Online Shopping, Classified Ad and Auction Scams

Never Judge Something That’s for Sale Online by the Ad That Attracted Your Attention

There’s no shortage of junk available to purchase online and whoever is selling it wants you to buy it. Just like you should never judge a book by its cover, never judge something that’s for sale online by the ad that attracted your attention.

Online Shopping and Classifieds

Selling a cheap item for a high price is a scam as old as the hills. So, it stands to reason that no one who does that for a living is going it advertise it as an inferior product. If the ad contains a photo it will be touched up, or the photo may be a different product entirely. The description in the ad will make it sound like it’s an amazing find. The advertised price may be labeled as “discounted” or a sale,” or it may be accompanied by other euphemisms like “one-time offer.” Many such ads even appear on quality web sites and reputable online classifieds, so don’t assume that the website’s pedigree protects you from this scam.

In any event, should you fall for the scam, you will make your purchase using your credit card and then wait seven-to-ten days until it arrives. But when you open the package you discover that it’s just a piece of junk. Assuming it really does arrive.

Sometimes it won’t arrive because the scammers aren’t really selling anything. Some publicize their ads not to sell you their overpriced junk but because they want your name and credit card number, and offering you a bargain that’s hard to resist is the most likely way they can obtain it. Once they have your name and credit card number, of course, they go on to commit identity theft by using your card to rip you off even more.

How can you check in advance if it’s a scam? First, beware of a Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail or other generic email address. If it’s a real company it will have its own dedicated domain and web site. Second, search for the company on the web. If you can’t find it, consider it a scam.

Online Auctions

While there are plenty of legitimate online auctions, scams exist as well. There are two types of them, traditional and shill bidding.

In a traditional online auction scam, the scammer will call you out of the blue ostensibly to notify you that you have a second chance to buy an item that you previously bid on because the winner has declined it, did not pay for it or was otherwise disqualified. In all likelihood, he’ll claim to be calling on behalf of a legitimate auction site in order to cover his tracks.

But how does the scammer know you submitted a bid? He doesn’t. He’s winging it, hoping that you won’t remember. If you insist that you didn’t, he’ll tell you that someone else (maybe your spouse, parent or even a friendly neighbor) must have done so in your name as a gesture. If he convinces you, he’ll then tell you that to obtain the car or refrigerator or whatever it is that you’ve won you won’t be allowed to pay using the auction site’s secure payment page because the software only recognizes the name of the original winner. So, you give him your credit or debit card number, pay through PayPal or send a bank wire. The scammer makes off with your money and the merchandise, of course, never arrives.

Shill bidding is used by legitimate online auction sites that open up bids on a specific item for a very limited time period. Once you start bidding you’ll notice that someone else is competing against you, raising the ante. Every time you raise your bid the same competitor will raise his until you finally reach the price that the online merchant really wants. Shill bidding is illegal in many jurisdictions, including in the United States and the European Union. It is prohibited by eBay and many other popular auction sites.

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