Avoiding Scams Disguised as Online Marketplace Transactions

Our Economic Crimes Unit has seen an increase of complaints regarding scams involving online transactions, primarily on Craigslist. But, risky business applies to all online classified platforms.

Many of the complaints involve the sending of money without first verifying the person selling a product, service, housing, animal, or vehicle was not a scammer. The primary ways to ensure you are doing business with a real person is to meet locally and only offer payment in person upon exchange of the item.

Moreover, the complaints involved responding to a Craigslist ad, and sending payment electronically via PayPal – Friends and Family. Tough scrutiny should be applied against the seller of any offering before making electronic payment by PayPal – Friends and Family, Bitcoin, wire transfer, Prepaid Cards, or any other electronic method. Once payment is released through these methods, recovering it can prove difficult to impossible.

Here are some tips for preventing falling victim to fraud during an online transaction:

  1. Deal locally, face-to-face —follow this one rule and avoid 99% of scam attempts.
  2. Do not provide payment to anyone you have not met in person. A list of safe exchange zones offered by CCSO is here: https://ccsoblog.org/2019/06/19/safe-zone/
  3. Never wire funds (e.g. Western Union).
  4. Don’t accept cashier/certified checks or money orders – banks can potentially cash fakes, then hold you responsible.
  5. Transactions are between users only, beware promises of a third party “guarantee”.
  6. Never give out your financial information (bank account, social security, PayPal account, etc.)
  7. Do not rent or purchase sight-unseen—that amazing “deal” may not exist.
  8. Refuse background/credit checks until you have met landlord/employer in person.
  9. “Craigslist voicemails” – Any message asking you to access or check “craigslist voicemails” or “craigslist voice messages” is fraudulent – no such service exists.

The first three warnings instruct the users of online marketplaces to deal in person. By doing business outside the consumers’ local area, the consumer vastly increases their exposure to fraud.

Most online marketplace scams attempts involve one or more of the following:

  • Email or text from someone that is not local to your area.
  • Vague initial inquiry, e.g. asking about “the item.” Poor grammar/spelling.
  • Western Union, Money Gram, cashier check, money order, PayPal, Zelle, shipping, escrow service, or a “guarantee.”
  • Inability or refusal to meet face-to-face to complete the transaction.

Use good judgement and err on the side of caution when a deal seems too good to be true in on online marketplace. Meet in a public place such as our Safe Exchange Zones located at district offices. If you are ever concerned for your safety, call the Sheriff’s Office immediately.

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