Avoiding 419 scams for sellers

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First advice: Remember, legally no one can force you to sell anything.

Selling your mobile phone etc?

Well why not after all? However, there are some people out there who are not very honest  who will try to steal your phone. A minority of these fraudsters are based in Nigeria but you could be scammed anytime, anywhere. In this guide I will attempt to show you signs that the "buyer" is a scammer.

But I am far too intelligent to be scammed, it could never happen to me!

So, you never send an item until the cheque has cleared, you wait until Paypal e-mail you before sending it off and you send by Signed for Delivery, so you are safe, right?

The fact that money is sitting in your bank account for payment of an item does not necessarily mean that you will ever get a chance to spend it!

Do you know that if you send an item and you do not provide a tracking number, Paypal can revoke the entire payment if the seller complains? If you cannot prove that you sent it, the buyer can claim they never received and get a full 'refund' & you get a £7 fine.

So first advice for UK sellers, send by Special Delivery. The buyer should not mind about the higher postage charge as they will get their item faster. Signed for Delivery is not appropriate as it does not track the item, so a dishonest buyer could file an item not received claim before it arrives at their place.

Another common device of fraudsters is to use stolen cheques, credit or debit cards to pay for items. This is difficult for the seller as the bank will immediately revoke funds upon finding out they are stolen which can be weeks after you received "payment". This is a type of Advance Fee Fraud but since the money was stolen in the first place, you have no legal right to it and it will be taken from you.

In the case of Nigerian fraud, most sellers I have encountered refuse to accept cheques from the Bank of Nigeria as they believe that a large proportion of cheques purporting to be from that bank are forged or stolen. The only way to be sure if you decide to accept payment by cheque, is to wait for 5 weeks i.e 25 working days, which is how long the Bank will need to revoke a stolen cheque.

Be particularly wary of people who send you a cheque for an amount greater than that which you have asked, asking you to send them on the difference. Even if the funds are made available to your account it is unlikely you will see a penny of that money.

Some more devious scammers will send you forged foreign money orders, forged bankers' drafts or sometimes even forged/outdated foreign currency so you immediately send off the item thinking it's good as cash.  While a true money order / banker's draft is indeed as good as cash, it doesn't hurt to take it down to your bank to verify if it's genuine before sending the item, the staff there are more than happy to do this as it protects their reputation and money as much as yours.

Another common device is for a buyer to explain to the seller that they wish to pay through an online payment service such as BidPay or Western Union. Money transfer services such as Western Union are not allowed under Ebay policies, with good reason. Scammers will often ask to pay by this method and will then forge an e-mail from said company, or even Paypal itself, to say that payment has been received, or saying that payment is being held in Escrow and will be sent once the seller confirms they have a tracking number.

It is of note, that to my knowledge Western Union do not operate that type of escrow service.

You, the seller, then blithely send the item off thinking you have been paid or that the money is sitting with a reputable company, waiting to be transferred to you and you find it was all a scam.

Another increasingly common scam is for a fraudster to simply create a fake escrow company, complete with website, a registered business name & address. The "Company" then takes your item and never returns it. The simple solution is to use the Ebay approved escrow service escrow dot com.

To sum up:

  • There is a difference to funds being made available and a cheque clearing.
  • Bear in mind that payments you receive may have been made using stolen money.
  • Use your Bank to verify any currency / money orders / bankers drafts sent to you.
  • ALWAYS send items through a Postal Service with a tracking number.
  • Escrow companies, may be false, the safest solution is to use escrow dot com.
  • Email addresses can be forged very easily.

So what can I do?

Now We can discuss some very simple steps to prevent you from being defrauded, particularly in regard to Nigerian scam artists.

Having read several of the guides here, I have seen large slogans stating NIGERIA equals SCAM which I find neither fair nor correct. Some sellers simply refuse to send items to Nigeria but this will not necessarily protect you.

You need to be wise to scam artists from all countries and let us not forget the vast majority of honest Nigerians who are finding they are unable to deal online because of such blanket policies. So:

Use your common sense

There is only one reason someone will ask you to trade outside Ebay and that is to commit fraud. You are the seller, you are the one paying Ebay for listing and selling fees. It costs the buyer nothing to trade through Ebay.

Take a look at any prospective buyer's feedback. Are they new Ebayers? (419 scammers will often open an account for each scam to avoid sellers warning others through negative feedback). Nigerian scammers aware of the level of distrust that some sellers have in shipping items to their country so they often will claim to be from a different country. (See below for more information). 

 A new user is not necessarily a fraud but if unsure, you can always ask them for a landline number on which you can contact them to discuss the sale  (A mobile's no good as foreign SIM chips can be obtained very easily) - if the area code is not for the country in which they claim to be, then you have the right to be suspicious. FYI the code for dialing any Nigerian landline from abroad is 00 234.

If they cannot or will not do this and you are still determined to proceed to the sale, ask them to pay by cheque, cash or money order. The postmark when it arrives will verify its origin and you can have the payment verified by your bank before dispatch. (See above)

 Through Ebay you have recourse through feedback and seller protection. Through Paypal you have insurance and greater protection. If you do not have a Paypal account get one asap but when selling on Ebay, always, always trade through them. That way if the worse comes to the worse you have some recourse through negative feedback.

Oher pieces of very sensible advice are never to send an item first, not to send an item before a cheque has cleared and to log in to your Paypal account to confirm all transactions rather than checking them by e-mail.

n.b Never use a link in an e-mail to log into your Ebay or Paypal account, it could be a link to a mirror ie a dummy site which will take your login details and send them to frausters.

Check their story

It is not impossible that some guy in Texas has a son/daughter/client on a field trip to Nigeria and they need a new mobile phone sent there but you should check their story. The following is a real e-mail an Ebay  user received from a confirmed Nigerian fraudster:

Dear seller,
I really want to buy this item and i need a seller who is ready  to sell,i
will be paying 750euro for this item and you will ship it to my client in
Nigeria.
1 I will be paying you by western Union Auction Payment Bidpay.
2 You will ship the item by FEDEX, DHL, UPS, EMS.
3 You will ship the item to my client immediately you recieve my payment
approval from the western union.
please please scammers stay off ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! !
Robert Dallas

Ok, first things first - trace the e-mail. I have written a separate guide on how to do this, check which country the user is sending the e-mail from, it is very easy. That done, read the e-mail. This man is claiming to be Robert Dallas, not the most African of names, if the e-mail shows that he is in Nigeria with his "client" why cannot he have the item sent to his own address?

UPDATE: Google Labs now have a very handy experimental plug-in called "Authentication Icon for Verified Senders" which can verify if an e-mail is genuinely from eBay/Paypal by displaying the image of a small key next to the message. If you have a Gmail account, simply click on the 'Labs' tab to install this

Obviously the "client" mentioned in the above e-mail is almost certainly the scammer himself / herself. If you wish to play along in order to get their name and address to report to the Nigerian Police, do so at your own discretion.

The first thing I noticed is that Robert Dallas does seem to have a very poor grasp of the English language to the extent that you wonder if it is indeed his first language! Poor English can be a sign of a fradulent e-mail but it should be consistent. We all make the occasssional spelling or. Grammatical error.

The rather eccentric use of,  'please please scammers stay off!!!!!!!!!!' as well as the multiple exclamation marks should also make you think.  Have you ever insinuated that he is a scammer? If not, why the multiple exclamation marks?

One of the other obvious indicators is the request to pay through Western Union, quite against Ebay policies. See above for more info on Western Union scams.

The Payment Approval Method is one of the most popular scams. E-mails can be easily forged to appear from any address  e.g a bank, Paypal or Bidpay. The following is a real extract from an e-mail sent by a fraudster.

--------------------------------------------------------

Dear  victimname,
Bidpay Online Payments hereby congratulates you and also want
to inform you that the Money OrderSM sent to you from Robert
Dallas has been Approved.

Item information
Money OrderSM   :750 EUROS

Auction Item             :Keyboard YAMAHA PortaSound Model PS-3
Auction site               : Ebay

 

Seller Contact Address:

---deleted---

Identification Number: 42-782-719 M


Shipping information Via DHL:

NAME:SEGUN ABIODUN

ADDRESS:25,ABIMBOLA ODUNSI STREET,OFF COKER RD
ORIMOLADE BUS STOP,IFAKO,OGBA

CITY:LAGOS

COUNTRY:NIGERIA

This money order has been approved and will be sent out TODAY
to the address provided by the buyer and you should expect it
in 4-7 business days after postage has being confirmed.
You CAN NOW send the items to the buyer,Moreover the above
Pin Number will be asked for before the delivery of the Money
OrderSM, you will also identify your self with your drivers
licence or your Social security number.

N.B NOTE THAT THE MONEY ORDER WILL NOT GET TO YOUR RESIDENT IF
SHIPMENT TRACKING NUMBER IS NOT SENT TO US IN THE NEXT 24HRS
FOR SHIPMENT VERIFICATION IN OTHER TO SECURE BOTH THE SELLER
AND THE BUYER.

And if you have any question, feel free to contact our customer
service at westernunionbidpayment at personalmanager dot com

TO CONFIRM YOUR PAYMENT CLICK  BELOW 

some random link to netsage dot com


If the Link above does not work:
Type in or copy and paste this link into your Web browser,Make
sure you copy this link exactly and do not add extra spaces.

Thank you for using Western Union ® Online Payments. We look
forward to serving your online payment needs in the future.

Sincerely,
Western Union Online Payments.

---------------------------------------------------------------


It all looks very official. (Except for the fact that it says Bidpay at the top and Western Union at the bottom.) The e-mail address might well even say it is from westernunion dot com but it is fake.

Examine the message header - see my tracing an e-mail guide - there is a section on detecting genuine e-mails from Paypal or BidPay and Western Union.

This is an qpproximation of an e-mail from Western Union except for the following paragraph the fraudster has wedged in, in block capitals:

N.B NOTE THAT THE MONEY ORDER WILL NOT GET TO YOUR RESIDENT IF
SHIPMENT TRACKING NUMBER IS NOT SENT TO US IN THE NEXT 24HRS
FOR SHIPMENT VERIFICATION IN OTHER TO SECURE BOTH THE SELLER
AND THE BUYER.

First, why the N.B NOTE? N.B means note anyway, why repeat it? You also have to ask yourself why Western Union have taken to text shouting this paragrâph out at you? Did they not write it? Look at the grammar again. IN OTHER TO SECURE BOTH THE SELLER AND THE BUYER. Are we really to believe that Western Union employees are so illiterate as to put this totally nonsensical phrase?

Perhaps it is worth noting again that Western Union does not do this type of escrow service but this is a fact easily forgotten by money hungry sellers. It is also relevant that the item in question was being sold for less than €300 but this buyer has offered €750 for it. Scammers will attempt to blind you through your greed so remember no one will pay more than they have to for anything. Frequently they will use a stolen/forged cheque or money order for a greater amount and ask you to frowed the difference to them so they get your property and your money: (See above)

Next, examine the links in the e-mail:

It is not a link to the Western union website. It is a link to some free webpage called netsage. Obvious you may think but it is surprising how many people overlook this.

People sometimes also overlook e-mail addresses such as citibank-uk at freeserve dot com thinking it is official because the name is that of a bank. Although free e-mail providers now tend to exclude people trtying to create e-mail accounts containing the words bank, paypal, westernunion etc it is by no means unheard of so make sure you examine both the From: and Reply To: information in the e-mail header.

See the ebay guide on detecting spoof e-mails at: http://pages.ebay.co.uk/education/spooftutorial/index.html

The above e-mail from a Nigerian scammer is a good example of this, the reply to address is westernunionbidpayment at personalmanager.com - personalmanager just being some website anyone could have ordered.

Spoof Websites

Another common trick is to exploit ignorance of what is known as an IP address. Each machine connected to the Internet has an address known as an Internet Protocol address - an IP address. The IP address takes the form of four groups of numbers separated by dots, for example: 123. 45. 67. 890

When you put a name of a website into your address bar, such as www dot ebay dot com, a separate computer converts this into the IP address for that site, in the case of Ebay that would be 66. 135. 192. 123 - in fact if you are feeling really clever you could type h ttp then type Ebays IP address 66. 135.  192. 123 hit return and you would be taken straight to the Ebay main page.

Herein lies our problem. What if, instead of giving you an actual address they gave you a link which is just a number? What if they were really  devious and gave you a number of a page they had created which looks just like Ebay, or Paypal or even that of your bank?

If you looked at the address bar, all you would see would be some meaningless numbers. Granted it wiould not be showing www dot ebay dot com but the scammer is relying on our ignorance to steal from you.

Now you understand make sure that you always go to the main page of a site to deal with queries. Too often fake e-mails are sent from people claiming to work for Paypal with a link to a site like this, resembling the real site in every way except that your precious financial information will be given to thieves and not to a reputable company.

The confusion that results from this type of fraud has also to do with the fact that Paypal and Ebay will e-mail you on your registered address to ask you to update your credit or debit card information you have on file with them. If you do receive an e-mail of this type, there are some simple precuations you can take:

First check the e-mail header to see if this e-mail did in fact come from Ebay or Paypal - See my separate guide on how to do this. If not forward it to spoof at ebay dot com or spoof at paypal dot com

  • Ebay and Paypal will only ask you to update your card information if there is some kind of problem.  Have you recently changed your name or billing address? Is your account in credit? Are any of the cards you have on file due to expire this month? Have you recently canceled a card? If the answer to all these questions is no maybe it would be best to dismiss the e-mail out of hand, you will not be asked to update your information on a whim.
  • Close the e-mail and log in to your account. Ebay will always show an alert for an expired debit or credit card in the My Messages section. If in Paypal, you can click on the Personal Information link to find if your card is accepted. Never click on the link in an e-mail. If the e-mail is genuine it is not necessary.

To sum up:

  • Always trade through Ebay for items you are selling on it.
  • Use your common sense.
  • Check out a sellers story.
  • Always Trace the e-mail.
  • Make it clear in your item listing that you do not accept Western Union payments.
  • If you wish to offer Escrow services, make it clear in your item listing you will only use escrow dot com.
  • Verify Paypal payments by actually logging in to your account.
  • Check the grammar!
  • Do not click on links provided in e-mails, go to the main site instead.
  • Keep an eye on the address bar of any site you visit.

If in doubt, do not sell.

Badd-Wolf.

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