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    Weeding out eBay and Craigslist scam artists

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2009 First published in Business in Vancouver May 12-18, 2009; issue 1020

    High Tech Office column

    When you replace a computer, you have a dilemma of what to do with the older model.

    Many individuals and businesses have had success finding new homes for unneeded items using eBay or Craigslist, but of late, it seems to have gotten harder to sell notebooks and other systems online.

    An alert about eBay was raised approximately a year ago through an article in The Consumerist by Chris Walters. He recounted a tale of Timothy, trying to use the online auction site to sell his laptop to buy a newer model. The winner of the auction wanted it shipped to Nigeria. Timothy then received an e-mail claiming to be from PayPal stating that he had received a payment, but that it would not appear in his account until he sent verification of shipment along with a tracking number.

    Timothy was suspicious and reposted the laptop, with the same results. Ebay support was no help. Timothy simply received an automated response telling how to reset his eBay password. Walters’ conclusion: “It’s now completely impossible to sell a laptop on eBay.”

    Recently, I posted an ad to sell a laptop on Vancouver Craigslist. Selling that way means seeing the buyer face to face, being paid in cash, with no shipping charges and no fees. I asked a couple of hundred dollars for my older laptop.

    Fairly quickly, I got a response from someone named Garry. He said he could not come by to see it, because he “was not in the state for now,” but offered me US$100 above my asking price plus $200 to ship it to him right away.
    Then George wrote. He said he was “a football coach from Edmonton residing in London,” but wanted the laptop to be shipped to his son, “residing in Africa with his mother.” He too offered far more than I was asking, to cover shipping, promising PayPal payment.

    Like Timothy, I was suspicious, cancelled my posting and tried again later. This time, Lisa said she lived in Ohio and would pay extra to have the laptop shipped to her friend in Nigeria. Mary said she wanted it for her “daughter in oversea as a Birthday Gift.”

    Get the picture? Tempting promises of payment above the asking price by people who live in places too far to enable them to see the laptop and want it shipped to yet another remote location, offering more than the laptop is worth.

    I haven’t followed up to see where these offers would go. At best, I suspect I would ship it off and never receive payment. At worst, I would be asked to send account information that might be used to try to empty the balance of my PayPal account.

    Potential buyers are also scam targets. On Vancouver Craigslist’s musical instruments pages, you may see an ad for an expensive instrument with an asking price that, while high (several thousand dollars, perhaps), is enticingly less than the instrument’s value.

    If you try to followup on the ad, e-mail the sender and ask to see the instrument, too often the response will be that the seller is in one far away location and the instrument is in storage in another.

    You’ll be asked to deposit payment in what the seller promises is a “safe escrow account” and the instrument will be shipped to you.

    Don’t do it. The escrow accounts are just one more way to separate you from your money.

    Remember that whether you’re buying or selling, if an offer seems too good to be true, it probably is.

    Craigslist posts an advisory on the e-mails it auto-forwards between potential buyers and sellers.

    It reads: “Avoid scams by dealing locally. Avoid wiring money, cross-border deals, work-at-home. Beware: cashiers cheques, money orders, escrow, shipping.” •

Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan
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