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Media > Newsletters > Consumer Advocate > April 2018 > Four Tips When Buying and Selling Online

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Four Tips When Buying and Selling Online

With today’s online marketplaces, some people may want to sell items to declutter their homes and make some money. Others may want to buy a product at a reduced price. Whether buying or selling through an online platform, be sure to stay clear of scams by applying four tips.
Stay local – Many online marketplaces and community groups are location-specific, so when using these services, only deal with buyers and sellers in your local area. Be wary of people who make excuses about why they can’t meet in person or why they’re in another location. Even excuses that seem valid — like being on a mission trip or in a foreign country due to military service — may be a ploy to take your money or merchandise.
Be sure to put safety first whenever meeting someone. Bring along a friend or relative to any transactions, meet in a public area, and find out if your community offers a safe place to conduct transactions (such as a local police station). Also, beware of rental scams and online car sale scams, and don’t make a deposit, partial payment, or full payment on a motor vehicle or apartment without seeing it in-person first.
Stick within the marketplace – One sign of a potential scam is when a person wants to do business outside of the online marketplace. For example, the Better Business Bureau warned of an Airbnb scam where a phony host asked unsuspecting travelers to email him outside of the Airbnb marketplace. The “host” then gave consumers a link to a site that looked very similar to Airbnb, so unless the consumer carefully checked the web address, he or she would be unknowingly doing business outside of Airbnb. Doing business outside of the marketplace may mean that any consumer protections offered by the website operator do not apply, and the operator will not be able to monitor the transaction in an effort to catch scammers.
Beware of unusual payment methods – When you are buying merchandise, be wary of sellers who ask you to pay using specific, unexpected methods like wire transfers or gift cards. Wire transfers can be difficult to trace, and it is usually hard to get a consumer’s money back once it has been picked up by the seller. When accepting payment for items you are selling, be wary of cashier’s checks or money orders unless you are present when they are issued at the bank or merchant. Scammers often create and use counterfeit checks or money orders.
Also be wary of “overpayment” scams. For example, a phony buyer may send you a check for over the agreed-upon amount, ask you to deposit the check, and request that you give the extra money to a shipping agent. In the end, the check will not clear the bank, and you’ll be out of your money and merchandise. When buying merchandise, do not provide financial information such as your bank account number or Social Security number to a stranger.
Steer clear of phony third-party services – Beware of buyers or sellers demanding to use escrow services. Many so-called online escrow services are operated by scammers and are designed to steal your money or merchandise. Also, beware of phony emails claiming to be from eBay or PayPal “confirming” the transfer of funds or discussing how they will hold the funds until the transaction has been completed. If you have questions about the legitimacy of an email, contact the organization at a customer service phone number, website, or email address that you know to be legitimate.
One related scam recently reported to the Ohio Attorney General’s Office involved a car buyer who demanded that the seller use a certain website to buy a vehicle report for him. In reality, this was just a ploy to make money from the purchase of the report. 
Consumers who suspect a scam or an unfair business practice should contact the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at  or 800-282-0515.