An overview of the main types of scam we deal with and the basics of how to avoid being a victim of a scam.
#12233 by Jillian Sun Aug 02, 2009 2:20 am
Beware of online transactions involving Western Union or Money Gram. These cash wiring services are meant to be used in an emergency and/or only with someone you know personally.

Never accept a check you are unsure of. A request to receive a check for over the amount you are asking with the overpayment forwarded back to the buyer or to a supposed third party is a definite sign of a scam!!

Buyer beware

  • Check the site where you are buying goods, and see what protection they offer against fraud or other problems. Know what you're bidding on and roughly how much it should cost, and be wary of anything that appears very cheap for its age and condition. The scams are especially common for phones, electronic goods, vehicles and other popular or expensive items. Check for any returns policy, and be very cautious of a seller who will only accept payment via a wire transfer service. They are largely anonymous, so if your money is collected but the goods are not delivered, you will have difficulty tracing the seller or recovering your payment. Don't bid until you're completely happy. Follow this link for tips for buyers from OnGuard Online (a US federal government site).

More links for buyers:
Paypal's guide for buyers
Ebay's guide to buying safely
Information on fake sellers, especially scammers offering cheap phones

Seller beware

  • Be wary of anyone who does not appear to be interested in the goods you are selling, or who does not ask any of the questions you would normally expect for the type of goods, e.g. about the condition or any warranty. If the seller offers you more than the asking price, and asks you to send on some of the proceeds to him or to a third party such as a relative or a courier company, it is a scam. The scammer uses this ploy to send fake checks/cheques and it is the overpayment element that he is interested in, much more than the goods. He is hoping that your bank will not notice the fake until after you have sent off the goods and the money. You can read more about how check scams work here.

  • Do not use an escrow service without checking it carefully. Fake escrow services are used to scam sellers into thinking that their money is safe. In fact, the fake site, which is controlled by the scammer, will tell the seller that the payment is safe even though it has never been made. The seller sends the goods but never gets paid. If the buyer insists on using an escrow service you have never heard of, check its website and make sure it has a customer information line that is a fixed landline, not a mobile phone number. Also check how secure it is and make sure it processes its own payments. If you are at all unsure, insist on a different payment method. We have a section for fake sites, including fake escrow sites here. You can also search the database of fraudulent sites kept by Artists Against 419 here.

  • Be on the lookout for PayPal payment scams. Scammers are sending emails that are supposedly from Paypal and in some cases look very authentic. The payment scam often indicates that the payment has been made but can't be authenticated until the item is shipped. In these cases, the scammer is actually trying to steal your money with a fake payment. You can read more about PayPal Payment scams here, including examples of the spoofed emails using PayPal logos.

More links for sellers:
Federal Trade Commission alert on check overpayments .
OnGuard Online tips for sellers .
Craigslist information about Scams

Others beware

Some scammers recruit unsuspecting people to help the scammer cover their tracks or conceal where they are coming from, such as using a re-shipper. The scammer will ask for goods to be delivered to the home of the victim so that it looks to the seller as though the scammer/buyer is in the same country as the seller (which is lower risk). The victim then forwards the delivery to the scammer, and is the first port of call for the police when they come looking for the stolen goods.

Links to general advice for shopping online
Ebay Safety centre.
Paypal safety centre.
OnGuard Online auction guide and information on online shopping .
Federal Trade Commission guide to auction scams .
Metropolitan Police guide to internet auction scams .

News items or articles about online selling scams
Report of scammers targeting losing bidders on Ebay
Anatomy of an Ebay scam
News item about reshipping

Have you sent a payment to a scammer with Western Union and now realize it's a scam? If the payment has not been picked up, you can cancel it immediately! 1-800-448-1492

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