Tips on Avoiding Scams and Fraud
Published: Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, April 13, 2011 13:04
A Parkland student recently purchased a car from another college student claiming to need money to pay off tuition. The Parkland student, Roger Eaton, registered the car in Illinois and had an officer and the DMV check the VIN number. "They both said it was fine," says Eaton. It naturally came as a shock, then, when the car Mr. and Mrs. Eaton had purchased was towed away from their driveway three weeks later after being reported stolen.
"What the cop told me was that a man was selling his car on [Craigslist]," says Eaton. "When he went to meet the potential buyer it was a big [man] who held him up at gunpoint. The [man] stole the car and the title but the man was left unharmed." The Eatons got none of their money back. They—along with the initial seller of the car on Craigslist—were the unfortunate victims of a scam.
While staying safe from scam artists' schemes may seem tricky to some, what it really comes down to is using good common sense. Craigslist has an entire page devoted to common-sense methods for sidestepping scams. According to Craigslist, the first and most important rule to follow is to deal locally with people one can meet in person; following this one rule can help one avoid up to ninety-nine percent of all scam attempts on Craigslist. Furthermore, never wire funds via Western Union or any other wire service, as anyone who asks for this to be done is likely a would-be scammer. Also, never give out financial information such as a bank account number or a social security number. Avoid deals involving shipping or escrow services, and know that only a scammer will "guarantee" a transaction. Do not rent housing without seeing the interior, as in all likelihood that housing unit is not actually for rent; similarly, do not purchase expensive items without seeing them first. Anyone inquiring from far away or in another country is likely a scam artist—as is anyone who refuses or claims to be unable to meet face-to-face before consummating a transaction—and one should never submit to credit checks or background checks for a job or for housing until one has met the interviewer, landlord, or agent in person.
The Internet Crime Complaint Center (or "IC3" for short) has an exhaustive list of preventive tips for those afraid of falling victim to fraud, with categories including auction fraud, credit card fraud, escrow services fraud, identity theft, Internet extortion, investment fraud, pyramid schemes, and many others. For example, before bidding in an online auction, one should contact the seller with any questions one may have and review the seller's feedback. Before providing a credit card number online one should always ensure that the site is secure and trustworthy, and keep in mind that if any opportunities appear too good to be true, they probably are. In addition to tips such as these, the IC3 also provides a detailed description of each fraud category so one knows exactly what to watch out for.
Of course, when commencing transactions via networks such as Craigslist, it is also important to take safety precautions when meeting someone in person, especially for the first time. One should always insist on a public meeting place (such as a restaurant or a café), and remember to never invite strangers into one's home, especially when high-value items are being bought or sold. Again, Craigslist offers a list of safety tips such as these, as well as links to other Internet resources for information about personal safety online.
Anyone made victim to fraud or scam attempts should notify the Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov, or the Federal Trade Commission, either online or via the toll free hotline: 877-FTC-HELP (877-382-4357). Of course, if defrauded after meeting in person, contacting the local police department would be the best action to take. Following these tips will help you to avoid scams and fraud in the future.