Tips to be a savvy online buyer and seller

A little skepticism goes a long way when buying and selling online.

You are so excited. You just posted your vehicle for sale using an online site and you receive an offer via text message in less than 24 hours. You respond to the email the buyer provides in the text message. The buyer asks questions about the vehicle and tells you that he was just deployed overseas and is buying your vehicle for his father. The buyer asks if you have a PayPal account and if you do not, gives you instructions on how to set one up. 

As the conversation continues, you receive an official looking email from PayPal stating the price of the vehicle plus extra funds for shipping. All you have to do is send the buyer’s moving company $1,345 via Money Gram so they can come and pick up the vehicle.

Yes, you can see it all unraveling now. Having just experienced this scam, I was grateful that I contacted PayPal to verify that funds were indeed deposited into my account as I did not see the amount reflected online. PayPal informed me this was fraud and shared some tips on how to avoid fraud. In fact, PayPal advised to never ship an item, pay a shipping fee, send a Western Union Money Transfer or provide a tracking number before the payment received is available in your transaction history.

Several car buying and selling web sites along with the Federal Trade Commission, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and On Guard Online also provide some excellent tips on avoiding online fraud.

Vivian Washington, Extension educator with Michigan State University Extension says to always verify the validity of the payment before you transfer ownership and deal with the specific person who is purchasing your vehicle, not someone acting on his/her behalf. It is best to accept cash, a money order or certified check instead of a personal check. Be cautious of buyers and sellers who ask you to set up accounts with online payment services. Legitimate escrow companies do not use person-to-person money transfers like Western Union or MoneyGram or direct you to send your payment to an individual rather than a corporate entity.

Be skeptical if someone wants to buy your vehicle and has never seen it, especially buyers located overseas. Always verify the buyer’s street address and phone number. As my experience shows, this may be part of a common scam where phony buyers make a supposed payment that is more than the cost of the vehicle and request a cash refund from the seller such as asking for a transfer to be done using a money wire service.

If you are a victim of fraud, you should file a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3). IC3 focuses solely on cyber-crimes and is a partner with the FBI, the National White Collar Crime Center and the Bureau of Justice Assistance.

In addition, contact your local law enforcement. If there was any interaction with a scammer posing as a prospective buyer within their jurisdiction, they should take a report. It will also help their fraud department identify trends for scammers in your area.

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