By Bill Smith
BBB Trade Practice Investigator
Three months after a Glen Carbon, Ill., man lost nearly $10,000 in an Internet scam, he is warning others to be extremely cautious when buying on eBay, a popular auction site.
“I couldn’t sleep for a month,” said the 57-year-old mechanic, who has been fighting to recoup his money after losing it to an Internet thief in late February.
The Better Business Bureau (BBB) says consumers should be especially skeptical of any seller who asks for payment via Western Union, MoneyGram, or other types of non-refundable money transfers. Consumers also should be wary of eBay sellers who ask that they bypass the auction site and deal directly with them.
Michelle L. Corey, president and CEO of the BBB, said the Glen Carbon case is a classic example of what can happen when criminals use legitimate sites like eBay to defraud the public. “These people are looking for any way of separating unsuspecting consumers from their cash. They are sophisticated, and they will do whatever they have to do to keep the money rolling in.”
The BBB in San Jose, Calif., which handles inquiries involving eBay, said it is seeing a huge increase of fraud claims from consumers who think they are buying a vehicle from eBay, but are actually dealing with a third party pretending to be eBay. EBay specifically prohibits its sellers from requesting payment through instant cash transfer services, the San Jose BBB said. EBay also says it does not offer purchase protection for payments made by check, money orders, cash on delivery or instant cash transfer services.
The Glen Carbon man said he was shopping for a piece of construction equipment when he found one on eBay. He said he should have been suspicious because the $9,900 price tag was less than half the value of the machine. When he clicked on the photo of the machine, a notice entitled “Important!!!!” instructed him not to use the “ask seller a question” option on eBay, but rather communicate with the seller directly. The notice gave an e-mail address and, from that point until the sale was completed, he said he used the e-mail address to arrange for the purchase.
He said the seller identified herself as a recent divorcee from Bangor, Maine, who had received the skid steer loader in a divorce settlement and wanted to sell it quickly.
The buyer said he felt reassured when the woman insisted that he use an eBay escrow program to complete the transaction and sent him a link to the supposed eBay site. He learned later that the site was a fake. He said he paid for the machine via a wire transfer from his credit union to a Wells Fargo bank in Los Angeles. The seller said the bank would hold the money in escrow for seven days to give him time to decide whether he was happy with the purchase. When the man did not receive the machine on the day it was promised, he tried to contact the woman using the same e-mail address he had used earlier. She did not respond.
He said eBay told him, ‘You’ve been scammed. It happens every day.”
Several Internet sites have dealt with similar scams, in which thieves have offered everything from expensive communications equipment to farm tractors to boats. In many cases, sellers have asked to communicate outside the eBay communications system, have used fake sites that appear to be associated with eBay and requested various forms of wire transfer payments.
The BBB offers the following tips for buyers making purchases on eBay or similar sites:
- Pay by PayPal or use a credit card or debit card. Never pay a stranger with cash or via any type of wire transfer.
- Be very cautious when purchasing any item through a “Buy It Now” offer when the price is significantly lower than the prices of similar sale items. Beware of sellers who say they are offering items at unusually low prices because they want to sell quickly.
- If you think you’ve been directed to a fraudulent web page, ask a representative of the original site directly. Any seller who goes to the trouble of setting up a phony web page is doing it for a reason.
- It pays to be skeptical. If something doesn’t seem right about a transaction, it is usually best to walk away from it.
- If you have questions, contact the BBB at www.bbb.org or call 314-645-3300.