Guest Column: e-commerce scams

DAVID B. SHOARHere is an example of an advertisement placed on a popular e-commerce classified site: “For Sale: 2005 Denali Yukon. Excellent condition. 46,000 miles. Must sacrifice as I am being deployed to Afghanistan next month. Will deliver anywhere in Southeast United States.”

This used car ad is most likely fraudulent and could result in someone being scammed for a lot of money. This month I would like to share with you some tips for safely using e-commerce sites or for that matter, any online classified buy and sell social network.

E-Commerce sites are a great resource for selling things, finding apartments, locating services and meeting people. Most of the time transactions go smoothly and both seller and buyer are satisfied with the experience.

Last year the murder of four men, who were lured to Ohio after responding to an online ad in the belief they had been hired to work on a farm, made national headlines. The more frequent type of classified ad type crime involves the loss of money in buying or selling.

One e-commerce site advises that any business dealings be done with people locally. Trust your instincts and if the offer appears too good to be true, it probably is and be leery. If you have something for sale and someone emails or calls offering more than you are asking be skeptical and careful. This is usually the first step in getting some of your cash. In this scenario you may be asked to put some money in a phony escrow account supposedly to insure a safe transaction for both parties. Even being asked to make a deposit in legitimate escrow service such as BidPay, Squaretrade or PayPal should raise a red flag to proceed with caution. In all e-commerce transactions I would like to add “let the buyer be smart” to the old adage of “let the buyer beware”

E-Commerce scams frequently involve rental property. If you are seeking a home to rent, do not send deposit money or first and last month rent before you confirm the property is actually a legitimate rental. The FBI has posted a warning about such a scam operated from Nigeria. The response to a “wanted to rent ad” will say they have a home available in your community because they are missionaries and have accepted an assignment from their church in Nigeria. They will e-mail you pictures of the home then tell you they will give you the address after you send a Western Union money order for the deposit.

These sites are also popular for personal ads. If you post such an ad never reveal contact information. Many sites will allow you to setup an email response box that will be forwarded to your undisclosed email address. When meeting someone in response to a posting, always make it in a very public place. Always tell a friend or family member where you are going and when you plan to return.

Even after you have met the individual and start to feel comfortable don’t let your guard down too soon. If during the first meeting the other person suggests to go to some place quieter say no and use your best intuition as to whether you want to continue the meeting and conversation.

Using e-commerce or other social sites can be fun and rewarding if you use some of these tips to insure your safety and protect yourself from being scammed, or worse, harmed.

Thank you for taking the time to read my column and if you have suggestions for future topics or any issue related to law enforcement and public safety in St. Johns County please contact me at

David B. Shoar
St Johns County, FL

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