How to Avoid Auction Scams
Items on online auction websites can often seem like a deal, especially when you're looking for rare or collector pieces. Although most online auctions are legitimate, auction scams make up almost half of all online scams that are reported to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Fortunately, there are some easy precautions you can take to protect yourself from being scammed. One of the best ways to do this is to research sellers before you give them your business. In order to do this, you should take two routes: investigate the seller's profile and run an email search to check on the legitimacy of the seller.
When you're on a seller's profile
- Take a quick glance - Do they have good feedback, and lots of it? If the seller does have some negative reviews, it's a good idea to check them out for yourself - if the person has responded to their criticism with a reasonable explanation, it's likely that they are conducting their business in good faith. But watch out for sellers with few reviews (you don't want to be their first victim!), lots of negative reviews, or who are selling lots of items that no one is bidding on - if other sellers are having no trouble unloading similar items, buyers may be avoiding this person for a reason.
- Dig a little deeper - Is there positive feedback about items similar to the one that you're bidding on? If the seller's only positive feedback comes only from small, inexpensive items (like a cell phone case), you should be wary of buying a more expensive item (like a cell phone) because you could fall victim to the online version of bait and switch! Sellers who use this method rack up positive feedback on small items, sometimes over the course of a few years, and then will put a very expensive item up for auction, which they will never deliver.
If you're able to find out a seller's email address - sometimes auction sites don't provide this information but looking at a seller's PayPal address could provide a hint - you can run a reverse email address search to check their online reputation. By checking up on a seller's email address, you can find out if they are the legitimate salesperson they are making themselves out to be, or if they are a scammer hiding behind a trail of false information.
How to run a reverse email search:
- Check here to see if the seller's email address is valid - if it's not, that might be your first clue that something fishy is going on.
- Next, there are a number of free ways that you can reverse email search online. Yahoo and Hotmail, two of the web's largest email servers, allow users to search for email addresses within their directories. Signing up is free, and once you become a member, you can look for the owner of the email address you have. There are also a number of free (but outdated) reverse email search engines online, such as Bigfoot.com, SmartPages.infospace.com, and Maillocate.com
- Check sites that specialize in online reputation checks, such as RapLeaf.com or iKarma.com which pool information and user feedback from all over the internet about email addresses.
- If you can't find the information you're looking for on these websites, you may want to consider paying for a reverse email search (especially if you want to continue shopping at online auctions). Many of these services charge a one-time fee, so you can go back to the website to search other emails whenever you want.
Once you're comfortable with the trustworthiness of a seller, go ahead and bid aggressively on that discontinued pair of running shoes that you just have to have! Good luck and happy shopping!