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On-line shopping fraud: from a buyer or seller's point of view

Recognize it

What is on-line shopping fraud?

shopping cartThese days, Canadians can buy or sell almost anything over the Internet. Unfortunately, criminals can use the anonymity of the internet to rip off unsuspecting buyers and sellers.

For example, scammers may sell a product – often at a very cheap price – just so they can steal your payment card or personal information. They may also take your money and send you a worthless item, or sometimes, nothing at all.

What is on-line auction fraud?

On-line auction sites are virtual flea markets that present new or used items for sale that you can bid on. On-line auction scams include such frauds as the misrepresentation of an item, non-delivery of goods and services, as well as non-payment for goods delivered.

On-line auctions can be rigged by scammers. If you are selling a product, the scammer can enter a low bid followed by a very high bid under another name. Just before the auction closes, the scammer withdraws the high bid and the low bid wins. If you are buying a product, the scammer can boost the price using dummy bidders.

Important information

  • Most on-line auction websites have an on-line learning guide and security tips on proper on-line payment methods and precautions. These payment methods are very secure and may minimize the risk of fraud while offering purchase protection.
  • The sellers are the focus of most Internet auction fraud complaints.
  • If you buy or sell on-line, you should also be aware of cheque overpayment scams. In this type of scam, you are sent a cheque for something you have sold, but the cheque is made out for more than the agreed amount. The scammer hopes you will refund the extra money before noticing that his cheque has bounced.

Report it

If you are a victim of on-line shopping fraud:

  • Step 1 — Contact the police service of jurisdiction in your area.
  • Step 2 — Report the fraud to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre by going to their website or by calling 1-888-495-8501.
  • Step 3 — You should also report the crime to the on-line shopping website you dealt with

Stop it

  • Deal with companies or individuals that you know by reputation or experience. If you are not familiar with the company, do some research. Reputable on-line merchants will post plenty of information about themselves, their location, their phone and fax numbers and details like their membership in organizations such as the Better Business Bureau.
  • Look for a privacy policy. Be sure you are comfortable with how the company collects, protects and uses your personal information before you submit any details. Responsible marketers have an opt-out policy, which allows you to choose whether your information is shared with third parties.
  • Do not be lured into using payment methods other than the options recommended by the Internet auction site. Do not pay by sending cash, money transfers or money orders.
  • Be wary of phishing e-mails that ask for personal or financial information.
  • Consider using a company that provides an escrow service (reliable third-party). Escrow agents will hold the buyer's payment until they have received notification that the goods or services have been delivered. The escrow service then delivers the payment to the seller or provider. Research the credibility of the escrow service approved by the on-line auction service provider. Beware of criminals who create fraudulent escrow sites by mimicking legitimate sites or creating entirely fictitious sites to get money from trusting victims.
  • Shop only from your home computer. It's much safer than shopping at a terminal in an internet café or library.
  • If you plan to buy something, go directly to a store's website by manually typing its address into your web browser. Don't click on links in an e-mail message even if you know who sent it.
  • Verify secure connections. When shopping on-line, do not enter any financial information on a site if you see a broken key or an open padlock symbol in your Internet browser. This means the transaction is not secure and could be intercepted by a third party. When the key is complete or the padlock is locked, your browser is indicating a secure transaction.
  • Consider using a credit card with a low credit limit or a single use payment card.
  • Monitor your bank and credit card statements on-line. Electronic statements allow you to review your purchases and payments as they happen rather than waiting until the end of the month to review your paper statement.
  • Never give out your social insurance number, date of birth or driver's license number to a seller.
  • Before you bid, learn as much as you can about how the on-line auction works, your obligations as a buyer, and the seller's obligations.
  • Always remember, if an offer sounds suspicious or too good to be true, it probably is.