On classified sites run by newspapers and popular venues like Craigslist, sellers tend to offer used items and may be open to negotiation. Since most transactions are done in cash, there’s little buyer protection.
To stay safe:
Never wire funds. If a seller asks you to wire payment using Western Union or MoneyGram, you’re likely dealing with a scammer.
Safeguard your personal information. Sellers on Craigslist and similar sites don’t need your personal financial information, such as credit card numbers. To keep your information safe, it’s best to pay with cash.
Don’t go it alone. Always take someone with you when meeting a seller. Be sure to tell a friend or family member where you’ll be, and take your cell phone with you.
Pick up in a public place. Choose a busy location to meet the seller. If you’re picking up the item at the seller’s house, it’s particularly important to have a friend or family member join you.
Online auction sites like eBay let you view and bid on products from around the globe. Some sites also allow you to buy items outright instead of bidding.
To stay safe:
Read the fine print. Before you enter a bid, be sure to review the entire listing, as well as the sales policies of the auction site. Remember: you win, you pay. Once you’ve won an auction, you’re obligated to complete the transaction.
Check out buyer feedback. Auction sites let buyers post feedback on their purchases, which can give you insight into a seller’s business practices. Be sure the seller has a high rating before making a purchase. If lackluster feedback prompts you to hesitate, it’s probably best to look for the item elsewhere.
Pay with a credit card or PayPal account. Using a debit card linked to your checking account may not be safe, as most debit cards don’t offer fraud protection. You may also want to consider buyer protection; eBay offers such a plan that covers many items purchased on its site.
Beware of fraudulent e-mails. After you’ve made a purchase, be wary of any unusual e-mails you may receive. Avoid opening suspicious messages or clicking on links they contain.
Online marketplaces such as Amazon, Etsy, and Overstock are one-stop shops where you can find anything and everything. Searches on these types of sites may pull up products new and used, both from companies and from individual sellers.
To stay safe:
Know what you’re purchasing. Though they’re often cheaper, used products may not be in perfect shape. Don’t neglect to read all the product details, as well as individual sellers’ return and refund policies.
Look for positive seller feedback. As with online auctions, be sure to read sellers’ ratings and keep your eyes open for red flags.
Pay safely. Pay for purchases using a credit card or PayPal, which offer greater buyer protection than other methods.
Ensure a secure checkout. Before you purchase an item, look for HTTPS at the beginning of the web address on the transaction page, which indicates a secure connection. Addresses that begin with HTTP only aren’t secure.
When shopping online, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of finding a great deal—or what seems to be one. But don’t let the thrill of bargain-hunting override common sense or cause you to jeopardize your sensitive information. Be sure to read the details on items you’d like to buy and to use caution when making purchases online, particularly if you’re dealing with an individual seller.
What to do if your Identity is stolen
Following the steps below can help you contain the damage.
Report it. Contact all of the financial institutions you hold accounts with to report that your identity has been stolen. Get in touch with your financial advisor, call your credit card company to freeze or cancel your account, and contact any banks you hold accounts with so that they can set up alerts or restrictions.
Change your passwords. If you’re not sure how your identity was stolen, a weak or guessable password could well be culprit.
Change the passwords and security questions for all of your accounts—e-mail, social media, banking, and so on. Ensure that your passwords for sites like Facebook, which have weaker security controls, are different than those for your financial and e-mail accounts. And check that the answers to your security questions are strong as well (i.e., not something that could be easily found out or guessed about you).
Place a fraud alert on your credit reports. Setting up an alert with one of the three credit reporting agencies (TransUnion, Equifax, or Experian) can help prevent an identity thief from opening accounts in your name. To learn more, visit the FTC’s identity theft website.
Request a copy of your credit report from the three credit reporting companies. Each of the companies’ reports is slightly different, so order one from each company to check for mistakes or signs of fraud. Be sure to ask that only the last four digits of your social security number appear on the reports.
Close any accounts that may have been affected. It’s much safer to close an account and open a new one than to wait and see if an identity thief has accessed it.
Alert the authorities. File a complaint with the FTC at www.ftc.gov/complaint or by calling 877.438.4338. You can then take the FTC complaint form to your local police to file a report.
Ways to keep your Identity safe
Of course, the best way to avoid the emotional and financial pain of identity theft is to avoid having your identity stolen in the first place. To stay safe, follow these guidelines:
Use a credit card for online purchases. Although using a credit card doesn’t guarantee that your identity won’t be stolen, you can dispute any fraudulent charges made to your account. (This usually isn’t possible with debit cards.)
Only make purchases from secure websites (i.e., those with addresses that begin with “https”).
Keep tabs on your social security card. Never carry your card around or keep it in your wallet. If you ever lose it, you’ll be an easy target for identity thieves.
When in doubt, shred it. Be sure to shred all documents containing sensitive information. If you aren’t sure if a document is sensitive or not, just shred it!
Monitor your credit reports. You’re entitled to three free credit reports per year, one from each of the credit reporting companies. Be sure to monitor your reports for any suspicious activity, no matter how small.
Never respond to e-mails, texts, or phone calls that ask for personal information. Identity thieves often pose as trusted businesses or financial institutions. To verify that a request for your personal information is legitimate, contact the company directly to follow up.
Be wary of public wireless networks. Never use public Wi-Fi to access, send, or receive sensitive information in any format. Don’t use a public network to log into any account (such as e-mail or financial accounts) that contains sensitive or personal information.
Keep your computer up to date. To keep hackers at bay, be sure that all of your computer programs are current.