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Online Purchase Scams

Internet classified and auction sites make shopping easy for buyers, sellers, and unfortunately scam artists. Most purchase scams involve a highly desirable item at an incredibly low price. The seller fabricates a story to explain why the item is being “sacrificed” for less than market value.

When you understand the underlying themes scammers use, you can usually spot a scam. Keep in mind, if an offer sounds too good to be true, it’s probably a scam. Familiarize yourself with the more common purchase scams described below.

Buying Vehicles

Buying Vehicles

Internet classifieds and auction services can be a huge money saver for car buyers and sellers, allowing both to avoid the cost of a dealership. The popularity of this service provides an open market for scammers. Below are warning signs of fraudulent sellers.

  • Vehicle is priced far below market value for a “quick sale”
  • The seller claims to be stationed overseas due to military deployment or a job transfer
  • The posting does not include a phone number
  • The seller requires a wire transfer to an online escrow service or pickup agent; however, there is no vehicle, and once the wire transfer is sent, the buyer never hears from the seller or escrow service again

To avoid internet vehicle scams, complete the transaction in person after having a professional inspection of the vehicle and title.

Discount Gift Cards

Discount Gift Cards

While it may be tempting to purchase a $100 gift card for $25, these offers fall into the red flag rule of too good to be true. Online auction sites are not a safe place to purchase gift cards. In most cases, the gift card ends up being worthless, or if it does have value, it may be stolen property.

Scammers create a false sense of security by providing a gift card number and encouraging the purchaser to call the issuer to verify the balance. After the satisfied purchaser pays, whether in person or online, the seller immediately calls the card company and reports the card as lost or stolen. The value is transferred to a replacement card, leaving the purchaser with a worthless card.

Avoid fraudulent gift cards by purchasing them directly from an official source.

Rental Property

Rental Property

Moving from a dorm room into a rental house can be exciting, unless you end up in a rental scam. In a popular scenario, a fraudster rents a house for a short time, or breaks into a vacant home, and advertises the property at a bargain rate. The fraudster shows the house and collects deposits from multiple renters. Move-in dates are delayed until the fraudster eventually disappears with all of the deposits.

To avoid this type of scam, use a reputable leasing company to secure a rental house. If you rent from an individual owner, ask to see the owner’s identification and proof of ownership. You can also search your county clerk or registrar’s office for the property’s owner of record.

Avoiding Purchase Scams

Avoiding Purchase Scams

Following these general guidelines will help you avoid purchase scams:

  • Be skeptical. An offer that seems too good to be true is probably a scam.
  • Deal only with sellers you can meet in person. This will prevent nearly all classified and auction website scams.
  • Never wire money for a purchase. Any seller requesting a wire transfer is likely a fraudster.
  • Never provide personal financial information. A legitimate seller has no need for your bank account number, Social Security number, PayPal info, etc.
  • Check out rental property. Do not rent housing from an individual without verifying property ownership.

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