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FBI Issues Warning About Fraudulent Online Advertisements

FBI Issues Warning About Fraudulent Online Advertisements - The Beacon


By: Jackie

FBI Issues Warning About Fraudulent Online Advertisements

Your BBB® has recently learned about a warning the FBI issued two weeks ago regarding false advertisements for high priced items. The warning was issued as a result of consumer complaints received by the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) which is a partnership between the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center (NW3C). According to the warning, from June 2009 to June 2014 IC3 received over 6800 complaints about false advertisements for items such as cars, boats, heavy equipment, recreational vehicles, lawn mowers, tractors, and similar items. During the same period, consumers reported losses totaling more than $20 million as a result of being taken in by these fraudulent ads.

Consumers report that the scam starts with a false ad offering the item for sale. The ad usually includes a fraudulent photo and a contact phone number. The consumer leaves a message and the scammers reply via text message and ask the consumer for an email address. The scammers then email more details and pictures of the item with a reason why the price for the item is low (moving out of state, divorce, overseas deployment, etc.)

To make the transaction seem legitimate, the scammers may allow the consumer to negotiate a bit on the price. They might tell the consumer that the transaction will be conducted through eBay, but this is untrue. They even send the consumer an email that looks like it’s from eBay, but it’s fake. The email gives the consumer instructions which usually involve the consumer wiring money to a bank name, address, and account number provided by the scammers. The scammers even provide a fake toll-free eBay customer service number for the consumer to use when they wire the money.

The scammers send the consumer a fake eBay confirmation email which includes a transaction or confirmation number (fake, of course) and an expected delivery date. The item never arrives, and when consumers call the purported customer service number, their calls are ignored or the line is constantly busy.

Here are some tips from the IC3 and your BBB for safe online shopping:

*Conduct online research on the advertised item or person/company selling the item.

*Search for negative feedback or reviews on the seller, his/her email address, phone number, etc.

*If the seller claims the transaction will go through eBay, read eBay’s payment policy. (You will find that eBay does not take wire transfers and only uses PayPal for transactions.)

*Contact the actual business that supposedly sent the email to verify that the email is genuine.

*Don’t let yourself be pressured to make an immediate decision.

*Be cautious when dealing with persons or companies from outside the country.

*Keep records of all your online transactions.

*Be leery of links and attachments in emails. Run a virus scan on attachments before opening.

*Log on directly to the official website for the business identified in the email instead of clicking on a link in an email.

*Don’t give out personal information to an unknown person.

*Compare the link in the email to the web address link you are directed to and determine if they match.

*It’s always best to meet the seller in person and see the item for sale before purchasing.

*Never wire funds or use a pre-paid debit card to transfer money to someone you don’t know.

For more information you can trust on shopping online safely, visit

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Jackie is the Operations and Education Foundation Assistant with the BBB. She assists consumers with business inquiries, and does presentations to senior groups and high school students. She is a regular contributor to the blog.