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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Philip May 14, 2009 at 7:18 am

I know you probably know it but for lots of email scams another good place to check on it is to go to Snopes.com I have finally convinced my mom to check snopes if there is an email she is about to forward to everone.

I am usually pretty good, but just yesterday got an email that I went for, that apparently was true in January in California but not here and now. It was one that did not seem that far out of it and did not see any other motives but just was forwarded blindly too many times.

Alhefner May 14, 2009 at 8:19 am

Since you are focusing on the internet. One major scam and doorway to placing malicious software on user computer is the “Your computer is infected” popup advertisement. These advertisements claim to be providing a virus or spyware scan and cleaning for free but in reality, it is loading the user’s system with adware, spyware, viruses, trojans and the like. Users should never click on these ads and if they see one should shut down their browser (to stop any automatic download that they may not see happening) immediately and never go back to the site.

I once cleaned well over 800 infections from a laptop that had first been infected that way. The first infection led to the rest and soon the laptop was unusable.

B7 May 14, 2009 at 9:19 pm

Here’s another big one. Contacting them and actually getting a response quickly. The contact can be either email or phone. Companies that have customer service respond to people who contact them. If it takes 48 hours (or if they don’t respond!) to a prospective customer it means they aren’t likely to talk to their existing customers.

Kevin May 16, 2009 at 11:46 am

@Phillip: I’ve had the same problem … whether it be a scam or just an incorrect email forward. Just check Snopes!

@Alhefner: True, but anyone who clicks on a dumb popup like that worries me in general.

@B7: Good idea. Instant connection and live person? Good news. Ringing and no response… bad news.

TStrump May 18, 2009 at 5:10 pm

These scammers are very good at what they do.
I consider myself fairly ‘aware’ but have found myself almost clicking on something I probably shouldn’t a few times.
I just have to ask myself twice, ‘is it real or not?”

SellYourCell April 27, 2010 at 2:31 pm

SellYourCell.com has been sold and is under new management starting the end of April, 2010. It was never a scam but the old owner was overwhelmed and didn’t always do a good job (although she is very nice and honest). We do buy cell phones and pay within 30 days of receipt. We only pay for working phones and won’t pay for phones if we can’t resell them (i.e. water damage indicator is red or the screen or casing is cracked, hinges broken). Give us another chance and you won’t be sorry (:.

Noma November 28, 2011 at 8:06 am

i have an email from some person a Denise Pitt claiming to be a lawyer with Private finance Iniatives (PFI) He says he has been assigned to help me with getting my 100 000GB pounds grantand that I must pay him #@& pounds to do the work for me. I don’t trust thisat all. Kindly send me an email address to which I can send you his mail to validate the contents thereof.

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