Online auctions have become big business, with millions of items for sale at any given time. (5 million+ at eBay alone, right now.) Tens of thousands of people around the world currently make a full-time living selling items through Internet auction houses.
One reason for their incredible growth and popularity is that they make it easy for people to find great deals on hard to find items from around the world. The excitement also makes them prime hunting grounds for scam artists, ready to play on the desire many auction bidders have for that "unbelievable deal."
We want to mention right off the bat that the vast majority of sellers and buyers at online auctions are honest people, and deliver on their promises. According to eBay, only one auction in 40,000 on their site ends with a reported case of confirmed fraud.
That doesn't take into account unreported cases, and it's little comfort if you're the one in 40,000.
In fact, auction fraud accounts for roughly 48% of online fraud reports to the FTC. Almost 500 reports per week. And the fraud isn't solely committed by the sellers. Buyers can be just as sneaky.
Some Common Auction Frauds
Misrepresentation: One of the oldest tricks in business. Just what it sounds like. Or more accurately, the merchandise ISN'T what it sounds like. Value, authenticity or condition may be overstated, sometimes wildly.
Failure to ship merchandise:The merchant takes your money and runs, leaving you nothing but a lighter wallet for your troubles.
Failure to pay:Through the use of fake money orders, bounced checks, stolen credit cards, or a number of other techniques, the buyer gets the goods and leaves the merchant with nothing in return.
Shilling:Artificially inflating the price on an item by use of fake bids from phony user IDs or accomplices.
Bid Shielding:Using high bids from phony accounts to run up the price and scare off potential buyers, the actual bidder then retracts the higher bids, getting the item at a much lower price than he would have otherwise.
Piracy and counterfeiting:The sale of pirated music and software or counterfeit art, phony jewelry or gems, and forged collectibles.
Internet Fencing:Selling stolen goods through the auction.
Triangulation:The seller offers to send you the item (usually new, brand name goods) on approval. They then use stolen credit cards to order the item shipped to you. You pay for the goods (in cash) after receiving them, and get a visit shortly thereafter from the police. Credit card fraud and theft.
The "Buy and Switch":The buyer gets the merchandise and returns a similar item that has been damaged, or a fake, with the claim, "It isn't what I expected." The seller refunds their money, and is left with broken and un-resell able product.
Fee stacking:Fees, usually "related" to shipping costs, are added to the cost after the sale has been made.
Loss or Damage Claims:Not always fraudulent. After all, things do get broken in transit. Often these claims are a result of the buy and switch, or careless handling by the buyer.
Shell Auctions:No merchandise exists. The sole purpose of the auction is to get money or credit card numbers from unwary buyers.
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