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How to Avoid Online Shopping and Auction Fraud

The Internet provides a convenient outlet for shopping from home, with a variety of items easily available for purchase online. Items available for online purchase vary extensively, including clothing, jewelry, car parts, groceries, antiques, electronics, and even big ticket items such as cars. It is easy to make purchases online from Internet stores, websites, and auctions. As accessible as online shopping is, however, consumers must proceed carefully to avoid fraud.

Shopping and Auction Scams

Fraud is prevalent with online shopping, so it's important to learn about typical scams to enable you to avoid them. Many people enjoy the process of browsing Internet auction websites to find rare or unusual items for sale. You might also save money if you can find a valuable item offered at an attractive price. Auction websites usually institute a screening process to vet people who wish to auction items, which sometimes helps to eliminate scams. However, this won't stop a criminal from trying to entice would-be buyers to make purchases elsewhere online, beyond the safety of the auction website. Once a buyer makes a payment, the seller will disappear without ever sending the purchased item. One might encounter a scam while trying to buy an automobile in an Internet auction, as well. It's typical for the seller to present the auto as being located outside of the United States. The seller tries to have a buyer arrange a payment by wire transfer. After completing the payment, the seller disappears, the buyer doesn't receive the car, and the money cannot be recovered.

Signs of a Scam

As you peruse a website to buy a car or other item, look for warning signs that could indicate fraud. One telltale sign that could indicate a scam is items that are priced far below retail prices. These prices could be in place to lure people in to make purchases for items that will never be sent. Look for information on the website that indicates a secure payment platform with contact information for sellers, privacy terms posted, and details for resolving disputes. A website lacking this information could be a sign of potential fraud.

How to Stay Safe

To stay safe when participating in Internet auctions and making other purchases online, read the information presented on a website completely before you make a payment or proceed with any bids. You will typically find a user agreement on an auction website that requires you to read and accept all terms of the website. Browse through reviews on the website to see whether buyers have posted any complaints about quality of items or shipments. Before proceeding, you can also check with the Federal Trade Commission or your state's attorney general office to see if there are any complaints associated with a website.

Research an Auction

It's imperative that you research an item and know all facts before you enter a bid to buy. Check pricing and value for an item such as an automobile or jewelry prior to bidding so you know what would be a reasonable price. Investigate the reputation of the auctioneer or auction website to ensure that no complaints exist from previous buyers. Read through the terms of purchase completely before you agree to them.

Proceeding with a Transaction

After finding an item you wish to purchase and performing the necessary research, you may be ready to proceed with a transaction. Move forward carefully for any expenditure, whether it's something as basic as car parts or whether it's a major purchase such as an auto. If you have any doubts about the validity of the purchase, do not complete the transaction. Make sure that the payment options fit your needs. It's often beneficial to use a credit card for online purchases, because credit card companies offer consumers a variety of protections against fraud. Escrow service may be another option to consider. For a fee, you can make your payment to be held in escrow by the website until you have received the item and confirmed that everything is in order with the purchase. After this confirmation, the website will release your payment to the seller.

Reporting an Issue

If something goes wrong with a purchase, you have options for resolution. You can report issues in a variety of ways. First, you should attempt to resolve the issue internally on the website involved with the purchase. It's possible that the website will assist you with getting your item or receiving a refund. If this option does not resolve the problem, you have other avenues for resolution, as well. If you paid for an item by credit card, call the credit card company to request a charge-back to reverse the charges on your credit card. You can also involve your local law enforcement office if you suspect fraud was involved with the transaction. The federal government also receives reports about fraudulent activity. Contact the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, the U.S. Department of Justice, or the National Consumer's League for assistance.

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