Many people have become accustomed to buying and selling online, and there are many benefits. On websites such as Craigslist, Oodle, eBay, Facebook Marketplace or Sell.com, you can find anything from apartments and cars to clothes and appliances. As the seller, you can reach a broad range of potential buyers. And as an online buyer, you can find practically anything you need.
However, while buying and selling online makes finding things easier and faster, there are risks involved. Internet exchanges that require face-to-face meetings can turn into robberies or other dangerous situations. And long-distance exchanges may be connected to internet scams that can steal your financial information.
Follow these tips to make sure your internet sale or purchase is a secure transaction:
- Conduct your transactions at a police station. Avoid transactions at your home, place of business or in underpopulated areas. Many police stations have dedicated safe zones in their parking lots or lobbies, surveilled by cameras, for internet exchanges. If you are buying or selling, call your local police station and ask if they offer these dedicated areas, and make an appointment to meet the seller or buyer there, preferably during daylight. Even if they do not have a designated area for these transactions, most police stations encourage using their space to ensure your safety.
- Try to make local transactions. Long-distance exchanges can be riskier, especially when buying and selling cars and other costly goods.
- If you are buying any high-value merchandise, have it inspected before purchasing. Do not buy something that you have not seen in person. Whether it is a car or an expensive appliance, it is important to make sure you buy it as described. If possible, have it inspected by a professional, or take a good look at it yourself. If it is an apartment, do not buy or rent it without first seeing it and making sure the “landlord” truly owns the house.
- Be aware of fake checks. Scammers can be very good at creating checks that appear to be valid cashier’s checks or money orders. If you accept the check and deposit it, you will be responsible when it is returned for lack of funds. When possible, ask for cash in exchange for goods you are selling.
- Never wire money or do bank-to-bank transactions. This is an untrustworthy payment method if you don’t know the person – and it could be a set up for a scammer to steal your personal and financial information. It is always better to do business in person; that way, you know it is a fair exchange of goods and services.
- Be aware of high-pressure sales interactions. If the seller is trying to rush you to conclude the exchange quickly, this could be a sign that they are trying to get your money before you can properly evaluate the transaction. Take your time.
- Call the buyer or seller and establish contact. It is always best to have a phone contact if you are involved in internet exchanges. This is part of being a responsible seller and consumer. If he or she is unable to provide you a phone contact, or unable to tell you the location of the item you are interested in buying, it is probably a scam, and you should stop all communication.
- Lastly, follow your instincts. If you suspect that the deal is too good to be true, and you “just have a feeling” that it’s not right, take this as a warning sign. Trust yourself, there will always be another opportunity to buy or sell!
If you have been the victim of an internet scam, notify the FTC by calling their hotline, 877-FTC-HELP (877-382-4357). You can also place a complaint through the Department of Consumer Protection at 860-713-6100.
The next time you are browsing through ad listings, keep these tips in mind. If someone you know is considering an internet exchange, share this information with them. Get smart and pass it on!
This article was written by Catherine Blinder, chief education and outreach officer of the Department of Consumer Protection of the State of Connecticut. To learn more about how the Department of Consumer Protection can help, visit us online at www.ct.gov/dcp.