The online classifieds industry is booming and growing larger by the day compared with traditional newspaper classifieds that are slowly disappearing into the abyss. The reasoning for this shift is simply explained in convenience and functionality. After all you can search online and quickly find what you’re looking for, whereas in a newspaper you have to sift through them one by one trying to find what you want.
However, this convenience comes at the price of security which many people don’t realise until they experience it first hand and become the victim of fraud or identity theft. The large online classifieds and auction websites introduce many measures to minimize fraud with a variety of mechanisms including:
- Validation via email (insecure).
- Validation via land line telephone
- Validation via SMS cell / mobile phone.
- Payment verification via Credit Card
- IP Address location algorithms
- Physical address validation
Yet these security measures come at a price to the website operators by making their websites more difficult to use and reduces user participation. The increased complexity leaves many people who are not very technology savvy lost and confused so they find themselves on simplistic websites that accept listings without validation.
The simplicity is great for user participation, but it is also fantastic for fraudsters who take advantage of the lack of security on these sites.
This is quite concerning particularly when the demand for this simplicity is increasing with the increased use of smart phones where simplicity is paramount. In recent times many start-up’s are working on exclusively mobile oriented local classifieds systems that are extremely simple to use, but there appears to be a lack of consideration on security with a pure focus to simplicity, user interaction and growth.
So how does one identify a potential fraudster when it comes to buying and selling online? Well there are a number of key indicators that everyone should be aware of:
- The mention of utilization of a ‘buyers agent’.
- Unable to contact via telephone due to being on an oil rig, mines, etc.
- Underpriced items, if the price is too good to be true, it probably is.
- Discussions of using the so called ‘eBay Protection Program’ when the sale isn’t on eBay.
- Offers to purchase a large ticket item without an inspection, such as a car, bike or boat.
Ultimately the best and safest way to purchase online is to buy and sell locally, meet the opposing party in person, and exchange payment with cash, but this does not mean that if you are buying and selling big ticket items that will ultimately be paid by cash or cheque that any communication with a buyer via e-mail is safe. Many scams target big ticket items due to the increased participation and communication involved between the parties and therefore probe for information in a manner that leads to identity theft. This is particularly rampant amongst used car sales online.
If you must buy from someone that you cannot meet, you must be extremely cautious and buy from reputable persons only. Look for sites with user reputation systems, review other listings by the same person, and see how long that particular user has been a member of the website.
Buyer and Seller safety is of the utmost importance in this growing industry however it is often overlooked by newcomers in the space, however even the most stringent security measures can be bypassed by fraudsters via identity theft and stolen credit cards, so you cannot assume safety when it comes to buying and selling online with any website, big or small.