Consumer Protection

Internet auction fraud


Some consumers like the convenience of shopping from their computer. Con artists, however, can use Internet auction sites as a way to steal from consumers by disguising a scheme as a legitimate offer or purchase.

Types of internet auction fraud:

  • Overpayment Fraud: A legitimate seller advertises an item on the internet and the scammer contacts the seller to purchase the item. The scammer sends a counterfeit check or money order for an amount greater than the item. The scammer asks the seller to deposit the payment, deduct the actual sale price and return the difference to a shipper or handler.
  • Wire Transfer Scheme: The scammer advertises a fraudulent or misleading item to be sold on an online auction site. When the legitimate purchaser contacts the scammer they ask the purchaser to wire money to complete the purchase. Once the legitimate purchaser wires the money, the scammer is never heard from again, and the purchaser never receives delivery of the item.
  • Second-chance Scheme: When a legitimate purchaser loses a bid on a legitimate auction a scammer will offer them the opportunity to buy the item for a price that is less than the losing bid. Once the legitimate purchaser sends the money, usually by wire transfer, the scammer is never heard from again and the purchaser never receives delivery of the item.

Before you place a bid:

  • Contact the seller with any questions about payment options or questions about the item.
  • Review the seller’s feedback on the Internet auction site.
  • Stay away or be very cautious when dealing with sellers or purchasers out of your own country.
  • Understand the refund, return and warranty policies of the auction site you are utilizing.
  • Determine the shipping method and charges before you buy.
  • Stay away or be very cautious if the seller only accepts wire transfers.
  • If the seller insists on an escrow service, ensure it is legitimate.
  • You may want to insure your purchased item.
  • Stay away from unsolicited offers.

If you are a victim:

  • Contact and file a complaint with the company that you used to wire the money.
  • If the item was a high-dollar item, like a car, contact your local police department.
  • You may also consider filing a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center, IC3.gov, a partnership between the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National White Collar Crime Center to combat cyber fraud.

For more information, visit FBI.gov.

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