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Use precautions to avoid scammers on online classifieds

Online classified sites have some enticing deals, but if you're not careful, you can become a victim of fraud. Take a couple in San Francisco, for instance. They were desperate for tickets to the Super Bowl, so they wired $5,900 to a seller whom they found on Craigslist, only to receive a note that said "Enjoy the game!!!! Goo Ravens!!! LOL". • There are safer ways to use online classifieds and reduce the risk of being defrauded. Scambook (, an online complaint resolution and consumer information site, has the following tips to keep safe and protect yourself against scammers:

Trust instincts: The No. 1 rule is to trust gut instincts going into any transaction. If a Craigslist ad seems phony, don't proceed.

Stay local: Craigslist is designed to be city/region specific and if anyone makes up any excuses for why they cannot meet, it's a red flag. Remember that scammers tend to lie.

Avoid wire transfers, cashier's checks and money orders. These are huge red flags. If something goes awry when making a wire transfer (through Western Union or MoneyGram for example), the money will not be protected. Exchange cash instead. Checks and money orders can bounce, leaving consumers with bank fees, possible legal action, and no money. Large transactions can be performed in a bank where money can be withdrawn and deposited right away.

Never use online escrow. If someone insists on using an escrow website, cancel the transaction immediately. Online escrow sites are normally run by scammers.

Don't commit without seeing the goods in person. Make sure an item is up to standards and be cautious of those willing to buy an item without seeing it first. A common Craigslist scam involves a "buyer" sending too large a check, asking for it to be deposited, and wanting the difference to be deposited via Western Union. After the money is wired, the bank can discover the counterfeit check and the "seller" is stuck paying.

Don't fall for job scams. Be wary of "employers" who don't require an interview and make sure to visit the job's physical location prior to sending personal information such as a credit/background check. Any job that requires an upfront payment, involves "working from home" without detail, and job offers for secret shopping, international shipping management, foreign financial transfers, and survey-taking are almost always a scam. Learn more about job scams.

Use a counterfeit detection pen. This pen's ink will change color on wood-based paper, allowing consumers to detect fake bills because real money is printed on fiber-based paper. Visit a nearby office supply store or buy one online for $5.

Craigslist doesn't certify listings. Anyone who claims to be "certified" or "guaranteed" by Craigslist is likely a scammer. Craigslist has no verification or screening process. Be aware of language such as "buyer protection," "seller certification" and "Craigslist payment services."

Research the buyer/seller. Use both Scambook and Google to search someone by their name, email or business name. Make sure their identity is not an alias and that this person comes up clean. More tips for safely selling are available on Craiglist.

Don't give out more personal information than necessary. Don't release any personal information in a public listing. The only personal information consumers need to list in a Craigslist ad could be a phone number. Google Voice allows the creation of a free disposable phone number. If someone needs to retrieve an item from a home address, due to the item's size, put the item outside and do not let the buyer inside.

Use precautions to avoid scammers on online classifieds 02/06/13 [Last modified: Monday, February 4, 2013 5:02pm]
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