Cyber-criminals continue to target online-auction users and are now targeting sellers in new twists on old scams. We reported in January that criminals posing as companies were looking for sales reps to sell items on eBay using their own PayPal accounts. "All you will have to do is forwarding the payments arriving to your account and the merchandise is shipped separately, you will not have to take care of it," stated one email from a scammer.
As we pointed out in the article, PayPal's Web site warns users, "Do not use your PayPal account to collect and transfer money for someone else. This type of activity is often conducted as a form of money laundering. Money laundering is a state and federal crime which often results in significant criminal penalties."
In April, we learned of a similar scam with a twist. Perpetrators are now listing "work from home" jobs on career sites. The "job" is for a sales representative to use their eBay and PayPal accounts to sell the company's computers and plasma TVs.
An alert reader, who tipped me off to this scam, contacted the company listing the position. A person replied to him and said she worked for a distributor in Taiwan, which was in the process of opening offices in the U.S. They wanted him to advertise their items on eBay, accept payment using his PayPal account, and wire transfer the money to them, and they would ship the goods to the customers. The whole set-up smelled fishy, and the job-listing service quickly pulled the post from their site after we contacted them.
I used to think the best advice to avoid fraud was to do a little research. Sometimes, however, this can lead to a false sense of security.
For example, some people may say to themselves, "This company looks legitimate, because they list a street address. I did some research, and this is their actual physical location." You should be aware that the address they list could be a P.O. box at a "pack-and-ship" store. While having an account with a pack-and-ship store is not a sign of fraud, if you think it's the corporate headquarters of a large company, you may act with less caution than if you know it's simply a pickup box. In addition, there are services that allow individuals to incorporate as businesses in Delaware with no verification, and the services provide their own street address for the "company" to use! Here again, it could be an individual located in another country, but you think you are dealing with a U.S. business.
It's best to remain skeptical.
If you are considering doing business with a company, talk to them on the phone. Get references, and call those references. If the company is located overseas, call the consulate, call the chamber of commerce, or the Better Business Bureau to try to verify that the company exists and that it has a good track record.
Even doing what the experts recommend can sometimes get you into trouble. When buying high-ticket items, it is often advised to use an escrow service as protection. However, many users - both buyers and sellers - have been scammed using fake escrow sites. It's very easy to set up a site that looks legitimate, which is another reason for picking up the phone to try and verify you are dealing with a legitimate business.
There's some reason to believe that the next trend will be "anti-fraud" services, that promise to help you, but are actually out to steal your money. Be skeptical of anyone that tries to sell you anti-fraud protection.
Some Tips for Avoiding Fraud:
- Don't assume that because you have the street address of an individual or business, it's safe to do business with them.
- Don't assume you are doing business with some in the U.S., and be even more cautious when conducting international business.
- Don't believe the "from" line of any email. Just because you receive an email that appears to be from a trusted source does not necessarily mean it came from that source. You can learn all about email headers at http://www.stopspam.org/email/headers/headers.html
- Never wire-transfer money, even if you "think" you know the person you're sending it to. (i.e., an "employer" or "customer"!)
- Don't fall for fake Web sites. It's all too easy to set up a site that looks real, complete with photos of the company management team.
Another Form of Seller Fraud
The antiques press has been giving some attention lately to another form of fraud: stealing pictures from sellers' auctions and using them in bogus auction listings. The scammer asks the buyer to send money via wire transfer, but does not have possession of the items. Maine Antique Digest http://www.maineantiquedigest.com/buzz/buzz168.htm and Antique Trader ran two of the articles I've seen about this problem this month.
In yet another twist, I heard from a woman who sells autographs on eBay. She said there is an eBay seller who is copying the images on her site and reselling them, sending buyers poor-quality copies. She is trying without success to get eBay to remove all of the seller's auctions. Some sellers try to protect their photos with the use of watermarks. Using image-editing software, they place the name of their company or Web site on their auction photos.
While eBay and PayPal users are popular targets of fraud, it also happens to customers of banks, ISPs and other organizations, so remain skeptical no matter who you think you are dealing with!
Visit the AuctionBytes Fraud Resource page at http://www.auctionbytes.com/cab/pages/fraud for more information.