Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Online Retail Scammers Still Preying on Utahns

Posted By on June 28, 2011, 6:57 PM

“I lucked out,” says 78-year old Lora Galvez about her recent experience buying a car worth $17,000 for only $2,500 online. Not because it was a good deal, but because it was a deal too good to be true—but one she was luckily able to recover her money from.---

The Utah Division of Consumer Protection is warning Utahns of a recent uptick in online marketplace scammers plying bogus deals to unlucky Utahns. The kind of deal that almost took the Ogden grandmother Galvez out of her $2,500, until she was able to stop a Western Union wire transfer from getting to the scammer in Georgia, earlier this month.

While the money transfer was suspicious to Galvez, the scam was sophisticated in that the would-be “seller” had informed her that she should set up an account with eBay to make sure the transaction was legitimate. Galvez set up the account and that’s when the scammer started sending e-mails pretending to be an eBay representative who told her that the company would hold the money for her until the transaction was complete and then give it to the seller.

She says the communication seemed legitimate until she wired the money, at that point she says all communication stopped. “That’s when I knew I was scammed,” Galvez says.

Luckily, the scammers delayed in picking up the money in just enough time for Galvez to stop the transfer and get her money back. Looking back she says there were a lot of red flags that should have tipped her off. “It was the first time I’ve ever been scammed,” she says. “I didn’t realize they would be so professional.”

One red flag she did pick up on was the fact that the seller originally said she live din Draper but then said she had recently got promoted and moved to Georgia. Hard to locate sellers in online transactions, are a good indicator of risky deal says Francine Giani, Director of the Utah Department of Commerce.

“They could be in Utah, another state or more likely in another country,” Giani says. “Check them out and have conversations with these folks instead of just sending blind e-mails back and forth.” Giani says online market sites like eBay and Craig’s List as well as local sites like KSL Classifieds, are seeing more scammers who are especially attempting illicit transaction with fake checks as bait. According to the Consumer Federation of America these fake check scams have already defrauded 1.3 million Americans nationwide.

“We need to make sure we do our homework,” Giani says, adding that legitimate retail sites don’t always host legitimate retailers. “Even on a site that we trust and admire it does not necessarily mean what we’re seeing online is a legitimate thing.”

Galvez for one knows she beat the odds and learned the hard way about online transactions, but she also realizes many pay the price to learn that lesson. “It turned out well for me, where I guess it doesn’t for a lot of people,” Galvez says. “But I’m a happy woman again.”

Investigators for the Utah Division of Consumer Protection say consumers can always call their office for more information about a deal at 801-530-6601 and should otherwise pay attention to some of the following warning signs.

• Fraudsters will often say they are outside of the country

• Fake checks mailed as bait to consumers can appear to be very real

• Often scammers will trick consumers into depositing a fake check and then asking them to be wired money in return

• Consumers should not wire money for online retail transactions

• Even if a fake check shows money in your account after its deposited, it can still bounce, and it may take weeks for banks to verify if the check is legitimate or not

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