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Tips on how to recognize and avoid scams when buying or selling online

(ARA) – The Internet has become a great place to do a lot of things: go shopping, socialize with friends, stay informed and play games, to name just a few. However, it’s important for consumers to be aware that the Internet is also giving new life to a lot of common scams.

“Fraudsters have been around for years, but the Internet has given them a whole new way to steal from people,” says Denise Jaworski, vice president of global consumer protection at Western Union. Two of the most common scams that can occur when buying or selling items online are the overpayment scam and the online purchase scam.

In the overpayment scam, the criminal sends you a check as payment for a service or product. The check is typically for more than the purchase price, and the thief asks you to cash the check, keep the portion owed to you and perhaps a little extra for your trouble, and send the rest of the money to him right away. Waiting to send the cash might help you catch the scam, but if you send the money right away, you’ll find the check ultimately bounces, leaving you responsible to the bank for the full amount, plus any penalties.

In the online purchase scam, a seemingly legitimate seller asks you to wire money for a product, auction item or service. Once he or she receives the money, you’ll never get your purchased item or service.

You can avoid becoming a victim of a scam when buying or selling online. Jaworski offers a few tips:

  • Only send money to people you know and trust. Never send money to someone you met over the Internet or to someone you’ve never actually met and dealt with in person.
  • If an offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Never send funds from a check in your account until that check officially clears, which can take weeks. Likewise, never send funds from a money order until it clears.
  • Don’t send a money transfer to pay for online purchases. Reputable, honest online merchants will accept your credit card and will never pressure you to send funds immediately in order to secure a deal.

Other scams are less high tech but can be just as effective. For example, you may receive a phone call from someone claiming to be a relative or friend. The caller claims to need money immediately because of an emergency, and convinces you to send the funds. This scam is often used against seniors by thieves posing as their grandchildren.

If approached through e-mail or phone by a friend, family member or acquaintance asking for money for an emergency situation, verify the person’s identity and that an emergency really exists before you send any funds.

If you sent a Western Union money transfer and think you’ve been a victim of fraud, call the company at (800) 448-1492. Visit to learn more.