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Media > Newsletters > Consumer Advocate > August 2013 > Beware of Scams when Buying or Selling Online

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Beware of Scams when Buying or Selling Online

Online marketplaces make it easy for buyers to access countless products from individual sellers. But shopping this way can leave you vulnerable to scams since you may not know who is selling the item or if the item even exists. Scam artists take advantage of these unknown elements and attempt to steal your money.

Fake listings are a common ploy to deceive buyers. Listings may have been copied from another source or not exist at all. Purchasers don’t receive the item, and they’re also out their money.
For example, an Ohio consumer saw a truck advertised through an online marketplace. He contacted the “seller” and received a link, supposedly to an escrow service that would hold his payment until the vehicle was shipped. The escrow service was offered by what appeared to be a legitimate company. A “company representative” contacted the consumer to assist with the payment, and the consumer provided bank account information for a wire transfer. The truck never arrived, and the “seller” and “representative” disappeared. After calling a company reportedly associated with the escrow service, the consumer discovered the business does not even provide such services. In the end, this scam cost the consumer $7,800. He was out the money he wired, and he received no new wheels in the deal.
Scammers also target individuals selling items through online marketplaces. If you’re a seller, watch for an overpayment scam intended to steal your money and the item you are selling. These typically happen when a scam artist sends a check for an amount greater than the asking price and asks the seller to wire back the difference, keeping the purchase amount. The check appears to be legitimate, but after a few days it bounces and any money wired to the “buyer” is lost along with the item sent.
If you are buying or selling products through an online marketplace, follow these tips to avoid scams:
  • Be skeptical of sellers who ask you to wire transfer money.
  • Tailor searches to local areas and deal with individuals in your area.
  • Meet in a public place to exchange payment for the product.
  • Research the reputation of the person with whom you are doing business, if possible. Check the seller’s online rating, and do an Internet search to find any additional information about the seller.
  • If possible, conduct cash transactions.
  • Be wary when sellers want to use an escrow service to “guarantee” the transaction.
  • Only make payments on secure websites, which begin with “https” rather than “http.”
  • Read and heed the fraud warnings that online marketplace websites provide.
If you’ve been targeted in a scam, file a complaint with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at or 800-282-0515.