The irony of eBay is that as it grows to be ever more successful, it draws the unsavory element of the internet towards it. I'm talking about people who make it their business to attempt to defraud you and me in our eBay and PayPal transactions.
Of course, not all dodgy dealings on eBay are fraudulent. Some are just mischievous. Others are by chancres, who perhaps reckon their victims won't be bothered to pursue them.
Whoever causes it, it's left to the targeted buyer or seller to try and sort out the problem. All that we as users can do is to be extremely vigilant and cautious in all our eBay and PayPal activities.
Here is a list of practical steps, in no particular order, which buyers and sellers can take to help avoid becoming the next victim.
Hopefully you are already aware of some of these. It doesn't necessarily follow that if one of these applies the auction or person is fraudulent. But if you use your head, and build up a view of the overall transaction based upon a number of these factors, you will reduce your chances of getting conned.
a) Stock photos and descriptions
Because they don't have the item they are "selling", some fraudsters use a stock photograph of the item. And they will probably use the manufacturer's product description too. So, stock photos and no original description might be a sign. Search for other auctions by the same seller, and see if they are brazen enough to advertise the same item more than once.
b) A price too good to be true often isn't true
A fraudster wants your money quickly, so you may find they offer to close their auction early with you as the "winner" having bid a price which you know to be somewhat of a bargain. Why would anyone close their auction early if the price hadn't reached market levels? I'll give you one guess.
c) High value or high volume, newly registered sellers
Although the vast majority of new sellers are genuine and honest, be cautious of buying from people selling high value items in bulk, very early on in their eBay career. This pattern isn't quite normal. Think back to your own first sales. You would have been tentative, and probably have tried single, low value items initially. So, a new seller fitting this profile may be someone who has perhaps been previously suspended and has registered another ID.
d) 1 day listings
Although 1 day listing are used by genuine sellers who have more than one item or who want a quick sale, unfortunately this duration is attractive to fraudsters too. They sometimes use 1 day auction duration to gain a quick sale before their actions can be reported and acted upon. So, be extra wary on auctions with 1 day listing.
e) Invitations to trade off-eBay
This is a classic ploy of fraudsters. Having made some kind of contact with you or you with them, they will invite you to purchase or to sell off eBay i.e. without using eBay's auction services. The attraction here to the fraudster is that they can drive the transaction along the lines they prefer, whether that is escrow, PayPal etc. Another reason why trading off eBay is not a good idea is that you have to keep your own formal records of the transaction, and you forfeit any cover from eBay buyer protection and PayPal buyer protection. Plus, and this might be a minor point, but you will not be able to leave feedback to let others know your experience with this seller/buyer.
f) Payment methods with no recourse
Fraudsters prefer to chose payment methods in which the buyer has no protection, like wire transfers where the buyer has no way of tracing where the money is going. Western Union Money Transfers and BidPay are favorites and should be totally avoided. Postal orders are similar although they are a popular payment method among the genuine sellers as they require no clearance time. Bank transfers and cheques can only provide the possibility of your bank investigating the details of the account the money was transferred into. For the best protection use PayPal and fund with a Credit Card. Note there are limits on eBay and PayPal protection, and you should make yourself aware of what these are.
g) Unusual sales pattern
If your seller's feedback indicates that they normally deal in collectables, DVDs or other specific items, be suspicious that they are suddenly listing laptops, plasma TVs or other high value items. The change may indicate that this seller's account has been hijacked.
h) Bad English gives you a pointer
Some fraudsters operate from abroad but pretend to be in UK or USA. As they aren't particularly adept at the English language they might use a translation tool like Babelfish to create their emails to you. So, watch out for emails that are not good English. In itself, it doesn't prove anything; there are plenty of genuine eBay sellers for whom English is not their first language. But it might add to further evidence you have.
I) Location Location Location
In the case of lazy fraudsters you might find their locations don't match up. By that I mean the auction says the goods are in the UK, but the seller's ID details show their location to be, say, Ukraine. This is not a good sign. Often in these cases if you contact these sellers you will receive an excuse as to why the item is not in the UK, and therefore can't be collected in person. In short, if an auction says the item is in the UK and the seller says that it is not, I would avoid the auction. And don't forget to cross check with their PayPal account, and see in which country this resides.
j) Ask questions
Always, always ask your seller a question. Any question. Their response, if you receive one, will help you judge how genuine the seller is. Beware auctions that carry a message asking you to contact the seller via a given email address as opposed to via the 'Ask seller a question' link. This could be an account hijacker trying to prevent buyers from 'Asking the seller a question'. They want to stop this from happening because such questions could be routed to the real account owner.
k) "EBay can vouch for me" email
A warning about a relatively new tactic used by fraudsters. If you are proving hard to land as a buyer/seller, they may claim they can get eBay to email you proof of their validity so that you can trust them. EBay, of course, will NEVER do this. The email sent out, however authentic looking is fake and is designed to get you to part with your money or your goods. This applies equally to Square Trade and PayPal. They will never email you certifying the genuineness of anyone.
l)A PayPal warning
There are fraudsters who use stolen PayPal accounts to accept payments. To lower the possibility of this, check your seller's location as shown in eBay, and then see if it is one of PayPal's permitted countries by clicking here: http://www.workwinners.com/nlr701.htm. If PayPal don't offer their service in the country that the seller resides, be very wary.
Never have the same password on your eBay and PayPal accounts. Or indeed on any other financial or personal site. Change your passwords every 30-60 days on both eBay and PayPal.
If your seller asks you to use escrow, and proposes an escrow company they've used before, this is a clear indication they are fraudulent. There are many fake escrow sites which will take your money fraudulently. The only escrow site recommended by eBay is http://www.escrow.com. An alternative in the UK is http://www.auctionpix.co.uk Please don't be tempted to use any other escrow company, however professional looking their websites might be. It is a fact that 99% of escrow companies on the internet are fraudulent. They are set up solely to defraud money out of unsuspecting buyers, and to get goods without paying for them from unsuspecting sellers.
o) Pointers in feedback
Try to read the positive feedback as well as the negative. Read the way your seller responds to negative feedback as this will often give you an idea of how the seller will react if something goes badly wrong. If the seller is offering high value goods, be wary if their feedback has been built up quickly from low value purchases. Also, if the overall rating is good, but there are a disproportionate number of negatives in recent days/weeks, this might indicate the account has been taken over. Finally, be aware that feedback is not the guarantee it once was. Feedback can easily be manufactured. Also, if the user ID has been hijacked, you'll be reading the feedback of the original account owner, not the person with whom you're currently dealing!
p) Credit Card payment
for high value items or for amounts of money you can't afford to lose, make sure you pay by credit card which has online fraud protection. This will give you some recourse if the seller is fraudulent. In this context, paying via PayPal is not the same. PayPal do have a buyer protection scheme, but there are criteria which the eBay auction has to satisfy in order to qualify. Even if the transaction qualifies, PayPal's standard protection currently has a maximum value of $1,000. Note that payment by debit card provides zero protection.
q) Address and Telephone check
Use the Ask the seller a question link, and request they email you with their address and telephone number. Any reputable seller will give you their address and telephone number. When you get the number, call it, and see if you get through to the genuine seller.
r) Keystroke capturing virus
This is a computer virus which you inadvertently download onto your PC. Its task is to capture the keystrokes you make, and to send them to the virus placer. The fraudster then uses pattern recognition software to identify and extract personal information, like username, password, credit card numbers etc. To avoid this happening to you, it is wise to have good, up-to-date virus, firewall and spyware checking software on your PC. Here is where you can get free software for each of these functions:
Virus protection - http://free.grisoft.com/freeweb.php/doc/2/
Firewall - http://www.zonelabs.com/store/content/company/products/znalm/comparison.jsp?lid=ho_za
Spyware checking - http://www.lavasoft.com/support/download/
s) Shill bidding
Shill bidding is where people work in cahoots to inflate the bidding on an item. A seller has a "partner" who makes bids on the seller's items with a view to bumping up the bid price. They have no intention of buying the item. Fortunately, shill bidders and their associated seller can be stupid. The shill bidder will usually makes bids on other items from the same seller. Here's how to check to see if shill bidding is a feature of a particular seller. First, look at the seller's closed auctions over the last 30 days. If most of the closed auctions have no bids, it is unlikely the seller has shill bidders working with them. If all of the closed auctions have bids, take a look at the bid history. See if the same bidder appears in the list of bidders, usually with aggressive bidding and normally at the start of the auction. If so, you may have uncovered a shill operation, so avoid that seller's auctions.
t) Keep your transaction information
Keep your own record of the transaction when you're buying. Don't just rely on eBay. You want a record of the seller's identification, the item description, and emails sent and received, plus the time, date and price of your bid.
u) "I noticed your bid...."
Never deal with anyone who contacts you after seeing your bid on another auction. They will say something like, "I saw you bidding on that digital camera. I have the same model available for sale. I don't have time to list it on eBay. It has more accessories than the one you lost out on. You can have it for xyz." If you bite, they'll probably take you down the fake escrow route. Also, if you entertain this proposition, you're operating outside of eBay and therefore have no auction protection whatsoever.
v) Changed eBay ID
Never deal with anyone who has a changed ID icon next to their name. This icon means they've changed their ID in the last 30 days. Few legitimate people change their eBay ID. When was the last time you changed yours? There's a 1% chance that an ID change is genuine, but 99% that it is fraudulent. Why take the risk?
w) Changed email address mid-stream
If a seller or buyer changes their email address on you in the middle of a transaction, stop dealing with them. It is likely their previous email account was closed down due to some irregularity - such as a previous victim reported them. If you think about it, why would any genuine buyer or seller change their email address whilst corresponding on a transaction they wish to conclude expeditiously?
Never get involved in any transaction where the seller/buyer tries to introduce a third person into the financial arrangements. They might ask you to pay xyz, who will then pay the seller, and you will receive a discount or commission for your co-operation. Such proposals are always fraudulent. They prey on greed. Don't be tempted.
y) Time is of the essence
This is a scam which is has more potential for success than traditional phishing attacks, as it is time sensitive. The fraudster searches for high value auctions that have just ended. The bid history for an auction contains hyperlinks to each bidder. The fraudster checks to see if the winning bidder is selling any items of their own. If so, they go to that auction and embed a request for payment from the first auction within a question for seller. This works because winning bidders are expecting request for payment shortly after an auction ends. A variation of this is to offer a bidder a "second chance". This time the "Ask the seller a question" email pretends that the real winner has backed out, and offers the item at a lower price. The buyer, believing the story, is lured into paying to whom they believe is a genuine seller. Many eBayers have heard of the second chance system, but have no experience of it. This unfamiliarity coupled with the fact that a few weeks might have passed, makes this an effective method for fraudsters. The moral of this story is never get involved in any transaction which arrives in your inbox via the Ask the Seller a Question feature.
z) EBay IDs
Never us your email address as your eBay ID, or part of your eBay ID. Fraudsters have software which monitors internet traffic looking for information such as this. If your eBay ID and email address are the same, it is simple for a fraudster to plausibly communicate with other eBay members in your name.
That's all in my list. If you have any further ideas on how to prevent fraudulent transactions on eBay, please let me know and I will promote these through future newsletters.
In the meantime, be aware, and be safe in your eBay buying and eBay selling.
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