Though there is no sure way to prevent yourself from being a victim of fraud (especially where online auctions are concerned).
However, the following measures can be taken to signifigantly reduce you chances of becoming a scammer's next victim.
1. Prior To Bidding:
Check The Seller's FeedBack:
Always remember to check a seller's feedback rating before placing a bid, the feedback rating is your most useful tool in determining whether a seller is legitimate or not. You should never bid on sellers with low feedback, no feedback, or excessive negative feedback, especially in regards to high priced items.
Ask The Seller Questions:
This is not only useful in answering whatever questions you might have, but it can also give you an idea of what type of communication you can expect from the seller as well (is he/she fast, slow, detailed, vague, helpful, poor, rude, etc.). Remember, never place your bid until all of your questions have been answered.
Know Your Item:
Make sure you know what you are bidding on before you place a bid. You should always know exactly what you are bidding on, including its relative value before placing your bid. Don't always trust the seller's description, it may seem like a deal if the seller sells you a clock for $20, that's worth $50, but not if you can go to Walmart and buy the same thing for $10.
Agree to and Accept Seller's Terms:
Remember the seller sets the terms of the auction. If you do not agree with the seller's terms, you shouldn't bid on the item. Don't expect the seller to change the terms just for you, simply because you're the highest bidder (If the seller only sells locally and you live internationally, you can only bid if the seller agrees to let you bid before the auction is over.)
Know Shipping Costs:
Make sure you agree to shipping as well. If you think a seller should ship a different way, or is overcharging for shipping, you must ask him/her beforehand if they will ship another way. If you and the seller can't agree on shipping then don't place your bid.
2. After Placing Your Bid:
Obtain The Seller's Contact Information:
The very first thing you should do after placing your bid is copy down any and all of the seller's contact information. This can be obtained by visting http://cgi3.ebay.com/aw-cgi/eBayISAPI.dll?MemberSearchShow If the user is ever unregistered or blocked from ebay, either before or during the transaction you will be unable to obtain his contact information. Therefore it is better to have it as early in the transaction as possible. Remember, you should always have a way (other than email) to contact your seller.
Set Your Personal Limit:
Decide beforehand the maximum amount that you are willing to pay for the item, and stick to it. Don't get caught up in the heat of the moment, only to end up paying a lot more money then you originally intended.
3. After Winning The Auction:
Verify The Seller's Contact Information:
You should try to verify the seller's contact information before sending payment. Make sure you keep an eye out for any inaccuracies. (If a seller's contact information were to state his location to be somewhere in Europe, yet his autions claim his location to be somewhere in the United States; there may be some cause for concern.)
NOTE: If a seller's contact information is at all fraudulent, you have no further obligations to complete the transaction. Furthermore the majority of scam artists use phony contact information in coducting their scams. Discrepencies in contact information should be reported to http://pages.ebay.com/help/basics/select-RS.html (Ebay's safe harbor/fraud form)
Send Traceable Payment (When Possible):
After confirming that the seller has a valid address, you should prepare to send payment. Whenever possible you should pay via a protected form of payment. Some forms of protected payment are:
Credit Cards: If you do not receive your item, or if it is not as described, and the seller refuses to correct the matter you have the right to initiate a credit card chargeback. In many cases all of the funds can be recovered.
Valid Escrow Services: Escrow.com is probably the most secure escrow service available for internet auctions. An escrow service allows the buyer to receive his/her merchandise before the seller receives payment. Some sellers do not like escrows because payments can be delayed by up to 3 weeks.
Cash On Delivery (COD):This is a very rare form of payment for internet auctions, however it should be taken advantage of whenever available.
If protected forms of payment are not available, you should still try and have payment sent via some traceable means, these could include:
Online Electronic Payments: This includes services such as billpoint and paypal.com. These services keep a record of a transaction and will try to assist you if any funds are lost.
BidPay.com: A service provided by western union where a money order is sent to the seller on the buyer's behalf (the buyer has to purchase it of course). This is a traceable method, however there is not very much that can be done in the event of your money being stolen.
Lastly if any of the above payments can not be utilized other forms of payment such as money orders, cash, cheque, are usually sent.
Money Orders, Cash, Cheque: When sending money orders, etc., buyer's should have payment sent via registered mail or a priority postal service with delivery confirmation. Buyers should also utilize the signature confirmation option when available. If an item is never received the buyer can report the scammer for mail fraud.
NEVER USE WESTERN UNION OR SIMILAR SERVICES TO PAY FOR AUCTIONS.
These services are meant to be used between two parties who know each other personally. Western Union is not safe for auction payments, and I would estimate at least 9 out of 10 sellers who only accept Western Union for payment are commiting fraud.
Know Your Rights (US and Canada):
Some sellers try and trick their buyers into believing they have no rights when it comes to internet auctions.
For Example: Some sellers try to convince buyers that if insurance is not paid for the seller has no responsibility if the item is not delivered or arrives damaged. Other sellers have been known to purposely mislead buyers, later claiming the auction was not misleading to them and it was the buyers fault for not reading carefully.
Your Rights As A Buyer:
First, US and Canadian Federal Law prohibits the use of deceptive or misleading acts in commerce, which includes Internet auctions. Sellers are required to advertise your product or service and the terms of the sale honestly and accurately. If a seller fails to do so he/she is breaking the law.
Secondly, After the auction closes, sellers are required to ship the merchandise within the time frame designated during the auction or, if no time frame is specified, within 30 days. If a seller can't meet the shipping commitment, he/she must give the buyer an opportunity to cancel the order for a full refund or agree to the new shipping date. Sellers are completely responsible for an items safe delivery whether or not insurance is purchased.
Leave FeedBack Only When The Transaction is Complete:
A seller's most important resource is his/her feedback. You should never leave feedback until the transaction is completely finished. This means either both parties are satisfied or one (or both) parties refuses to participate any further in the transaction.
Often if you leave negative feedback too early the other party may become reluctant to assist you any further in the matter.