Want to add a comic book to your awesome collection? Or maybe you want a fancy painting for your new dining room. But are you willing to pay a fortune for it? Good thing online auctions have come to the rescue! ebay, WebStore and Yahoo! Auctions are just three of the most popular online auctions, but there are tens of them. These virtual flea markets are the perfect place for you to go and pick and choose great bargains. But no online convenience comes without internet security risks.
Online auction fraud is one of the most commonly reported types of online fraud. And oblivious buyers are the most affected. Some have been delivered damaged products or no products at all. Others have had their credit cards or bank accounts compromised. Bidding can be fun, exciting and can result in awesome deals. But the internet security dangers you’re faced with when bidding even on reputable auction sites are numerous. Which is why, it’s imperative that you take some precaution measures before venturing.
So bidders, beware! Here are 7 tips to avoid falling victim to online auction scams:
- 1. Have you done your research? Find out everything there is to know about the auction site and how it works, the product and the seller before you start your bid.
Seen the item you’ve been looking for at a ridiculously low price? Has the seller labelled it “genuine” or “autographed” or “authentic”? Be careful! Find out how much the product costs on other sites and retail stores, and if the price on the auction site is too good to be true, it probably is. In this case, research the seller thoroughly, taking in consideration other users’ reviews as well. If you find a considerable number of negative reviews and feedbacks, reconsider the purchase.
- 2. Can you return the product or get a refund? If the seller doesn’t commit to some kind of a return or refund policy, look somewhere else for the product.
If you see a cool TV, gadget or collection item on an auction site, do not start your bid before checking the return/refund policy of the seller. You don’t want to end up with a broken product with no chance of returning it.
- 3. What payment method do you prefer? When it comes to money, preference is out and security is in.
The most popular way to pay for items bought at online auctions – and recommended by internet security experts – is through reputable third-party payment services like PayPal. A third party payment service enables you to make secure payments without revealing your credit card details directly to sellers.
The least encouraged method payment is the one through wire transfers because you get no receipt and your bank account number is visible to the seller.
If, however, you do decide to pay through third-party payment services only, make sure you:
- Do not use them from WiFi networks in coffee shops, airports or other public places, because these networks are not secured. They’re open to potential hackers who might breach your internet security to intercept your transactions and redirect the transfers to their accounts.
- Do not fall for e-mail phishing scams. Cybercrooks often send phony e-mails on behalf of popular payment services like PayPal; they usually say there’s a problem with your account and ask you for personal details like credit card or bank account number, driver's licence and password. Reputable third-party payment services don’t do that.
- 4. Where is the product located? And where should you send the money?
Check out the place where the item is located and the place where the seller asks you to send the money. If there are listed two different cities or countries even, this might be the sign of an auction scam: the item may not exist or the seller may promise you a product that is not theirs to sell. Another red flag may be P.O. Box numbers listed instead of full addresses. So keep this in mind: always contact the seller before placing your bid.
- 5. Made a large purchase? Does the seller insist on a certain escrow service? Recondider the purchase.
If the seller insists on using a third-party payment escrow service you’ve never heard of, to hold funds until goods are delivered, be very cautious. It can be a fake escrow company, to which you send your money, but no product is delivered back to you. Use reputable escrow services only and research those you’ve never heard of.
- 6. Got a second chance at the product you lost the bid for? Well, chances are you might be the target of a phishing scam.
You lost a product to a luckier bidder and a seller contacts you to offer the same product but on a different site. Be careful – the site might be less secure, possibly designed to phish for your credit card details or some other personal information, or infected with malware. Also, if you receive a message or an e-mail from a reputable online auction site saying you’ve got another chance at getting the item and urging you to click on a link – don’t! The link might direct you to a malicious site threatening your internet security. Popular sites like eBay and Yahoo! Auction don’t send such messages anyway, so you might just ignore them altogether.
- 7. Do you have effective internet security software on your computer? If not, get one.
When browsing the web for bargains, you may easily fall for internet security threats and scams – fake auction sites, phishing attempts, malware-infected browser add-ons, drive-by downloads etc. As prevention is always better than cure, it’s best you get effective antivirus protection, like the one provided by BullGuard Internet Security 12; in addition to its state-of-the-art antivirus engine, BullGuard’s internet security suite provides you with an Antiphishing tool, a Spamfilter, a Firewall and several other security features. Now, if you really want to play it safe, stick to reputable online auction sites only. But remember – do your research first!