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Online Shopping Scams and How to Avoid Them

With Christmas shopping looming, now is the time to wise up to the tricks of online scammers.

Trading Sites
Trading Sites
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Fake sellers are having alarming success posing as genuine sellers on trading sites, often advertising prices much lower than everyone else. They might also approach you through social media or email with appealing offers and posts of pictures of the item they are purporting to sell (often copied from someone else’s genuine advertisement). The terms seem reasonable enough – pay up-front before receiving the item. Your suspicion isn’t aroused until you start getting excuses on why they can’t accept payment through the secure site – they say they are travelling or have moved overseas, for example – so they ask you to transfer funds directly to them.

The goods advertised this way can be anything, from pets to used cars, boats and even holidays. That’s what happened back in April when Nelson woman Mary Bier almost fell victim to a scam buyer when she posted her Suzuki scooter for sale on Trade Me for $2250. According to a report about the incident in Stuff.co.nz, when Bier listed the scooter, she received interest from a buyer who was happy to pay the asking price. To secure payment, the buyer – who had a US address – asked her to join PayPal, so they could deposit the money that way. After setting up a PayPal account, the buyer’s demands began to ‘smell bad’. She eventually terminated the sale, but not before the buyer asked her to pay $750 for a pick-up agent, promising to refund the money into her PayPal account along with the original purchase price of $2250.

Fortunately, the 73-year-old Bier wasn’t fooled by this bizarre request. “Why on earth would I have to pay anything before I get my money?” she told Stuff.co.nz. Her bank confirmed it was a scam, and that other, more trusting sellers, hadn’t been as smart.

“You should never pay by Western Union, telegraphic transfer, bank transfer or overseas money order in order to complete a trade you made on Trade Me,” the online auction site advises. “Everyone on Trade Me must have a New Zealand bank account.”

Fake sellers are having alarming success posing as genuine sellers on trading sites, often advertising prices much lower than everyone else. They might also approach you through social media or email with appealing offers and posts of pictures of the item they are purporting to sell (often copied from someone else’s genuine advertisement). The terms seem reasonable enough – pay up-front before receiving the item. Your suspicion isn’t aroused until you start getting excuses on why they can’t accept payment through the secure site – they say they are travelling or have moved overseas, for example – so they ask you to transfer funds directly to them.

The goods advertised this way can be anything, from pets to used cars, boats and even holidays. That’s what happened last year when Perth mother Sarah Vardy lost nearly $6000 when she tried to buy a puppy for her daughter’s 16th birthday through the Trading Post online classifieds. The scammer was posing as a breeder of cavoodle puppies and asked Sarah some convincing questions, appearing to establish that the dog was going to a good home. They also sent photos of the puppy and an ABN, which later turned out to be false.

Her mind at ease, Sarah transferred $1100 to a bank account for the puppy and interstate travel. She then received a phone call asking for $1800 for immunisation and puppy insurance, followed by another demand for $3000 for a climate-controlled crate. When she called to question the amount, she was reassured the puppy was on its way. The minute she’d transferred the money, she knew she had been scammed.



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