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What are common scams and how do I spot them?

Offers that sound too good to be true, probably are
Most of us are careful if a stranger approaches on the street and offers a deal that's just too good to be true. But we're much less cautious online, putting us at risk.

Advance fee fraud
If you get an offer for free money, there's probably a catch. Typically, fraudsters will ask you to send some smaller amount (for taxes, for legal documents, etc.) before they can send you the millions you’re promised, but which they never intend to send you.

How to avoid this scam: Don't wire money to someone you don't know.

Overpayment scam
  • A customer sends a PayPal payment that is more than the purchase price of the order, and then asks you to wire them the difference.
    • They may tell you that they accidentally overpaid you, the extra money is for the shipping costs, they're giving you a bonus for your great service or the money is for the stress they've caused you.
    • They may even ask you to wire the shipping fees to their shipper.
  • This scammer may have paid with a stolen credit card, bank account number or checking account.
    • Just because a payment has been deposited into your account, doesn't mean the money is yours to keep. If the legitimate account holder reports unauthorized activity, the money can be withdrawn from your account.
    • If that happens, you'll lose the money you wired to the fraudster, the product you shipped, shipping costs and your payment.
How to avoid this scam:
  • Don't wire money to someone you don't know. A legitimate buyer won't overpay you for an order.
  • If a customer overpays you and asks you to wire them the difference, consider canceling the order—it's very likely to be fraudulent.
  • Don't wire money to the bogus shipping company—it's part of their scam to get your money.

Prize winnings
Messages asking you to pay a small handling fee to collect some fabulous prize are usually a scam. You send the handling fee and get nothing in return.

How to avoid this scam: Don't send money to someone you don't know. A legitimate prize won’t require you to pay in order to receive it.

High profit – no risk investments
These types of investments are usually scams and include messages insisting that you “Act Now!” for a great deal.

How to avoid this scam: Discontinue communication with this person/company.

Fake charities
Scammers use disasters to trick kind-hearted people into donating to fake charities. This usually happens when there is a refugee crisis, a terrorist attack or a natural disaster (like an earthquake, flooding or famine).

How to avoid this scam:
Thoroughly check the background of any charity to make sure your donation goes to real victims. Use resources to check out charities, like the ones below:

http://www.charitynavigator.org
http://www.bbb.org/us/charity
http://www.charitywatch.org

If a charity does not have a website, be cautious.

To learn more about common scams and how to avoid them, search online for advance fee fraud. You can also read the FBI's material on common types of scams. Most importantly: be as cautious online as you would be in the real world.

Shipping Scams
There are several ways fraudsters incorporate shipping into their schemes. Be sure you’re familiar with the following:
  • My shipping service scam
    • The buyer asks you to use their shipping account because they can get a discount, they have a preferred vendor they’ve worked with for years, or their shipping service is cheaper or more reliable. In another variation of the scam, the buyer may also ask you to wire the shipping fees to their preferred shipper.
    • If you use the buyer's shipping account, they can easily contact the shipping company and reroute the order to another address.
      • The buyer can then open up a complaint asking for a refund because they didn't receive their order.
      • You aren't able to prove that the buyer received their order and you are out your product, the shipping costs and your money.
    • If they ask you to wire the money to a bogus shipping company, they can steal your money.
      • After you have wired the money you’ll find out that the order was made with a stolen card or bank account. You may be held liable for returning the funds to the legitimate customer whose account was stolen.
How to avoid this scam:
  • Only use your shipping account.
  • Never wire money to someone you don't know – you can't get it back easily.
  • If a customer asks you to use their shipping service, review their order for fraud carefully. They may have used a stolen card or bank account to fund the purchase.
  • Ship to the address on the Transaction Details page.
Pre-paid shipping label scam
  • You receive an order from a customer who asks you to use their pre-paid label to cover the shipping charges. (They may tell you that they can get their labels at a discounted price.)
  • By providing the label, the customer controls the destination of the package. They may send it to another country, a PO Box or some other untraceable location.
    • To be covered under PayPal's Seller Protection policy, you are required to ship to the address on the Transaction Details page.
    • The shipping label may also have been purchased with a stolen credit card.
How to avoid this scam:
  • If the customer asks you to use their pre-paid label, review their order for fraud carefully. They may have used a stolen card to make the purchase.
  • Do not accept shipping labels from your customers.
  • Ship to the address on the Transaction Details page.
Package rerouting scam
The buyer reroutes the package so they can file a complaint that they never received it.
  • A buyer places an order and provides an incorrect or fake shipping address.
  • The shipping company tries to deliver the package but isn't able to.
  • The buyer monitors the online tracking information and notices that the shipper couldn't deliver the package.
  • The buyer contacts your shipping company and asks them to send the package to their correct address. The shipping company delivers the package to the new location.
  • Buyer then files a complaint for not receiving the item.
    • Because the shipment was rerouted, you can't prove the item was delivered to the address on the Transaction Details page.
    • The buyer gets to keep the item and money.
    • Because the package wasn't delivered to the address on the Transaction Details page, you aren't covered by Seller Protection.
    • Unfortunately, you lost the product, shipping fees and the money.
    • To make it worse, you might also have to pay your shipper an additional rerouting fee.
How to avoid this scam:
  • Contact your shipping company and block buyers from rerouting packages.
  • Validate the buyer's address before shipping.
  • Only ship to the address on the Transaction Details page.

Business / job opportunities
Fraudsters will post fake job opportunities on job-posting sites, dating sites, and via spam email.

Reshipping packages scam
  • One of the more popular work-from-home scams is reshipping electronics, clothing and other items out of the United States.
  • You receive items (electronics, jewelry, clothing, etc.) in the mail and are asked to ship them out of the country.
    • Packages may be addressed to someone else's name (the stolen credit card victim).
    • Your "employer" provides you with a shipping label (also paid for with a stolen credit card).
    • Your "employer" ask you for personal information, such as Social Security Number and bank account details, so they can "direct deposit" your check.
    • Generally, you’ll never get paid and have just exposed yourself to fraud.
  • Most merchants will not ship items out of the country.
    • Fraudsters need you to act as an intermediary to help get the goods out of the country. It also helps them avoid getting caught.
    • They use your personal information to steal your identity or takeover your account.
How to avoid this scam:
  • If it's too good to be true, it probably is. Know who you are dealing with and don't reship packages.
  • If you didn't realize you were involved in a scam until the packages started arriving, refuse delivery or return to sender. Report scams to the Internet Crime Complaint Center or contact your Postmaster.
  • Never give your private personal or financial information to anyone you don't know.
Employment scam
  • Someone contacts you about a great new business opportunity. They need an employee or partner to sell cameras (or some other expensive product) for them.
  • Scammers trick innocent and trustworthy people into sending them money and merchandise.
    • The scammer may even say they found you through eBay's Trading Assistant program. They will ask you to:
  • List some products for sale on eBay or on your website.
  • Use the money from the orders to pay their supplier. They’ll contact the supplier in advance to let them know you’ll be sending them money.
  • Update your PayPal account address to their address. They’ll usually give you an address that looks like a regular address but it's a P.O. Box.
  • After you pay the supplier, you’ll start receiving complaints from your buyers stating that they didn't receive their merchandise. Instead they received an empty box (from the scammer).
  • You contact the supplier. They inform you that your partner said you would be sending money for gold bouillons, so they shipped the gold bouillons (not cameras) to your PayPal account address. You remember that your partner asked you to change your PayPal account address to their address, so they could pickup the gold.
    • You paid the supplier for the cameras, so you file a complaint against the supplier. Unfortunately, you learn that you may be liable for the money since the supplier delivered the merchandise to your PayPal account address.
How to avoid this scam:
  • If it's too good to be true, it probably is. Know who you are dealing with.
  • Don't list someone else's address on your PayPal account.
  • Verify your suppliers and don't send money to someone you don't know.
  • Only ship items to the address on the Transaction Details page.
  • Be on alert if you’re asked to ship a lot of packages overseas or to the same post office box.
If you think you’ve received a suspicious email or have been directed to a fake website, forward it to spoof@paypal.com and we’ll investigate it for you. After you send us the email, delete it from your inbox. If you clicked on any links or downloaded any attachments within the suspicious email or website, log into your account and view your transactions. It’s also a good idea to change your password.
 
To report SPAM SMS messages, forward them to ‘7726’ (which is the keys for SPAM on most phones). Check with your service provider to find if this service is supported or read more here: http://www.gsma.com/aboutus/.  
 
To view all transactions and activity, log in to your PayPal account and check your recent activity. If you see any unauthorized transactions, go to the Resolution Center to report it.

Here's a video on identifying suspicious mails:
 
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