some positive feedback. Then it's time to play some paintball.
Unfortunately, not every online sale goes off without a hitch. Usually, though, you do have a recourse. If the seller doesn't ship your package or gave you something other than what you expected, your first step is to contact the seller and see if they will make things right. If that fails, since you saved all the information about your sale you can file a report with PayPal and see if they can resolve it - this can be a lengthy process but at least you can do it from home. If that fails or you paid with a money order, you can contact the police department of the seller and see if they are willing to go and speak with the seller. If all else fails, you can file a civil suit, though the cost of that suit rarely will be worth a paintball gun, though it is possible that simply getting served with court papers from the small claims court will encourage the seller to cooperate.