Just about everything is online these days. Many of the items that used to require going to a store to purchase can now be acquired from the comfort of your living room or on the go with your smartphone or tablet. Shopping isn’t the only thing that can be done online, either. It’s also possible to look for jobs, apartments, and service providers online. While the rise of online marketplaces has made shopping, job hunting, and apartment searches more convenient, it has also made us more vulnerable to scams and identity theft. Here are some tips to help you protect yourself while using online marketplaces.
Make sure that you do not give out your Personally Identifying Information (PII) until the right time. If a potential employer has not scheduled an in person interview with you, but asks for your Social Security Number to run a background check, that’s a huge red flag. In addition, you should make sure that you have seen any housing you are looking at renting or buying before you offer up your PII or any type of deposit. You should do more than just drive by, as well. Just because a building is actually there doesn’t mean it is for rent, so do yourself a favor and ask questions of the landlord / manager and don’t be afraid to voice any concerns you may have. Only once you are sure the property is legitimately available should you supply the information for a credit check needed to obtain the apartment.
Avoid alternative payment methods when making transactions online. Wire transfers, specifically via Western Union, are often used in scams. While this may be an obvious red flag when you are buying or selling something online, this can also be used in employment or housing scams. A potential employer may state that they will pay you via Western Union, or ask that you pay your first month’s rent via wire transfer. These are most likely scams and should be avoided. Other forms of payment that may signal a red flag for fraud are cashier’s checks, money grams and personal checks. These can be made fraudulently and liability will be transferred to the person taking the payment if false funds are deposited into their bank account.
Most importantly, keep in mind who is responsible for activities on online marketplaces. Most online marketplaces have a robust amount of information on avoiding scams while using their sites. Why do they do this? Because people are getting scammed and conned more and more every day. You must remember, though, that online marketplaces ARE NOT, by law responsible for any nefarious activity taking place on their websites. It’s the people involved in the transaction: you and the other party! Look at it this way – if you went into a department store and an employee ripped you off you could complain to the management of the department store and could reasonably expect for the situation to be resolved. This is not the case with sites such as Craigslist, eBay and others. The people you are doing transactions with, whether they be property managers, potential employers or merchants, are not associated with the site itself and therefore the site is not responsible for their actions. The bottom line is that if something does go wrong, there’s usually not going to be anyone to fix the problem for you.
All of these warnings make online marketplaces sound like a dangerous medium to conduct business. However, by being cautious with your information you can navigate your way through transactions to get what you need, when you need it. Keeping these tips in mind can help you avoid fraud, scams and identity theft.
About the author
Eva Velasquez is the President/CEO at the Identity Theft Resource Center, a non-profit organization which serves victims of identity theft. Velasquez previously served as the Vice President of Operations for the San Diego Better Business Bureau and spent 21 years at the San Diego District Attorney’s Office. Eva has a passion for consumer protection and privacy issues and is constantly striving to educate the public about these important topics.
— Sticky Password (@stickypassword) October 5, 2015