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Careful when buying online


Buyer's Beware!!! Scams are an unfortunate part of the online buying experience. Knowing they exist and knowing how to spot them will help protect you from getting scammed.


It is important to remember that scams exist from both the buyer and seller perspectives. Neither side is more shielded than the other and both buyers & sellers need to be careful when buying or selling online.


How can I protect myself?

It is very important that our members notify us of any scams they think may be happening right away. In addition to informing us of potential scams, we strongly encourage our members to use an ESCROW account to complete any transactions that you are not making in person. We encourage you to use an escrow service to make sure that your transaction is safely done. An escrow service protects both parties involved in the transaction. Buyers receive and inspect the merchandise before the Seller is paid. Sellers receive their money only if the Buyer accepts the merchandise. For more information, visit www.escrow.com. Internet fraud costs victims millions of dollars each year. Remember, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is!!!


It is also important to follow these simple steps to help ensure you are dealing with a legit buyer or seller:

  1. Try to get the person on the phone
  2. Ask them questions
  3. Use an escrow service
  4. Confirm Payment has cleared
  5. Get a tracing number or proof that item has been sent
  6. Use your own shipping company
  7. Don’t give out personal information
  8. Ultimately if you are uncomfortable, do not make a deal.


What are some common scams? 


Western Union (AKA wire transfer)

Typically, a buyer pays for something via Western Union, and then never receives what was paid for. Example: You purchase a laptop valued at $1000 but the laptop never arrives. OR, you pay for an item via Western Union, and receive an item valued far lower than what was actually advertised. Example: You purchase a laptop with an advertised value of $1000 and receive an old, used laptop worth nowhere near $1000.


One way to avoid getting scammed in this fashion is NEVER use Western Union to pay for online purchases! Why? There are two main reasons:

  1. Western Union does not offer an escrow service or any type of "purchase protection" policy. In other words, once you send your money, there is no way to get it back. And,
  2. Western Union will pay the receiver whenever the receiver shows either proper identification and/or they present a money transfer number (MTCN).


Remember, Western Union is a service typically used to send money between two parties that know each other. Example: A traveler loses their wallet and all forms of identification and a family member uses Western Union to send money to tide the traveler over until replacement credit cards and IDs arrive. Situations like this one are precisely the reason that Western Union set up the MTCN system, or money transfer number system. Think about it... if you lose your identification, you cannot show a drivers license, passport, etc. to pick up funds; thus the MTCN becomes your ID. On the other hand, if you give a scammer a Western Union MTCN number, you've just entitled them to pick up the funds without even showing an ID. Even if an ID is requested, the scammer could simply be using a fake one.


Typical Scenarios Using the Western Union Scam:


You find an item listed at an online auction site or website at an asking price far lower than what you normally would expect to pay. The seller tells you to send the money via Western Union and asks for the Western Union MTCN number. Once the scammer has the MTCN or money transfer number, he/she can pick up the money at any Western Union worldwide and then disappear without a trace. Unfortunately, you are out money and the item you thought you bought will never be sent.




You contact the seller of an item and the response you receive resembles this:


"I can sell you said item, but I can only accept money via Western Union money transfer. However, I can provide you with a shipment tracking number to ensure you that I have sent your item." Offering to provide a shipment tracking number is just a way to make you feel more comfortable about sending the money. The tracking number is usually fake yet appears to be real. However, sometimes scammers do provide real tracking numbers and may even be willing to prove that they've "shipped" your item before you send the money. In such scenarios the scammer is likely sending an empty box, or an item worth far less than what was paid.


Overpayment scam

This one is one of the most common scams. How it works is a potential buyer agrees to buy an item but then sends more than the agreed amount. The person then explains to the seller to cash the check and use the excess cash to pay for a shipper to pick up the item. The seller cashes the check in their own personal bank account and sends the money to the shipper. As time goes by the shipper never shows up to pick up the item to sell. Then you get notice that the check that you cashed was a fake check. Because you cashed the check and used your own money to pay for the shipper, you now no longer have that money.


Example: You are selling a set of tires for $1,000. A buyer agrees to buy the tires from you. They send you $1,400 and tell you to cash the check and send the remaining money to THEIR shipper. You send the money waiting for the shipper to show up. After the shipper no shows your bank informs you that the $1400 check was a fake.  Your $400 that you sent to the shipper has now essentially been deducted from your money and not the $1400 check.


Lets see how it looks laid out:


Bank Account: $1000

Check:           + $1400

New balance: $2400

Shipper payment:        - $  400

New balance: $2000

Check Bounced:          - $1400

New Balance: $  600


As you can see, you are now down $400 ilnstead of up $1000.