CRIMINALS AT WORK - TWELVE "RED FLAGS" TO WARN OF A ...
CRIMINALS AT WORK - TWELVE "RED FLAGS" TO WARN OF A FRAUDULENT
(Author unknown I found it on the web, the article was polished up and updated a bit
by me, but it is an excellent document on how to watch out for scams, and not to be a
(If 3 or more of the following apply to your transaction, beware of losing all your money)
(1) An expensive item - often an electronic item (especially plasma TV), computer,
camera, fitness equipment, motorcycle, snowmobile, ATV, etc. - is usually involved.
Often, it is listed at auction at a significant discount off fair market value. Multiples may be
offered in the fixed price format. High end digital cameras are popular as are laptop
computers. Sony VAIO and Apple Powerbook and G4/G5 desktops seem to be favorites,
but no high-end computer system is immune from these scams. Expensive telescopes
and Korg/Roland keyboards are often used. Bose stereo equipment is definitely a high
profile scam item. Automotive items (especially wheels) and high end bicycles often show
up in their listings. They usually “sell” new merchandise, but I’ve seen scams with used
items as well. Expensive sewing machines are also very popular scam items!
(2) Western Union and/or MoneyGram wire transfer is only acceptable payment method.
WU wire transfers are untraceable and unrecoverable after the thief picks up the money.
In an attempt to provide the illusion of safety, the prospective buyer is often told to send
the money to a fake name or use a secret password, which the buyer will change only
after receiving the item. (Also beware payment by e-gold). They also like to tell you about
some innovative insurance program they have in place to give you the impression of
safety. They’ll often say it’s endorsed by ebay which is 100% false. Also be wary of so
called wire transfer schemes which interface with FEDEX or UPS. They will send you
forged electronic documents making it appear as if they originated at FEDEX or UPS
telling you that they will ship as soon as the seller gets their wire transfer. So many
people appear to be falling for it because the fraudsters won’t leave ebay. It’s obviously
lucrative! One thing to remember is NEVER PAY FOR AN AUCTION WITH A WIRE
TRANSFER OR BANK TRANSFER.
(3) Bidder is required to be pre-approved. When pre-approval is sought, seller offers
instant sale (usually off-eBay) at significantly less than true value. This “too good to be
true” is just that. ebay warns you about doing deals outside of ebay for safety’s sake.
While they don’t get their share of transaction fees in such cases (when dealing with a
legitimate seller), they’re on to something. When the seller is luring you to “contact me
before bidding” or pushing you to contact them in advance of the auction, be wary. Good
sellers put as much information into the listing as possible so you don’t need to contact
them. They also won’t ask for pre-approval and won’t hide the identities of competing
bidders. Ask questions. But if seller tries to get you to do a deal outside of ebay, run, do
not walk from the transaction. Ideally you should report the communication to ebay and
they take steps to suspend of expel the user from ebay.
(4) Bidder was an unsuccessful bidder on an expensive item and subsequently receives
emailed offer (customarily from a person in a country thousands of miles away) offering
to sell an identical or similar item off-eBay for a huge discount. Recently, offers to sell
event tickets have escalated.
(5) Private auction. After bidding the bidder receives an emailed offer to
sell "off eBay."
(6) Item listed on hijacked account. This is HUGE. You’ve heard of those so called “spoof
emails” whereby the scammers email you a very official looking email from “ebay”. They
tell you that your billing information needs to be updated. You’re directed to a fake
website that will capture your password and other personal information. Even credit
cards! I read somewhere that something like 20% of people who get these “phishing”
emails respond to them. Based on the high percentage of stolen accounts I’ve seen on
ebay, I believe it! Some characteristics of hijacked accounts:
--Seller with excellent feedback, which was acquired solely from buying or from selling
items unrelated to the expensive item being offered.
--Long dormant account suddenly listing expensive items.
--US, UK and also Canada and Australia registered seller but the auction page shows
city/country as other than in the country of registration. The location city and country may
bizarre (e.g. Bucharest, USA or Madrid, UK) If a seller is registered in “Andorra” (very
common) or Luxembourg, chances are you are dealing with a scammer.
ALWAYS review a seller’s feedback, and not just the overall rating, but the
DETAILS of that rating. Review the transactions they’ve been involved with in the past.
Check the listings and listing styles to make sure they not only resemble the auction
you’re bidding on, but also that the goods they’ve sold in the past are consistent with
what they’re selling now. It’s amazing how often “doll sellers” become high tech sellers,
virtually overnight. Don’t be surprised to see the scammers goods mixed in with the
legitimate goods. Scammers will often hijack an account just after a seller has made
listings of their own. Because ebay is so difficult to contact and are so slow to react, even
if the rightful seller notices the hijack, there is little that can be done immediately. In the
mean time the scammer has complete control over the account. In cases with inactive
accounts, the scammer will use and reuse the account again and again. The feedback
will really tell a story then as you read about people who have lost money to these
-Payment terms for an auction listed from a US location include the customary PayPal,
Bidpay, money orders, & checks. When contacting the auction winner, the seller claims to
be in a country thousands of miles away on a business trip, vacation, or other excuse,
and WU wire transfer abruptly becomes the only acceptable method of payment. (Sure,
most sellers take along a few Plasma TVs when traveling to Europe for a vacation, don't
they?). Just because a seller says they take Paypal in their listing, doesn’t mean they
really will! This is just the hook to reel you in and give the listing an air of legitimacy.
(7) Seller offers FREE SHIPPING, from distant countries, often premium (very expensive)
shipping such as FedEx overnight. One inept criminal offered to ship a horse trailer from
Romania to the US by overnight FedEx for $275. Once again, watch out for forged
documents from FEDEX/UPS. They do not bundle their services with Western Union, no
matter what the scammer tries to tell you.
(8) No actual photo, or a generic photo or illustration of the item taken from a catalog or
website. (Inconclusive in the absence of other red flags) . Not everyone has a digital
camera, but if you start seeing the same photo and details all over ebay, chances are
you’re seeing scam items being advertised. Also be wary of listings that just look as if all
the details were just cut and pasted from a company website, with little else in there.
Seller’s should provide you with information on shipping, payment terms etc. Scammers
want you to contact them for a reason which is why they tend to keep their listings sparse
of the real details. Another thing to watch for is they’ll often steal listings from other users.
I’ve seen listings which supposedly sell items in the US, but references in the listing all
related to places in the UK, including the currency. Remember, if unclear, ask lots of
questions! Good sellers will respond to you as soon as possible in a courteous manner.
They “usually” know about that they’re selling as well!
(9) Three day auction, often ending on a weekend, (Inconclusive in the absence of other
(10) Poor or unusual grammar / spelling indicative that English isn't the user's primary
language. (Inconclusive in the absence of other red flags). There is a consensus view
that a good majority of these scams originate in Eastern Europe, and countries that were
part of the former Soviet Bloc. The language barrier tends to come through in the emails.
If you know a lot about an item, ask the tough questions. Chances are, they don’t have a
clue about the technical details because they’ve never seen the item! For some reason,
they like to call you “sir” or “madam”. Often their responses look like a form letter in their
response. I’ve emailed these scammers many times and they do tend to reply with the
same wording, offering you a deal outside of ebay. Then the scam begins. Often, the item
is listed in North America but they’ll tell you they are now in England, Italy or Spain now.
This is an actual reply from a scammer and I’ve many derivatives of it:
Would you be interested in buying this new item now ? My prices
fair and I am willing to negotiate.
You can do that instead of all bidding process which takes time
give you no reassurance you will win the item.
Let me know at your earliest convenience, sir/madam.
(11) . Seller recommends an escrow service other than those endorsed by eBay. Click
the following link for an overview of escrow, including a list of the 5 escrow companies
endorsed by eBay:
(12) Bidder/buyer who is doubtful and undecided receives email (typically containing
poor or unusual grammar) appearing to originate from eBay, vouching for the seller and
security of the transaction, and advising the
buyer to complete the transaction. The email may assert that the seller has placed a
multi-thousand dollar security deposit with eBay. Some further claim that the item will be
shipped from the eBay warehouse in San Jose, CA. (eBay is only a venue so they do
NOT stock merchandise).
Report an offer to sell off the eBay site by clicking the embedded "Contact
eBay to report an off-site email offer from a seller" link, near the bottom
of this eBay help page:
Other ebay links:
Further info on how to protect yourself:
If you see a scam in progress, REPORT IT! ebay tends to drag their heels on security
related issues, but they will eventually get it done. They also make it very difficult to
contact them. Their contact information tends to be buried deep inside the webpage, but
if you bookmark this link, you’ll always be able to report anything to them:
This list should only be considered a guideline and is not exhaustive. It is evident ebay is
virtually powerless to stop these scams at present and there are a lot of them going on at
any given time, day and night. ebay is taking reactive measures (closing scammer’s
accounts and restoring hijacked accounts), but it remains to be seen if they can be more
proactive but using technological methods to stop these listings from getting posted in the
first place. I read often how ebay is making massive profits every year. It’s high time they
invest those profits back into the system which made them rich in the first place! [End