Online marketplaces like eBay and Amazon are convenient, but can create their own challenges. While an excellent option to locate hard-to-find goods, online marketplaces are also a hiding ground for those who like to prey on shoppers. Millions of customers visit these sites to buy and sell goods, which means there are potentially millions to be made by scammers and fraud artists.
The Most Common Marketplace Scams
There are many types of potential fraud that might occur when you’re working with any online retailer. The risk goes up when you are no longer working with a single company you’ve grown to trust.
Working with hundreds of resellers on websites like Amazon, eBay, OfferUp and Etsy means there are hundreds of variables, which can make spotting a problem more difficult. Even sites like Facebook have developed marketplaces where you can buy and sell with others in your area. Fortunately, it has gotten easier to spot and to figure out how to avoid eBay scams, how to spot and to prevent Amazon fraud and issues with sites like OfferUp and Craigslist, as well as how to report Facebook scams.
As you shop in these marketplaces be wary of the top scams:
- Counterfeit Goods: A retailer promotes an expensive brand-name item for a very reasonable price compared to other sellers. You order those new headphones or a purse hoping for a great deal. Instead, you get an inferior knock-off product that has been misrepresented intentionally online.
- Fraud: A seller lists items for less than the competition. In search for a great deal, you order that new video game or gadget. But the gadget never arrives.
- Identity Theft: A seller takes all of your information – including your credit card information. Then, instead of receiving the product you’ve ordered, your information is used to fund new purchases for the would-be seller.
- Phishing: The seller you’re working with reaches out to you asking for a few more clarifying details about your user name and bank account numbers. He might claim there was a change in the system. The more information he gets from you the more access he will have to your banking information.
How to Stay Safe in Online Marketplaces
Online safety combines user’s savvy with vigilance. You have to know what you’re looking for and to use that knowledge to implement safeguards. Here are some online safety practices to avoid scams.
- Never trade off-site
- Be wary of untested sellers
- Make fresh user IDs
- Research one-day listings carefully
- Insulate your finances
- Be wary of stock photographs
- Be alert for deals too good to be true
- Look for signs of foreign scammers
- Ask questions
- Keep passwords updated
- Protect your local identity
- Meet only in public places
- Move quickly to resolve
Sites like eBay and Amazon know that there can be criminals on the site and the companies work hard to sniff them out and to ban them. If you agree to trade with a seller off the big retail site, you lose the protection that site can offer you – especially if a deal goes bad. A trading off-site also removes most of transaction history which makes keeping records more challenging. Sellers will make the trading off-site sound tempting by offering big savings, since they can “skip the fees” from the big sites. Just remember those fees are paid for your safety. They are worth the peace of mind.
One of the best things about online marketplaces are the reviews. A seller without reviews is more likely to be a scammer. These “sellers” open a new account, make many sales by offering super low prices and then close up the shop. . Meanwhile, they got your money and you didn’t get your product. You just got scammed. That’s not to say every new seller is a scammer. Everyone is new once. If you do want to do business with a new seller, don’t buy high-priced items. Buy something very small, wait to see what happens and watch the seller for new reviews before you commit more than a few dollars to a deal.
You are often given the choice to use your email address as your ID or username on sites like eBay. This is a bad practice, as you are giving away information to potential fraudsters. Make a separate user ID, one different than your typical email account, for sites like eBay to avoid offering up your email address for others to spam. Another issue that occurs on sites like eBay is account hacking. The hacker breaks into your account using your email and hijacks your account and username as his own to sell, or pretend to sell, items for fraudulent purposes. Changing your user ID or using one disconnected from your typical email address will also prevent criminals from stealing your username to hide behind, which can create additional, perhaps even legal, problems for you.
A one-day listing is an auction on a site like eBay that goes live for a single day. That means the seller appears and disappears in a single day before any reviews or reports can appear. Be sure to do some drilling down on the user’s account and how many one-day sales they have done before. If anything seems off, skip it. A one-day sale is an easy place to hide fraud.
Online wallets like Apple Pay and PayPal add a layer or two of protection between you and the seller. Use a credit card to put funds in your PayPal account. Then you have two layers of protection if something goes wrong with the sale – PayPal will investigate fraud on your behalf and so will do most credit card companies. Scammers know this and will try to get you to pay using a method without protection. Wire transfers using sites like Western Union and Bid Pay are the most common requests. Personal checks and bank transfers have limited protection by your bank. Those payment methods also offer up your bank account numbers easily for scammers.
Someone selling an item should be able to take pictures of the actual item .It’s not safefor the buyer to rely just on stock photos or generic images. If a seller is looking to commit fraud, he/she probably does not have the actual item in hand, which means you won’t see any real pictures – just generic images. Rather than be taken in by such photos, look for sellers who have real pictures of the same items. Many online marketplaces allow you to interact with sellers. If this is the case, ask the seller to take a specific picture for you – the serial number, the hemline, etc. If the seller has the item, he can easily take the picture and send it to you. If he’s a scammer, he may not respond or will give you excuses
If you know an item is retailed for $200 and a seller is offering it for $120, it’s probably too good to be true. Remember, a scammer will draw you in with a super low price, make the sale and disappear without delivering the goods. Be very suspicious of prices that are well below the competition, especially from new or untested sellers.
There are many legitimate sellers in foreign countries using the online marketplaces to broaden their reach and offer unique items. There are also foreign sellers who know that there aren’t any penalties likely to reach them from inside the US. Look for clues that something is off in the language the seller is using (although many legitimate sellers don’t speak English as their first language) and look for weird signals in locations. An auction or shipping location may show up as Canadian when the user account shows that individual is based in Asia. Do a bit of research into a seller’s location using profiles and PayPal information. But be careful not to paint all foreign sellers with the same broad stroke. Sellers from other countries with many reviews and long tenures on marketplaces tend to be legitimate.
A good seller is anxious to answer questions and deliver what the customer expects. A scammer wants to complete the deal as quickly as possible. When you’ve narrowed down your selection, think of a question to ask the seller, especially in a marketplace like Etsy or eBay where you’re dealing with individuals and small businesses. A true seller will answer your question with good intent. A scammer may not give you a genuine response or respond at all. Be highly suspicious if there is not a way to ask sellers any questions at all.
All it takes to keep a scammer out of your account is a good password. Don’t use the same password for every account you have on banks, online wallets and marketplaces. And change your passwords frequently. Think of it as a game where you’re working hard to stay one step ahead of the scammers who are always chasing user names and banking information.
Sites like OfferUp and Facebook marketplaces are primarily local which means you can meet individuals to trade goods and money. In these cases, you need to protect your identity as much as possible. Limit what information you share with sellers and be sure your Facebook profile is locked down to avoid snooping and oversharing of information. Among the more obvious safety tips for Facebook and sites like it is to be as anonymous as possible to prevent future problems.
There is a risk meeting face-to-face to trade goods and funds. The top safety tips for Facebook marketplace, Craigslist and the like are to avoid going to anyone’s home and to meet only in very crowded places. Consider doing the exchange of money and items in the parking lot of the local police station. Only fraudulent sellers (and especially dangerous sellers) will have a big cause for concern.
If there is an issue, don’t sit around and stew on matters. Online marketplaces have a time limit on when they help you resolve an issue and if you keep something in the box for three months before reporting a fraud, you’re likely to be out of luck. Granted, with sites like eBay and Amazon you may have to wait for the order to be delivered to know there is a problem, but move quickly once a problem presents itself. Likewise, if you have evidence of a scam, flag that seller’s account right away.
Marketplaces like Amazon, eBay, and Facebook are always looking for scammers and they count on would-be buyers to help. Knowing how to report Facebook scams, eBay scams, OfferUp problems, and issues with Amazon immediately will help other would-be buyers avoid the same trap and give the marketplace necessary information as quickly as possible to ban the seller. You’ll be helping yourself toward resolution and helping others avoid a scammer as well.
How to Deal with a Marketplace Scam
Nobody wants to be taken for a ride, and thus customers who‘ve wound up the victim of fraud in online marketplaces are frustrated and angry. A look through the various reviews on PissedConsumer can show you just how common these types of scams are and what customers have done to try and to resolve the issue.
One consumer used OfferUp to do some Christmas shopping. The user purchased cologne from a seller on OfferUp and money changed hands. When the shopper got home and opened the package, the perfume was counterfeit.
The buyer contacted the seller about the scam who promised to meet-up for a refund. That didn’t happen, and so far OfferUp failed to offer any type of assistance to the buyer who is out of time and money.
Lack of Buyer Protection
An electrician purchased a non-working wind turbine from a third-party seller on Amazon. After some communication with the seller, he felt he was getting the run-around and reached out to Amazon’s Customer Service department about the company’s buyer protection plan, A to Z Guarantee. Rather than helping and providing support, Amazon announced that it has been more than thirty days since purchase and the electrician was out of luck.
In this case, the buyer took the next steps and contacted the Attorney General in both Washington and California to seek buyer protection from what he considered as an Amazon marketplace fraud. The turbine company eventually took back the bad turbine and promised a refund. It hasn’t been processed to date.
Over at eBay, a seller listed a specialized vacuum as new and for sale. A customer bought the vacuum for $999. After money had been paid and the vacuum had arrived, the buyer did a bit of research and discovered that the vacuum had previously been sold to someone else and had been pawned at some point. This meant the vacuum she had purchased for almost $1,000 wasn’t new. It was used.
In this case, the buyer isn’t looking for a refund, but she does want to call attention to the problem of sellers misrepresenting items on eBay.
There are many ways to resolve and to prevent this sort of scam in the online marketplace:
- Amazon: Amazon A to Z Guarantee, as described above, will help buyers resolve issues with Amazon Marketplace fraud, if you report it within 30 days. Your best bet to resolve Amazon marketplace scams is to open and to test all packages immediately and not to waste time trying to chat with the seller. If the seller isn’t acting in good faith, report the situation immediately.
- Facebook: Facebook has the benefit of having many local sellers, where you can vet the seller ahead of time by checking out at least part of their profile on the social media site. Knowing how to report Facebook scams in the marketplace is straightforward thanks to the site design, and reporting a scam will have repercussions on the seller’s social media account as well as blocking future sales. Safety tips for Facebook include making wise choices while dealing with local sellers and protecting yourself both duri discussion and transaction. If you do wind up the victim of a scam on Facebook, knowing how to report Facebook scams gives you a chance to protect others from the scam while you wait to see if your own situation can be resolved without involving local authorities.
- eBay: eBay has a strong buyer protection program that is known to side with buyers over sellers. This is one of the main perks in how to avoid eBay scams. Use safe buying practices and if things still go wrong, involve the eBay customer care team immediately. Just be warned that if you don’t play by eBay’s rules, they may not be able to do much to help you.
- OfferUp and Craigslist: With sites like OfferUp and local trading platforms like Craigslist you are dealing with locals. This means you should be taking steps to stay safe by protecting your identify during the negotiation and during the transaction as well. Be safe in choice of locations and if you wind up the victim of a scam, the local law authorities may be your best bet for resolution.
As with many things, the best way to keep yourself safe online in various marketplaces is to practice a wise buying strategy. It is far better to be overly cautious than to feel overly confident about an unknown seller and become the victim of a scam or have your identity stolen. Safety tips for Facebook, eBay, Amazon and others all boil down to a few key points: protect your identity, protect your money and go with your gut. If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.
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