The rise of online shopping has been a huge boon to consumers. Prices, availability, and selection have never been more favorable. Most shopping interfaces are relatively safe for consumers and require little thought in terms of whether to trust a retailer. Places like Amazon, eBay, and other major online marketplaces offer assurances that goods will conform to quality standards and act as financial mediators for when there are disputes. For example, if one buys a product on Amazon and it doesn’t meet standards or never gets shipped, the consumer has avenues available within Amazon to seek a remedy.
Some marketplaces don’t afford these luxuries though, namely ones where individuals buy, sell, and trade goods and services without a robust intermediary. Places like Craigslist and other “classifieds”-style interfaces can be a true haven for bargain hunting, but without the safeguards offered by more mainstream marketplaces, consumers are at serious risk. For those who need markets like this or simply prefer them, here’s some advice that can allow one to avoid scams:
- Shop locally. It may be tempting to cash in on a great deal and have it shipped across the country, but often these deals are too good to be true. Try to always see what you’re buying in person. Scams right now commonly involve long-distance transactions.
A common place where consumers deviate from this rule is renting. When people move far away, they often want to ensure they have a place to stay before getting there. There are plenty of consumers who have made a deposit on a room or apartment across the country, moved there, and had no problems. There are also scores of consumers who have had worse luck, finding the “lease” they signed was for a place that either the seller didn’t own, or didn’t exist at all. To avoid this, either travel to see the place before making a payment or have a friend in the area do it for you. If this isn’t possible, consider staying in an inexpensive motel or hotel while looking for a place to rent. This may be less than ideal, but it’s certainly far less expensive than losing hundreds or even thousands on a fake deposit.
- Pay with card or check. While the former may not have been an option years ago, the rise of mobile applications like Venmo have made it possible to pay anyone with a smart phone and a bank account via credit or debit. Regardless of whether you use card or check, if something goes wrong at least there will be an institution to help you out and possibly issue a refund. Absent theft or fraud, many institutions won’t be able to issue a refund, but it’s best to at least have some sort of record of the transaction. Paying with check is especially helpful in this manner, as you can call your bank and stop payment on the check if you notice the problem quickly enough.
For smaller transactions, it’s usually safe to pay with cash, and many legitimate sellers may even find it unusual or refuse anyone who wishes otherwise. A general rule of thumb is to think twice about any transaction in cash if you’re not okay with that sum of cash going up in thin air if something goes wrong.
- Don’t give out any more personal information than required. If a far away renter or car seller asks for your social security number, bank account number, or other sensitive information, refuse. This may seem intuitive, but many people mindlessly fill out forms every year, giving out this information without second thought. Stop and think whether you know you’re engaging in a secure transaction whenever filling out a long form.
- Make sure to get proper documentation before completing large transactions. For example, stolen cars have turned up for sale on the internet mere days after being stolen. If you’re buying a car or motorcycle, make sure the seller has the bill of sale and it’s in their name; you can ask for their driver’s license to ensure this. Be wary of any seller that refuses to authenticate their goods or services.