Before you do business with any company, do your due diligence. Ask for references, check out the company with your local Better Business Bureau, ask friends and family if they've ever done business with them. Even putting their name in a Google search may give you some clues. If you find complaints, think twice about giving the company your business.
- Never, ever click a link to your bank or financial institution from an email, never give out your, email password, use strong passwords (and secret questions), do not buy anything from an email you didn’t ask for.
- Find out how the auction site protects buyers and sellers from fraud. A responsible online auction site will take steps to protect both buyers and sellers from fraud. Find out what actions the auction site will take in your defense if you become a victim of an unscrupulous seller.
- Don’t give out any financial information, such as checking account and credit card numbers; and especially your social Security number; on the phone or online, unless you initiate the call and know the person or organization you’re dealing with. Don’t give that information to any stranger. In general, it is only required for medical providers, banks, mortgages and credit card companies.
- Don't do business with a company whose name can be easily confused with a government agency or a well-known company.
- Be creative in selecting Personal Identification Numbers for your ATM and credit cards, and passwords that enable you to access other accounts. Don’t use birth dates, part of your Social Security Number or driver’s license number, address, or children’s or spouse’s names. Remember: If someone has stolen your identity, he or she probably has some or all of this information.
- Compare the cost of the item elsewhere. Scammers will often price their items lower than the competition in order to lure in buyers. A lowball minimum bid for an item should be considered a red flag.
- NEVER buy anything from a company that sends you spam. Don't even visit their sites or ask for more information. It is like feeding a stray cat. Give it one morsel of food, and it will be there all the time (and that may be fine with cats, but NO one wants spammers at the doorstep!). Remember, since they send out millions of spam emails, they only need a tiny fraction of responses to be profitable. And if that doesn't convince you, consider this: the vast majority of spam "offers" are in fact scams!
- Research the seller. Online auction sites often provide the opportunity for buyers to rate sellers and provide feedback on the transaction. These reviews are a great way to determine the seller’s track record, but keep in mind that reviews are typically not authenticated and some sellers will pay for flattering reviews in order to mislead buyers.
- Always pay with a credit card rather than a debit card, check or wire transfer. Most credit card companies will help you recover your money if you haven't received what you paid for. "Even though people are worried about credit cards, it is a way to protect yourself," says Audri Lanford, co-director of ScamBusters.org, an online newsletter that tracks scams and identity theft.
- Ask plenty of questions. When in doubt, don’t be afraid to ask the seller questions about the item, including how they came to own it, its condition and if you can return it if you’re not satisfied. Also find out whether the cost of shipping is included in the bidding price and, if not, clarify what the added delivery cost will be.
- Don’t be lured away from the auction site. In some cases, scammers will try to convince bidders to complete a transaction outside of the auction site, perhaps by telling losing bidders that the seller actually has more of the same item available. Leaving the Web site means you are no longer covered by the protections and guarantees provided by the auction business.
- Use a secure form of payment. Use a credit card or a secure payment service, such as PayPal, when purchasing items through an online auction. If the seller insists on using an escrow service, always research that business fully with BBB. Never wire cash payments — such as through MoneyGram or Western Union —to someone you don’t know.
- Finally, use your gut instinct. If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.
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