Safety 1st - March 2018
Purchasing items sold by-owner is a common practice in today’s society. Websites and apps such as Craigslist, Offer Up, Let Go, and sometimes even a Facebook page are popular destinations for people looking to find a deal. Unfortunately, not everyone on these sites is trustworthy. Some people have been scammed out of money or goods, or even physically harmed during these transactions. Please keep these safety precautions in mind when buying or selling by-owner.
When using these sites, it is smart to try to limit the amount of personal information you divulge to the other party. Try to avoid giving out a home address, work place, or other identifying information.
When possible, meet the other party at a neutral and safe location. Ensure that this location is well lit, with people around, and try to limit these transactions to daylight hours. If possible, conduct these transactions in location that is covered by video surveillance to help protect not only yourself, but also the other party. Good options are large retail establishments or the Huntley Police Department parking lot. When plausible, it isn’t a bad idea to have another person accompany you to these in-person transactions as well.
If you happen to be selling an item and find a buyer online, knowing warning signs for a scam is key. As a seller, don’t send your product out prior to getting payment. Often times scammers will convince a seller to ship an item then not pay, or send fraudulent payment, thus leaving the seller without the item and without money.
When buying items online it is important to know how to spot a scammer as well. According to the Federal Trade Commission, “wiring money through services like Western Union or MoneyGram is risky because it is nearly impossible to get your money back” if you fall victim to a scam. The FTC also suggests you avoid using reloadable cards like MoneyPak or Vanilla as these services don’t have very good fraud protection. Most reputable companies will accept these payments, however will not require them. If you find yourself in a situation where a seller is demanding payment via wire transfer or other reloadable card, be aware that you may be embroiled in a scam.
Another common scam is for the buyer to send the seller a check for more than the purchase price and direct the overage be sent back through wire transfer or reloadable card. After the seller has sent the overage payment and the item, they realize the check from the buyer is fraudulent. Now the seller’s losses include the item as well as the additional money they sent back as a “refund.”
If the buyer is using cash for the purchase, inspect it closely before turning over the item. Counterfeit money can be very realistic looking, but there are a couple of warning signs that may be present. Many people have accepted movie prop money that is passed as real currently. These bills look realistic but they have “For Motion Picture Use Only” printed on them instead of “the United States of America.” If you are receiving multiple bills, compare the serial numbers. Each bill of a denomination should have its own unique serial number. Scammers will often try to pass multiple bills of the same denomination that have identical serial numbers, which indicates they are fraudulent.
Finally, trust your gut. If something feels off about the transaction or the other party, take some time to do more research. Also, beware of a deal that is too good to be true. If you have questions or concerns about transaction safety, contact local law enforcement.
For more information on scam detection and prevention, you can visit https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/.
Huntley Safety 1st is the monthly education series written by the staff of the Huntley Police Department. On the first of each month, we provide citizens with information on a different public safety related issue.