Alert! Protecting yourself from online transaction scams

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

In the wake of the unfolding situation with Anthroholic's personal shopping services, I've been asked to create a post explaining how people can 1- protect themselves from potential scams and 2 - recourse on how to get their money back if a transaction goes sour. This post applies to any personal transactions you have on the Internet. Though I police the Trade Market to the best of my abilities it is impossible to stop every scammer. Since I have zero involvement with the transactions I often don't hear about deals gone sour until after the fact. Here or anywhere else you should take steps to make sure you're dealing smart.

Note that I am not a lawyer, police officer or investigator. The information presented in this post is not legal advice.

First and foremost, remember that as a buyer you have the ability at any time before payment is exchanged to back out of a transaction. When people contact me to ask about a Trade Market seller I always tell them that if something feels fishy it probably is. If the deal seems too good to be true it probably is.

- You don't hear from the seller for 3+ days mid-transaction
- You were sent a tracking number that doesn't exist in the shipping system, even after a few days
- You try to email the seller and the email bounces back to you
- You are repeatedly asked to wait longer for your item for whatever reason

If you are buying something online from another individual, time is your main concern. Most online payment services have a time limit for you to open a dispute or request a chargeback. Scammers will create delays to try to make you miss this window. Many of us err on the side of being polite, but if you are owed an item or your money you should not feel bad about forcing the issue.

If you suspect a Trade Market transaction has gone south, email me. I can't promise I'll be able to help but this community knows I will do everything in my power.

- Use an online payment gateway that has a dispute system, like Paypal
(personally I'm not a fan of Paypal but I still use it for most transactions because of the dispute system)
- NEVER send a 'personal payment' or 'gift payment'. This is a sales transaction and should be treated as such. Always request a detailed invoice.
- If possible, use your credit card rather than a debit or EBT to pay your invoices
(This way you can do a chargeback through your credit card company if necessary.)
- NEVER send a seller cash, checks or create wire transfers in exchange for goods

- Contact the seller directly first. All efforts should be made to resolve the issue amicably if possible.
- Open a Paypal dispute
- File a credit card chargeback if you paid via credit card

- File a police report. Call your local police. They may refer you to the police department where the seller lives.
- Register a complaint through the FBI's internet complaint center

I'm sure this list isn't exhaustive and welcome further suggestions in the comments. Being that I'm at work (lunch break = over) my friend MacGruffRuff will be monitoring the comments and he is not as nice as I am. Please keep the comments civil. No personal attacks and no calls to action.

Edited to add:
I was contacted with the following Illinois-specific information:
Thank you for the post about the Anthroholic issue. I'm happy that someone is taking a stand against what appears to be a systematic fraudulent scheme.

I wanted to suggest that you post the Illinois Attorney General Consumer Fraud Division's contact Information. Because the offending blogger is based in Chicago, I believe this would be the most efficient venue to lodge complaints. Lisa Madigan's office takes these matters seriously and all complaints are reviewed promptly.  The hotline number is 1-800-386-5438. The online complaint link is below.

I would be happy to help in any way that I can; feel free to refer my email contact to your readers if they have any questions or need help filing a complaint.

Very truly yours,
Jennifer Ebling, Esq.