Internet Fraud Alert: Electronics Sales Scams

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So you're surfing the Internet when you spot a good deal on a popular electronic item. This could be an expensive cell phone, a PDA, or perhaps a TV set.

You contact the seller, who quotes you a very good price. Even with shipping charges and other fees, you stand to save a good bit of money by purchasing your new gadget from this person.
Image representing iPhone 3G as depicted in Cr...

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But once you pay for your new electronics, the seller either disappears or returns to claim that you must pay more money for some reason. The excuse could be taxes, added shipping charges, etc.

Unfortunately, you are probably being scammed. Con artists practice this type of Advance Fee Fraud every day. If you know how the scam works, though, you can protect yourself.

Many electronics scammers spam message boards, classified-ad Web sites, etc., with their offers. Their ads seem appealing because the prices are very low. This is your first warning sign: if something seems too good to believe, you should be very cautious. Scammers offer great deals because this tricks their victims into thinking about nothing but the wonderful bargain.

Next, the con artist will give you payment instructions. Some scammers like PayPal, because they've phished stolen accounts and have no moral dilemmas over cleaning out the accounts - and adding more funds through victims for greater profits.

Other scammers will pull the same con with phished bank accounts. If they've stolen online-banking passwords, they don't have too many problems withdrawing the cash that a victim transfers from his or her own bank account.

But many times, the scammer will ask for a Western Union or Money Gram payment. This is because the scammers know how to take advantage of the transfer services without leaving too many clues to their real identities. It's easy to anonymously retrieve a money transfer if you have the right information (such as a test question and answer).

Once you've paid an incredibly-low price for your new merchandise, the scammer either stops responding to any of your e-mails or comes back to tell you the bad news: you need to send more money. Many victims will gladly send more cash because they still believe that this is a very good deal. Even with the second money transfer, they're still getting a better deal than they would at Amazon, or a brick-and-mortar store. That's what the targeted victims tell themselves, anyway.

Here are the warning signs that the electronics salesman who's been e-mailing you about that neat new gadget is actually a scammer.

Often, a con artist:

• Uses a free e-mail account, like Yahoo! Mail or GMail. Legitimate sellers - other than individuals on eBay or Craigslist - typically have their own e-mail domains. This is true even of legitimate, honest sellers who don't have Web sites.

• Spams the Internet with messages about the sales. Many legitimate sellers are honest enough to not spam the World Wide Web. Scammers, on the other hand, bombard every message board, classified-ad site, and other such Web site they can find.

• Does not have an established web presence with a secure and verified Web site. Some scammers do have very nice-looking sites, so don't stop suspecting a scam just because the "salesman" directs you to a site. But most reputable sellers have Web sites. Not having one is a good sign of a scammer.

• Offers deals that are too great to believe. If you think that you can find a new Apple iPhone for a hundred fifty bucks, you need to seriously consider the source of this bargain. This is particularly true if any of the other warning signs are present.

• Insists on receiving money through Western Union or Money Gram. Huge red flag! Many legitimate sellers understand that their buyers want reassurance and anti-fraud protection. The money-transfer services listed above do not offer either of these things.

• Rushes you through the whole process. Scammers have to hurry for several reasons. One is that, if their free e-mail accounts are reported for fraudulent activities, the providers will close the boxes. Another is that, if the scammers are using stolen PayPal or bank accounts, they're racing to grab as much cash as possible before the accounts are closed or they're locked out.

You should also know that not all electronics scammers target message boards and other such sites. Some look for victims at online auctions or community sites like Craigslist.

If you still aren't sure if the person who is e-mailing you is a scammer or an honest seller, you might ask an innocent-sounding question about the electronics that the person is trying to sell. The person's answer can confirm his or her intentions.

One example is to ask about a nonexistent feature for a certain cell phone. Make up something that is not possible for any cell phone to have, such as a "telekinetic touch pad." If the seller reassures you that the model you want to buy has this feature, you can be sure that he or she is scamming you.

Another tactic is to search the Internet for the seller's e-mail address. Not all scammer addresses end up on anti-scam sites, but many do. If you find your "seller's" address listed on one of these sites, the odds are very good that he or she is, in fact, a con artist.

The simplest way to prevent scamming, and avoid becoming a scam victim, however, is to shop at reputable Web sites. You won't often find mind-blowing deals on today's hottest electronics at these sites, but you do know that you'll actually receive your new MP3 player or cell phone. You also have the benefit of being able to pay with your credit card, which offers buyer protection.

If you think about the offers that you receive before you hand over any money, you can find many of the problems and, in most cases, keep yourself from being scammed. It's better to let a very great deal on a new cell phone go than it is to go ahead with a deal you do not quite trust and end up losing your money in the end.

For more info on some of the most popular scams see:What you need to know about Advance Fee Fraud.

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