You can find just about anything on eBay these day’s a random browse brings CDs, clothing, cars, and skin to your computer screen. That’s right, I said skin. One man recently auctioned patches of his body to advertising companies, who tattooed their logos on to him. EBay isn’t the only site for surfers bit by the auction bug. There are literally hundreds of sites on the web where you can sell your useless crap and use the money to buy someone elses useless crap. It’s a flea market if I ever saw one-just online. And hey, it’s not all junk. You can find some great deals on auctions sites.
One problem: People are getting scammed, which turns them off to these types of sites altogether. Of course, security is bound to be an issue whenever the Internet and money are involved, but with online auctions, individuals are in control, not corporations who are more trustworthy with business transactions. 99 times out of 100, the relationship between auctioneer and buyer will go smoothly, but just in case, here’s the top five ways users will scam you. Don’t become that minority who walks away from a deal having lost both money and item.
1. Phony Users. I don’t know what the reason is behind it, but some users will bid on items when they never have any intention of purchasing it. Your auction will be over, and the user will cancel his auction membership and disappear-and there’s not much you can do to stop him. Most auction sites charge a fee to sell items, so not only do you still have the unwanted item on your hands, but you also have lost money trying to sell it.
One way to prevent this from happening is to closely keep track of you auction. When the auction closes, take note of the second and third runners up. That way, if the winner bails on you, you can contact the others to see if they are still interested in purchasing the item from you. At some sites, you also have the option of only accepting bids from confirmed users-these are bidders who have either won and paid for items in the past or who have their own auctioneer’s account set up with the site. Check the guidelines, because every site is a little different on their definition of “confirmed buyer.”
2. Stolen Credit Cards. If you own a business and choose to accept credit cards, be careful about how you do this online. When a user pays with a stolen credit card, it may take a few days for the rightful owner to realize it’s one. Guess what? You won’t get the money for your item, which is already in the mail-as good as gone.
Credit card payments are tricky, and I don’t recommend using them unless you own a business with an online website that has credit card payments available. If not, call the credit card company. The name and address that the user provided for shipping should be the same name and address on the card. Companies are glad to check their records for you-it saves them time and money when their cards are stolen. If it doesn’t match up, decline the card and ask for payment in another way.
3. Shipping and Receiving Scoundrels. Whether you’re the buyer or seller, you should be cautious about the exchange of money and goods. Users can easily take your money or item and disappear without sending you what you’re due.
In most conditions, it is the buyer’s responsibility to send payment first. If you’re using a personal check to pay for an item, date the check two weeks from the day you send it. That way, if the seller never sends the item, you can cancel your check before its cashed. The best choice, especially for larger items, is to use an escrow service. These companies act as a go-between for buyers and sellers.
Check with the Better Business Bureau or Consumer Reports before selecting a service to make sure they aren’t scamming both buyer and seller by disappearing with the item and the money, both at once.
4. Check Bouncers. As with stolen credit cards, buyers can easily scam sellers by sending them checks that are no good. You receive the payment and mail the item, but when you go to cash the check, you find out that it is worthless. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot-use a third party service instead.
Third party payment services, the most popular of which is paypal, allow people to create free online accounts to transfer money. Using a bank account or credit card, you can send and receive money almost instantly, which prevents users from stealing your stuff. This is the best option for payment after an online auction.
5. Identity Thieves. As with any online service, you need to be very careful with your personal information to prevent identity theft. These crooks are getting very sneaky, often the e-mails or messages you receive from them look and sound very official. As people are getting more web-savvy, so are cyber criminals.
Use a well-known auction site that you trust. These sites should never ask for information like your social security number. Most of the time they won’t be the ones trying to scam you. Other users will use their company name to send e-mails demanding such information. If you get something in your inbox that looks fishy, forward it to the company or give them a call, and professionals there can tell you if it’s legit. These sites will also never ask for your user name and password in an e-mail, so beware of claims that this information is needed.
Use common sense. The information you share online should be limited and you should always take preventative measures to protect yourself. Sites are only as secure as their users, so if you get scammed, most times you only have yourself to blame. Before signing up with any auction site, check their policies. Knowledge is the key to keeping your online transactions protected so that you can buy and sell all the personal property, goods and services you want. Before long, that green and orange polka-dotted couch will be yours.