The Midwinter Festival of Excess is upon us, and most people are out looking for deals in the hope of easing the sting of the January bills. There are many deals to be found online and in various exchange fora such as classified ads, but it is crucial that a shopper exercise a certain amount of vigilance to avoid being ripped off. Christmas is high season for tricksters and scammers.
There is one critical question you must always ask when considering a deal: Is this deal too good to be true? In particular, you absolutely *must* ask that question when you are looking at online swap sites like Craigslist, or eBay, or if you are responding to a newspaper ad. The scammers use unbelievable deals to lure you in. Regardless of your opinion of your ability to luck into the ultimate awesome deal, it is highly unlikely that any honest person is going to sell you a diamond ring with a 1 ct stone and 18 kt gold band for $200, or a 1 year old Mercedes for $10000. Always look at how reasonable a deal seems – if it looks like the seller is taking a huge loss, you can expect that it’s a sucker’s play.
If you’ve given the potential deal some consideration and it seems fair, the next thing to watch-out for are scams involving payment. There are so many and it would make a huge article to list them all, but here are some highlights: Scammers often ask you to send payment to a third party – that’s a common one… If you’re buying from Reg Dwight, but he wants you to send a money order (or cash) to Farrokh Bulsara – be concerned. Consider also the payment method: a money order is effectively a cash instrument, and once you send it, you have little or no recourse if the transaction goes bad. You should also be suspicious of anyone demanding a Western Union transaction. A seller who is reputable and operating above-board will take payment methods like PayPal, or a credit card – methods you can dispute if you have a problem with the transaction, and more importantly, methods where you may be able to get your money back. No seller should ever need your private banking information to sell to you.
If you plan to seal the deal in person, think about the time and location. There have been many cases of people selling a valuable item, or purchasing such an item with cash, who have invited the other party to their home or other secluded venue only to be assaulted and robbed. Face-to-face transactions are best conducted in a public place, in daylight.
Have a safe Christmas!