Editorial, Nov. 30, 2017

Nov 30, 2017

Don't fall for a scam

Though Black Friday and Cyber Monday are in the rearview mirror, there are still plenty of online shopping days until Christmas as well as time to sell unwanted stuff to fund holiday purchases. With that in mind, we've compiled some safety tips from the Better Business Bureau.

Whether you’re a buyer or a seller, online transactions require extra caution to avoid scams. These cons often involve purchases and sales on eBay, Craigslist, Kijiji, and other direct seller-to-buyer sites. Scammers may pretend to purchase an item only to send you a bogus check and ask you to refund the “accidental” overpayment. In other cases, the scammer will pretend to be a legitimate online seller but never deliver the goods.

How the scam works:

You are selling an item through an online service. A buyer contacts you claiming to be interested in purchasing the item. They may offer you more money for the item if you accept a cashier’s check or money order rather than following the site’s usual checkout process. When the payment arrives, it is for more than the agreed-upon purchase amount. The buyer claims to have made a mistake and asks you to return the difference by some untraceable method such as a wire transfer. The payment turns out to be a fake, and you’re out the money.

If you’re the buyer in an online purchase scam, the basic ploy is a simple one — you will not receive the items you paid for. The listing or website might be selling anything from a puppy to a used car. The seller may attempt to convince you to go outside the site’s usual payment methods, or to complete a purchase for a big-ticket item sight unseen.

BBB offers tips to avoid these and other scams:

Be aware that even if you are able to cash a check or see funds recorded in your account statement, it may still be a fake. Your bank may say the check has cleared, but it can take several weeks to learn it has bounced.

Use the protections websites offer to buyers and sellers. If a buyer or seller tries to persuade you to go outside the site’s usual process or payment methods, that’s a big red flag.

Never send money to someone you haven't met face-to-face. And never use wire transfer, a prepaid debit card, or a gift card (those cannot be traced and are as good as cash).

Don’t click on links or open attachments in unsolicited email. Links can download malware onto your computer and steal your identity. Be cautious even with email that looks familiar; it could be fake.

Don’t believe everything you see. Scammers are great at mimicking official seals, fonts, and other "official" details in emails and on websites. Even Caller ID can be faked. Maine's Attorney General recommends simply not answering the phone if the call is a number you don't recognize, even if it appears to be a local number.

Don’t buy online unless the transaction is secure. Make sure the website has “https” in the URL (the extra s is for “secure”) and a small lock icon on the address bar. Even then, the site could be shady. Check out the company first at bbb.org. Read reviews and make sure you are not buying cheap and/or counterfeit goods.

Be extremely cautious when dealing with anyone you’ve met online. Scammers use dating websites, Craigslist, social media, and many other sites to reach potentially vulnerable targets. Part of the con is they can quickly feel like a friend or even a romantic partner.

Never share personally identifiable information with someone who has contacted you unsolicited, whether by phone, email, social media, even at your front door. This includes banking and credit card information, your birth date, and Social Security/Social Insurance numbers.

Don’t be pressured to act immediately. Scammers typically try to push you into action before you have time to think or to discuss it with someone.

Use secure, traceable transactions when making payments for goods, services, taxes and debts. Do not pay by wire transfer, prepaid money card, gift card, or other non-traditional payment method. Say no to cash-only deals, high pressure sales tactics, high upfront payments, overpayments, and handshake deals without a contract.

Whenever possible, work with local businesses that have proper identification, licensing, and insurance — especially contractors who will be coming into your home or anyone dealing with your money or sensitive information. Check them out at bbb.org to see what other consumers have experienced.

Be cautious about what you share on social media and consider connecting only with people you already know. Use privacy settings on all social media and online accounts. Imposters use that information to sound like a friend or family member. Don't be fooled.

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