avoiding potential online fraud posted Tue, 12 Jan 2010 19:46:39 UTC

So I am looking at buying this spiffy new gadget, a Roku SoundBridge. I found someone wanting to get rid of a couple used ones for a reasonable price. The problem is, he replies telling me he doesn't accept PayPal, but cash or a money order will suffice. Wait, what!? Of course, he also assures me he's a reputable person and I can verify this by checking some other online forum where he apparently engages in some kind of online commerce. Well great.

In case you haven't already run into this before, this should be an immediate warning sign! I would think by 2010, everyone would understand the ins and outs of Internet commerce and both buyers and sellers would have the self awareness to educate themselves otherwise. Apparently not.

It's all a simple matter of trust. Do I know this person? Hell no. Should I trust this person to any measurable degree? Well, ideally yes. But it's an imperfect world full of people with varying values. Regardless of whether I think people should commit fraud, the fact of the matter is they do, every moment of every day. I'd love to accept the idea that people are generally honest and that everything will turn out just fine. But having been around the blocks a few times myself, I cannot.

So I do a little digging myself for online systems to safely manage online transactions. There is of course the aforementioned PayPal. It is not alone in its space, but I think it's safe to say, certainly the most recognized.

C.O.D.'s also came to mind. But apparently regardless of the carrier (USPS, UPS, FedEx), C.O.D.'s are absolutely useless and will most likely get you a whole lot of nothing as someone trying to sell an item for cash. There is a LOT of fraud happening in the C.O.D. world, so it's probably best to avoid it entirely.

And finally, there are the online escrow services. Escrow.com seems like a good place to start for such things. I did a little more digging to verify they were in fact a reputable entity, and as it turns out, such entities are fairly well regulated. In this particular case, you can check a governmental web site in California to verify they are a legitimate business and licensed by the state to conduct business as an escrow service. In my particular case, the minimum fee of $25 seems a little much since it's a significant percentage of the actual cost of the items. But it's well worth it if nothing else can be agreed upon.

So anyway, I hope someone eventually finds their way here, and any of this information proves useful. There are probably countless other businesses which provide similar services, but please make sure you try to verify the company is legitimate. Don't just accept that Better Business Bureau logo at the bottom of the very company's page of which you're trying to establish legitimacy. At the very least, don't send an unmarked wad of cash to someone you don't know. Seems like that goes without saying. But as David Hannum (not P. T. Barnum) said, "There's a sucker born every minute."