Several years ago, I made my first foray into eBay, the online auction site. I was amazed by all the goods that were for sale, and found an item that I had been wanting. I no longer remember what the product was, but I think it was a piece of software. I won the auction, and submitted my payment via PayPal, and then waited for it to arrive. And waited. And waited. It never came. I had been scammed.
Image by Don Hankins.
Fortunately, my boneheaded mistake didn’t cost me a huge sum of money. Not everyone is so lucky, though. How can you protect yourself from getting scammed online? Here are a few tricks you can use.
Ratings on the Site
Most shopping sites that feature different merchants give you the ability to rate merchants, and view ratings for merchants. This includes eBay, the Amazon Marketplace, and others. I only give my business to merchants who meet two criteria: (1) a large sample of satisfied cuctomers, and (2) a high rating. I’m sure I’m missing out on some good deals by not expanding my search to newer merchants, but it isn’t worth the risk to me.
Third Party Rating Sites
Sometimes you might find a product that you want on a merchant’s standalone site. How do you determine if that merchant is reputable? There are a several third-party rating sites, that allow users to submit reviews of merchants. One of my favorites is Reseller Ratings, which contains ratings and reviews of over 23,000 stores. I also like to use PriceGrabber to find a product, and then review the ratings of merchants who sell that product. CNET has store ratings, but these aren’t user ratings. Instead, CNET rates merchants itself, which could be a good or bad thing, depending on your perspective. Personally, I like to see what other users think of a merchant.
Pay With a Credit Card
Credit card venders typically offer protection from sales that go south, so use a credit card when possible. That can be tricky on eBay, where paying with a credit card isn’t always an option (although, in the interest of full disclosure, it has been a while since I’ve bought a product on eBay, so things may have changed). eBay now advertises that it usually provides refunds on products you don’t receive, but the wording makes it sound like this is at eBay’s discretion.
Craigslist for Local
Craigslist has a treasure trove of items to buy, but it is also replete with scammers. To make sure you get what you pay for, only use Craigslist to buy local items, that you can see in person. If you’re selling, watch out for the buyer who says that he’ll send you a check for more than your asking price if you send him a check back for the difference. Guess what? After he has your funds, you’ll find that his check is no good.
When in doubt, turn to your trusted friend, Google. On a couple of rare occasions, I’ve wanted to buy items from off-the-beaten-path sellers, and couldn’t find those sellers on any of the aforementioned sites. I turned to Google, and was able to get enough assurances about the reputable nature of the seller to go through with the sale. If I don’t find any information, then no sale.
There you have 5 ways to protect yourself from scammers. What precautions do you take? Share your tips with us in the comments.