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Fighting Online Fraud and Scams

January 1, 2004

in All Articles,Viruses / malware / scams

Some online retailers operate by carefully nudging the line of the law. Others step over that line, waving their arms and laughing maniacally. Know your options if you’re targeted, and know the methods the bad guys use, since their sole purpose is to make your money disappear faster than food in Fat Albert’s lunchbox.

Warning signs

False advertising: You’ve purchased what was presented as a digital camera package. Later, you find out you’ve really only purchased the camera itself, and the store wants to charge you extra for the adapter and battery. Due to gray legal areas it’s an increasingly popular technique for shady online electronics retailers, and is seen often on eBay.

High pressure sales and phone verification: After the purchase, you are asked to call the company to “verify information”, which turns out to be high-pressure requests to buy items not part of your original purchase.

Unbelievable prices: A $400 retail item might seem like a steal at $200, but incredible deals on brand new items increase the chance of seeing a scam mentioned here. Alternatively, very high prices for previously unavailable items should raise a warning flag.

What you can do

Never let yourself be rushed or pushed into a sale or upgrade. “Gouge-em-Gary’s Used Cars” can get away with that, but proper online transactions are simple. You pay your money and what you ordered is shipped. An upgrade or modification to that order is an exception, and not routine. If the seller makes you uncomfortable for any reason, purchase from someone else.

Cancel your order. If you can’t get confirmation your order was canceled, let your credit card company know. They should refund your money and take the dispute to the seller themselves.

If you live in Michigan, file a complaint with the Michigan Attorney General’s High Tech Crime Unit. They’ll mediate with the seller on your behalf.

File a complaint with the FTC. They don’t resolve individual problems, but will investigate your complaint for possible legal action against the seller.


Use web sites like and see others’ experiences with the seller.

If purchasing from eBay, feedback is very important. Ignore all the “Wow, A+++ seller” comments and look for ones with substance. If you see any complaints describing the practices mentioned here, stay away.

A down-and-dirty Google search often helps a lot. If you’re researching the company “GenericCo” Simply Google for “GenericCo problems ” (minus the quotes). This will give you problem transactions from other users and will help you determine if the seller’s practices are worth supporting. Think of Humphrey Bogart playing Sam Spade: It’s not elegant, but it’s very effective.

According to the Consumer Sentinel, a fraud monitoring group, Internet auctions are the most frequently reported fraud problem, followed by online catalog sales. The great freedom of the Internet unfortunately lends itself to abuse. But with a few precautions and a little information, there is little need to worry.

Get more information on scams and fighting internet fraud from the FTC and Scambusters.

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