Thursday, August 21, 2014

Top ten tips for staying safe buying and selling via online sites

Browsing the internet one day, via a favorite website, an item is spotted that looks wonderful. It fulfills exactly the need. The price is either low or something that can be worked with and it's not too far away. Stop! This is where everything usually goes completely pear-shaped. It doesn't matter what the item is - whether it's a camera, an antique fairy cake a computer, a camper, a car or a pair of earrings. Stop right there!

The four main ways of getting secondhand goods are via Amazon, eBay, Craigslist and Facebook. Each has its own individual hurdles for both buying and selling. Different types of precautions are needed for both. Each one has its fair share of oddballs, misfits, criminals and idiots. Let's look at some examples:
  • Amazon - Who exactly is selling the goods? Is it a private individual, a store, a private individual running a psuedo-store (these guys usually buy the leftovers from yard or estate sales)? Are they reliable - how to know they're reliable? Sure - there's a "ratings" system in place but they can be skewed easily by having a buddy make a lot of low value purchases and give high ratings. As an example, if on the first sale the seller gets a zero for supplying broken, faulty or stolen goods and a buddy then buys 20 separate postage stamps at 10c each then the bad rating becomes 1 of 21 ratings. Thus a single zero-star and 20 five-star ratings gives the rogue seller 4.76 out of 5. Are the items on sale legitimate?
  • eBay - again - who is selling the goods? Have the ratings been skewed? As with Amazon, it pays to pay particular attention to the wording of the item. Is there any way that the item could be as described yet still non-functional? There are so many horror stories of eBay purchases and eBay scams that it would seem foolish to use such a rogue system.
  • Craigslist - This site is synonymous with scams, crooks and worse. The Craigslist Killer is just one such example. The only time (and the site even says this) that a deal should be made via Craigslist is when the deal is made in public and when other precautions are taken, including having burly friends along or being armed.
  • Facebook - This is pretty much like Craigslist. There's no telling whether the item is legitimate or whether the buyer is legitimate. Anybody can set up a Facebook profile and claim to be anybody. There are enough photos on the internet for somebody to claim to be somebody they are not. In an earlier article, Veritassium was mentioned. The fellow behind Veritassium revealed there were many fake profiles. Having said that, it's often prudent with social media to work under a pseudonym. Thus an anonymous account doesn't mean anything of itself. The same precautions as for Craigslist need to take place with all Facebook transactions.
  • Paypal - The number of frauds involving Paypal are immense. Best just to avoid Paypal since it's not actually a bank and does not have to abide by banking rules.
The top tips for staying safe with all these transactions
  1. Low prices indicate something is amiss
  2. Agreeing to meet in a public venue then changing the location at the last minute indicates something is amiss.
  3. The venue is off a dirt track or well out into the countryside or a disreputable area of town indicates something is amiss.
  4. Insistence on meeting privately and unaccompanied indicates something is amiss.
  5. Unusual payment methods being required eg Western Union indicate something is amiss.
  6. Payment by check with a payment for overmuch money requiring a refund indicates something is amiss.
  7. Payment is made as a person to person fund transfer on Paypal. This indicates something is amiss.
  8. Payment is made to one country/person and goods are shipped to/received by somebody in a different country. This indicates something could be amiss.
  9. Use of an Escrow service is suggested. This definitely indicates something is amiss.
  10. Proof of ownership of the item cannot be produced or the seller is "selling it for a friend" indicates something is amiss.
There are more indicators of criminality such as somebody being shifty but these are harder to describe and need to be assessed on an individual basis. Remember - missing out on the "bargain of the century" is not a big deal. Getting ripped-off, mugged or murdered is bigger problem - well perhaps being murdered just means your problems are over in this world!

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