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A Hard Lesson ... Working Her Way Through College, Local Girl Scammed on the Internet
February 20, 2008 - A young Greensboro-area resident recently got a hard lesson in the dos and don’ts of Internet shopping. Two weeks ago, 19-year-old Deanna Shock found a car she wanted on otherwise reputable Internet website Craig’s List. A working college student with limited income, Shock found a seller in California advertising a decent economy car for $3,000. The man said he was in the service, getting ready to move to another country and needed to sell his car. The car would be delivered, he said, once Shock paid the asking price via wire transfer.
Although the website offers warnings about Internet scams and tips on how to prevent getting defrauded, the opportunity seemed too good. Shock immediately applied for and received a $3,000 bank loan – her first ever. Then, she did what Craig’s List and many other websites warn consumers against. She wired the funds to the seller via Western Union, which allows the person receiving the funds to remain anonymous.
She waited and waited for her car’s arrival. Of course, it never showed up. When she inquired about the vehicle’s arrival date, Shock found that the seller had given her a false name and address. He was gone, and with him her $3,000, which she must still repay to the bank.
“She owes $3,000 and has nothing to show for it,” said Shock’s mother, Rita. “We helped her with this purchase. The car checked out fine. Our car dealer said it looked real good. But, we learned about that old saying, ‘if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.’ You better do some checking because it probably is too good to be true.”
The Shocks certainly aren’t the only consumers scammed for big money by unscrupulous Internet users. According to the website www.fraud.org, operated by the non-profit National Consumers League (NCL), Internet scams involved used car sales are on the rise. “It’s crucial for consumers to protect themselves from auto sales and repair rip-offs because they depend on their cars to get to work, visit the doctor, shop for groceries, go to school, pick up their kids, and take care of their other daily chores,” said Susan Grant, director of NCL’s Fraud Center.
“Our advice to others is to be very, very careful on (the Internet),” Shock’s mother said. “That was a hard lesson for us to learn. I felt like I’d been socked in the gut. “There are others out there who are like us – we’re a Christian family. We have good, honest friends. You just don’t think there are really bad people out there doing this to other people.”
The family checked with their bank, talked to the Henry County Sheriff’s Department and e-mailed people at the Craig’s List website. Like many others before them, they found that they have no recourse in getting their money back.
Consumers League Offers Tips on Avoiding Today's Internet Scams
*Know who you’re dealing with* If the seller is unfamiliar, check with your state or local consumer protection agency and the Better Business Bureau. Some Web sites have feedback forums, which can provide useful information about other people’s experiences with particular sellers. Get the physical address and phone number in case there is a problem later.
*Look for information about how complaints are handled* It can be difficult to resolve complaints, especially if the seller is located in another country. Look on the Web site for information about programs the company participates in that require it to meet standards for reliability and help to handle disputes.
*Be aware that no complaints is no guarantee* Fraudulent operators open and close quickly, so the fact that no one has made a complaint yet doesn’t meant that the seller is legitimate. You still need to look for other danger signs of fraud.
*Be skeptical about incredibly low prices or rebates that promise to cover the entire cost of the product* The goods may not exist at all, or the seller may be on the verge of going out of business and never deliver the promised merchandise or rebate.
*Understand the offer* A legitimate seller will give you all the details about the products, the total price, the delivery time, the refund and cancellation policies, and the terms of any warranty. For more information about shopping safely online, go to www.nclnet.org/shoppingonline.
*Resist pressure* Legitimate companies will be happy to give you time to make a decision. It’s probably a scam if they demand that you act immediately or won’t take “No” for an answer.
*Be cautious about unsolicited emails* They are often fraudulent. If you are familiar with the company that sent you the email and you don’t want to receive further messages, send a reply asking to be removed from the email list. However, responding to unknown senders may simply verify that yours is a working email address and result in even more unwanted messages from strangers. The best approach may simply be to delete the email.
*Beware of imposters* Someone might send you an email pretending to be connected with a business, or create a Web site that looks just like that of a well-known company. If you’re not sure that you’re dealing with the real thing, find another way to contact the legitimate business and ask.
*Guard your personal information* Don’t provide your credit card or bank account number unless you are actually paying for something. Your social security number should not be necessary unless you are applying for credit. Be especially suspicious if someone claiming to be from a company with whom you have an account asks for information that the business already has.
*Pay the safest way* Credit cards are the safest way to pay for online purchases because you can dispute the charges if you never get the goods or if the offer was misrepresented. Federal law limits your liability to $50 if someone makes unauthorized charges to your account, and most credit card issuers will remove them completely if you report the problem promptly. There are new technologies, such as “substitute” credit card numbers and password programs, that can offer extra measures of protection from someone else using your credit card. For more information about paying safely online, go to www.nclnet.org/shoppingonline and www.nclnet.org/essentials/security.html.
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