First the bad news: there are more ways to get ripped off when buying and selling over the internet than ever before. The good news is that with a little common sense, most are avoidable.
The great playground of the modern fraud artist has been Ebay. Fueled by greed, buyers have been lured into lowball auctions on high end items. With their savings sent overseas via Western Union, buyers waited patiently on their doorsteps, fake UPS tracking numbers in hand, never to have that expensive new toy arrive. Although Ebay has been cracking down efficiently, it is still a buyer beware world out there. While there are many other auction sites out there, the following red flags should apply to any purchase you make.
High end items at low dollar prices: Sure, we are all greedy, and we want as much money for our stuff as possible. This applies to Ebay sellers as well as everyone else. When you see someone selling a brand new video camera for half the price of other auctions, you need to ask yourself why. It doesn’t cost him anything to raise the price, so why should he want to sell it for less? It’s common sense, yet we are often blinded by the opportunity to snag a deal that we can all brag to our friends about. You need to remember one time tested saying: “If it is too good to be true, it probably is.”
Look for them hawking brand new items at ridiculous discounts. High end electronics, video cameras, still cameras, and laptops are always popular items.
Zero feedback/New Users: On Ebay, you’d be crazy to send thousands of dollars to someone who just registered, even if it is the bargain of the year. Remember, it’s only the bargain of the year if what you buy actually shows up. Its difficult enough trust people with a hundred transactions with thousands of dollars, so why, no matter how cheap, would you trust someone who has no history at all? Unless you can pay in person, and pick it up in person, don’t bother with zero feedback sellers. They pop up new ones just as fast as Ebay shuts them down.
Odd Accounts: There are other ways you can get taken, as con artists sometimes get a hold of valid Ebay accounts. When considering a purchase, look into the seller’s history. If they haven’t been active for a year, and are suddenly selling five new Rolex watches, you should be cautious.
Although rare, a serious scammer can set up an account to sell multiple cheap items in order to get enough feedback to draw buyers into a thousand dollar item. If the seller has a bunch of feedback from selling $0.99 stickers but is now listing $5000 video cameras for $1500 each, use extreme caution.
Seller’s Location: Would you seriously buy a Rolex from Hong Kong for any price, and think it’s real? Would you really wire money to Croatia for a new video Ipod at a quarter of the price?
Here’s the truth. If these people had legitimate items to sell, they’d be selling them over there. They are trying to get your overseas money because they know there is absolutely nothing you can do to get it back once they’ve got it. Even if you get scammed out of $10,000 are you really going to track down some scumbag in the middle of Hong Kong?
Simply buying only within North America or the UK will likely cut your chances of getting ripped off by at least 50%. Not all foreign sellers are rip-offs, but the further out you go culturally, the higher your risk gets.
Anyone Traveling: If you ever read anything like “I’m from the US, but currently traveling in France,” forget it immediately. Even if someone is from North Carolina, but traveling in South Carolina, forget it. It is almost always trouble. Scammers use traveling as an excuse as to why they haven’t been able to ship you your package three months after you have paid. They’ll keep you on the hook as long as possible to keep you from going to the authorities, and then they’ll eventually disappear.
Payment: Crooks love Western Union money transfers, since it’s instant and mostly untraceable, but others will take money orders, especially if they are overseas. They generally will not accept Paypal or any form of credit card payment, as it offers you some protection. If you are serious about buying online, only use your credit card and keep up to date on what kind of protection they offer. If paying by Paypal, only use funds taken from your credit card. Don’t make big purchased funded by your bank account or your Paypal balance, as these aren’t nearly as protected, despite what Paypal says.
Escrow: Escrow used to be the safety net you could rely on. Then crooks began setting up fake escrow services and continued on stealing as happily as before.
Here’s reality. Real sellers don’t use escrow. They take your money up front. Then they ship you the package. That’s the way it’s done. They have the goods so they make the rules. If you want to use escrow and they agree to it, make sure it is an escrow service of your choice, not the seller’s.
Auction Layouts: The layout of the auction can often be a clue. Look for a bunch of obviously copied info from the manufacturer’s website, as well as stock pictures of the item. There is rarely any other info in the auction. Does that make any sense? If you were really selling something expensive, wouldn’t you really want to give buyer as much info as possible?
Breaking The Rules: Watch out for anyone who offers to break the rules for you when there is nothing in it for them. Someone who offers to end the auction early for a lower price is someone who is agreeing to give up money. No one gives up money. Anyone who approaches you outside the system is instantly suspect. If they were legit, they’d be selling legitimately.
Selling Online: It has become almost as dangerous as buying. There are lots of scams and more happening every day. Buyers using fake or stolen credit cards or jacked Paypal accounts are just the start. They’ve also been faking money orders, so that once the bank finally cashes it through; you’ve long since sent them your item.
Some of the scams have become more elaborate, where they overpay you for the item, and then get you to refund the extra by money order, while having used a fake credit card to send the funds in the first place. By the time the credit card company dings you for the amount you sold your item for, you’ve already send them a refund… and the item.
The only way to be absolutely sure that the sale is legit is to wait for the money to clear out of your bank. Most buyers aren’t happy to wait that long, so it’s always a roll of the dice.
Remember This: As internet technology evolves, criminals will find news ways of exploiting the innocent. But remember one thing, your best protection is not the legal system, it is simply your common sense. Never forget the golden rule of online buying “if it looks to good to be true, it probably is.”
Of course, you can avoid these problems altogether by making your purchases from our highly trusted, widely recognized and deeply valued DV Info Net Sponsors.