7 Ways to Identify and Avoid Online Scams

by Kevin on May 14, 2009

At this point I am almost certain I’ve been ripped off by SellYourCell.com. While I am wishing I had the $24 in my bank account for my two cell phones I’m not completely distraught over the loss. I am quite irritated and would like to figure out how to track this scam down. (I’m working on that on Twitter, if you’d like to follow me @nodebtplan.)

I thought it would be useful to share some tips I have used over time to try and avoid online scams. I’m not an internet guru or anything like that, but I’ve been online for a large portion of my life. I’m one of the guys in my circle of friends that talks about the latest internet meme, has built a PC from parts, and has run Linux on his desktop PC. I like to say I know enough to be dangerous.

7 Ways You Can Avoid Online Scammers

  • Awareness.

Simple awareness that the internet isn’t a safe playground is the first step. There are millions of ways you can be scammed out of your money online whether it be through eBay, Nigerian money order, or phishing sites looking for your personal information. Verify and do some basic research. Never trust a website or person online blindly.

  • Look for a working phone number.

Ideally you are looking for a working, functioning 800 number, but a local one will do, too. Here’s another kicker: someone needs to actually answer the phone rather than it going to voicemail.

  • Google “[Company Name] Scam”

Going back to doing research, this is a great first step. Never heard of the company? A quick Google search for the company’s name and the word scam will provide you with an up to date list of people that are unhappy with the firm for whatever reason. Some of these complaints will be unfounded, but if you get a ton of quality results full of complaints, that’s a red flag.

You can also just do a basic Google search for the company’s name and see if anything negative pops up.

  • There isn’t a physical address. (Or there are two.)

This is one of those borderline red flags. For large companies you would expect to see multiple locations. Some large corporations even try to hide where their headquarters is at simply so you can’t send them hate mail try to resolve your issue.

But for a small company, personally, I need to see an address. A real address that you can ship things too — like letters from your lawyer — and not a P.O. Box.

  • Do a search on scam.com’s forums for the company name.

This is another great internet resource. Essentially Scam.com is a huge forum full of people complaining about companies that have scammed them.

Will 100% of those complaints be legit? Of course not. Imagine a competitor to your business signing up just to create a fictitious story about terrible customer service. (Remember, the internet isn’t a safe playground.)

Yet if you see multiple threads full of complaints about a company… red flag.

  • Trust your gut.

This is another tricky one. At the end of the day if a deal sounds too good to be true — a brand new Apple Macbook for $250, for example — then it probably is. There is something inside of us that will see a bunch of red flags and still be drawn to give it a shot. Don’t roll the dice.

Trust your gut. Too many red flags and you risk getting scammed. (And then you’ll feel even more stupid because you knew about the red flags.)

  • Copyright

Look for an up to date copyright on the company website. If the website has been around since 1999, then I would look for “Copyright [Company Name] 1999-2009”. If the website still says “Copyright 1999” then you have no idea if there are even still in business.

I Missed Some Major Red Flags

Later today or tomorrow I’ll writer another post and run down this list, showing you where I made mistakes with my SellYourCell experience. I hope you’ll come back.

Hopefully this post will help at least one person avoid getting scammed. Good luck out there.

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