It is important to understand that an overwhelming majority of online sellers and buyers are legitimate and the fact that scammers operate in this marketplace is, by no means, an indictment of the marketplace itself. If you are careful, use common sense, and follow a few simple rules, you will find that there are legitimate bargains to be had and good customers to be found via this type of shopping.
Types of Scams
There are a variety of approaches that scammers take using the internet sales platform. The most common one on the selling end is to get your permission for them to send you more money than your asking price with the promise that you will send them back the difference. Of course, their check bounces and you have lost not only all the money you sent them, but could face fees and penalties from your bank for that bounced check.
As a rule, it is best to avoid buyers who do not deal in cash. Any sale that starts to get complicated by cashier’s checks, third-party go-betweens, wire transfers and the like is a dead giveaway that all is not right. In other words, the more moving parts they propose, the less interested you should be. If you really feel compelled to take somebody’s check, insist on a cashier’s check or make sure that it clears before you send them any goods. Also, be sure that they know up front that is how you’re going to handle it. If someone agrees to pay by cash or cashier’s check and then wants to switch the payment method at the last minute, graciously terminate the deal. Stick to your parameters.
On the buying end, the most common problem is non-delivery of goods or delivering a product of far less quality than was advertised. If you are buying online, sight-unseen, do so through legitimate, established channels such as eBay or Amazon. They have ratings systems and procedures in place to deal with less-than-honest sellers. Look for reviews of the seller written by previous customers, (although, not all of those are entirely legitimate, either).
Use Your Instincts
As with all types of scams, the number-one thing to keep in mind with online transactions is this old axiom: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If someone is offering you something at a fraction of its established cost or worth, ask yourself why they would be doing this when there’s clearly more money to be made. Scammers rely on the basic human desire to find bargains. This isn’t to say there aren’t bargains out there, but a ridiculously low-priced item should put you on full alert.
There’s a reason Craigslist is compartmentalized into different geographic websites: it’s designed to function on the local level. If you’re using a site like Craigslist to buy or sell an item, do yourself a favor and stick to transactions that will take place in person in your area.
If you’re buying or selling something that is transportable, (not large furniture items, washers or dryers) meet with the seller or buyer in a very public place where you can view or display the item. Since cash is going to be involved, you might want to bring a friend along, but being in a public place such as a coffee shop, mall food court or police station parking lot should preclude the need for someone to ride shotgun for you.
Trust your instincts. If you get a bad vibe from someone on the phone, you are under no obligation to do business with them.