You’ve probably heard it said that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. In the world of online sales, that statement couldn’t be more accurate. There are always going to be people who seek to take advantage of your trust and steal your money, and sometimes they’re very hard to see coming. With this in mind, here are 9 tips to help you avoid being scammed when you shop online or sell items on your own website or online marketplace.
1) Trust your gut
We all know that we shouldn’t believe everything we read online, but we don’t always follow our instincts—particularly if it seems as though a scammer is offering something you really want. If something feels off, it probably is. By trusting your instincts and avoiding those who seem too good to be true, you can avoid being scammed. You may not always be able to trust your gut, but ignoring it will almost certainly lead you down a dangerous path. This sense of instinct is innate; over time, you’ll learn how to hone your spidey sense so that it alerts you more often than not when things go wrong.
2) Check the site URL
If someone is asking you for personal information or credit card information, look for a secure URL in your address bar. A secure URL will have an s on it after HTTP://. If you don’t see that or have any doubts, avoid that site. It is very easy to set up a legitimate-looking website—one with a secure, encrypted URL—but they can still be used as fronts for scammers and hackers. So check before you click!
A quick and dirty way to know if your link is legit: Highlight and copy the web address of any links that catch your eye on either search results pages or social media platforms. Paste them into a text editor like Notepad, Wordpad, or TextEdit (in Mac OS) to get rid of extra code you don’t need, leaving just one line with nothing but URLs. Then type in your browser’s omnibox (the URL field at top) http:// then paste what you just copied into it; if it doesn’t work, then neither will whatever site you’re headed for. Another tip for avoiding scams is to look closely at who posted an ad—if they have shady-looking usernames or post questionable ads frequently, be wary. You can also check out Google Trusted Stores here—anyone who has an account with these guys are generally trustworthy businesspersons who stand behind their products and services well.
3) Don’t be greedy
Greed may be good for Gordon Gekko, but it can spell disaster for your bank account. Before you enter into any kind of transaction with a stranger, do your homework and learn as much as you can about them. One easy way to spot scam artists is by taking note of how quickly they want you to complete your transaction; if they try to rush you or pressure you into buying something right away, chances are they’re not legitimate. Be wary of those who aren’t willing to go through a formal process, such as those asking for payment via wire transfer services. If their offers seem too good to be true—or they don’t provide enough information about themselves—they probably are.
4) Never send money
Some scam artists will ask for money right off the bat. Any time you’re dealing with a financial transaction online, even in a non-emergency situation, it’s safer never to send money—cash or credit card—if you can avoid it. Instead, agree on goods being exchanged for money later. Never wire funds via Western Union, MoneyGram or any other service like these. Always deal locally and meet in person. If something sounds too good to be true online (or anywhere), it usually is. In fact, scammers have been known to use tears as a way of gaining your trust. Don’t let them!
5) Check online reviews
Before handing over your hard-earned cash, it’s a good idea to check online reviews. See what others have said about a product or service, and you can even post a review of your own to share your experiences with potential buyers. Review sites can be very useful—but it’s important not to just take online feedback at face value, as there is always some bias involved. If you don’t want to leave a star rating, leaving a neutral comment explaining why you didn’t think something was worth your money will also help future readers make an informed decision. If you find yourself in need of customer support from a brand, posting on their social media profiles may yield faster results than calling their main number; especially if they don’t offer direct support for products purchased through third parties like Amazon and eBay.
6) Be careful when transferring money abroad
When sending money abroad, you may be more vulnerable to fraud than when transferring within your own country. Make sure that you use a secure payment service, do some research on any company before transferring money to them and make sure they really do what they say on their website. With some checks in place, you’ll keep your hard-earned cash safe. Just remember not to share account details with anyone else unless you’re sure they won’t take advantage of it!
7) Read contracts thoroughly
A lot of scammers use bait-and-switch tactics, so if you’re going to trust a vendor or contractor, you need to be able to read a contract carefully. You should get a written agreement with every vendor or contractor who has access to your credit card info—whether it’s an online form or in hard copy. This includes any provider you’ll pay directly (like your web host), even if it doesn’t look like they have access to sensitive data. If something seems fishy, ask for clarification before signing on the dotted line. Look out for binding arbitration clauses that may take away your legal rights as well as clauses that say you cannot file a class action suit.
8) Steer clear of generic replies
The Internet is full of people with far too much time on their hands, so if you get a generic email response or notice that someone has used stock images in an ad, steer clear. Don’t feel like you need to apply a suspicious lens in every instance—common sense will guide you. But when in doubt, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Check out buyer-beware apps: There are a few different apps you can download onto your phone that warn you about fake websites. These aren’t going to give you perfect results all of the time, but they could save you from some heartache—or even financial ruin! You can check out these apps at ReputationDefender and Norton Safe Web. Both have free versions and paid versions with more features available for purchase.
9) Don’t believe everything you read
We’ve all heard if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. As with many things in life, there’s a flip side: you shouldn’t believe everything you read. Be cautious about offers of high returns with little work or thought required on your part. These usually won’t materialize, and even if they do, they may not live up to what was promised in the first place. While we can’t tell you how to spot every scam out there, we can help arm you with some knowledge that will help keep you safe as you navigate unknown territory.