The need to find the best deals and bargains for holiday gifts is more important this year than in almost any time in recent memory.
Folks across the United States have been hit by high fuel and food prices, a housing and credit crisis, and the looming possibility of increased unemployment.
It only makes sense that millions of people will turn to the Internet, including online auctions, to find the perfect holiday gifts. Unfortunately, however, there are numerous worldwide cyber-thugs with temping offers and schemes just waiting for the opportunity to rip-off your hard-earned cash.
Here are some outstanding ideas suggested by National Fraud Information Center (a project of the National Consumers League) and the Internet Fraud Complaint Center:
1. Understand as much as possible about how the auction works, what are your obligations are as a buyer, and what the seller’s obligations are — before you bid.
2. Find out what actions the auction Web site will take if a problem occurs.
A Quick Security Tip: You may want to consider insuring the transaction and its shipment, and be sure to ask about delivery time, return policy, warranty and service.
3. Learn as much as you can about the seller, especially if the only information you have is an e-mail address. Get the name and contact information of the company or individual to include the physical street address and telephone number. You many not want to do business with anyone who refuses to provide that information.
Some sources of seller information may include state or local consumer protection agencies and the Better Business Bureau (where your seller is located). Also check to see if there is a feedback section on the auction site with comments about the seller based on previous transactions.
A Quick Security Tip: Wonderful reviews might be “planted” by the seller and negative comments could be from a competitor.
4. Determine what method of payment the seller is asking from the buyer and where he/she is asking to send a payment. In general, it is best to avoid cash payments.
Payment by credit card can sometimes protect both the buyer and the seller because the buyer can dispute the charges if the goods are misrepresented or never delivered, and the seller can receive their payment quicker than waiting for a check or money order in the mail — plus it avoids the issue of a bad check.
A Quick Security Tip: There should never be a reason to give out your Social Security number or driver’s license number to the seller.
5. Be very cautious when dealing with a buyer or seller located in other countries because if you do have a problem, the physical distance, the difference in legal systems, as well as other factors may make resolving it even more difficult.
6. Buyers should be wary of claims made about expensive collectibles. A good idea is to print out and save the description and any photos of the item to document the claims that were made.
7. You may want to consider using an escrow service. For a small fee, an escrow service hold’s the buyer’s payment and forwards it to the seller upon the buyer’s receipt and approval of the item within an agreed upon inspection period. Ask the escrow service if it is licensed and bonded, and how you can confirm that with the appropriate agency.
8. Let the auction site know if you have a problem. Complaints may result in users being barred from the site. Also ask the auction company about insurance that will cover buyers up to a certain amount if something goes wrong.
A Quick Security Tip: Be sure to read the terms of the insurance carefully as there are often specific limitations or requirements to meet, and there is usually a deductible.
9. Remember that not all problems are due to fraud. Sometimes buyers and sellers may simply fail to hold up parts of the deal in a timely fashion, or there may be a legitimate disagreement about something. You may want to consider using third-party mediation to help resolve these types of disputes.
These are just a few ideas to help make your online auction experience more secure. Be sure to check with the “security and safety department” of the Internet auction service you are thinking of using for even more safety tips.
My Final Thoughts: It is essential to note that the great majority of all online auction transactions are legitimate, and both sides of the bargain are very satisfied. For millions and millions of folks, Internet auctions are a fun, and sometimes profitable way, to buy and sell.
If you suspect online auction fraud, however, you may want to file complain with the Internet Fraud Complaint Center at http://www.ic3.gov. Many times investigations are determined by patterns of complaints against the same individual seller or company -- so it may be a good idea to report your fraud suspicious to law enforcement.
Note: If you manufacture or distribute any security, safety, emergency preparedness, homeland defense or crime prevention related products, please send information on your product line for possible future reference in this column to CrimePrevention123@yahoo.com.
Copyright 2008 by Bruce Mandelblit
“Staying Safe” with Bruce Mandelblit (www.Mandelblit.com) is a regular column for the readers of Newsmax.com and Newsmax.com magazine. Bruce welcomes your thoughts. His e-mail address is CrimePrevention123@yahoo.com.
Bruce is a nationally known security journalist, as well as a recently retired, highly decorated reserve law enforcement officer.
This column is provided for general information purposes only. Please check with your local law enforcement agency and legal professional for information specific to you and your jurisdiction.
Bruce writes "Staying Safe," a weekly syndicated column covering the topics of security, safety, and crime prevention. Bruce was commissioned as a Kentucky colonel — the state’s highest honor — for his public service.
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