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Fraudulent Internet sales on the rise

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The Internet has opened up whole new worlds of information, commerce and, unfortunately, crime.

Predictably, as more people have become comfortable shopping electronically, scam artists have devised new ways to part innocent citizens from their hard-earned money. And residents of Summit County are not immune.

One citizen in particular is sounding a warning to anyone trying to sell their car over the Internet. When it works, the Internet can give even rural residents a global marketplace. But the anonymity of the Internet also gives clever con artists a chance to vanish into cyberspace without leaving a trace.

Millions of collectors swear by eBay, and the global garage sale has, in many ways, become a model of Internet trading at its finest. Much of the trading on the site, and others like it, are dependent, to a large degree, on the honor system and those who have sold items successfully swear by it.

But, according to the Utah Attorney General’s office and the FBI’s office in Salt Lake City, Internet fraud is on the rise.

Apparently, Internet car sales sites are particularly vulnerable. As described in The Record’s Business section, an Oakley resident recently attempted to sell her van on a popular Internet site devoted to used cars and was nearly swindled out of $3,000.

An unscrupulous out-of-state buyer working through a third party paid for the vehicle with fraudulent money orders so authentic looking they even fooled the bank.

The lesson is that kids aren’t the only ones who need to be cautious on the Internet, especially during this season of shopping, selling, shipping and donating to charities.

When ordering products online make sure you are dealing with a reputable company, that transactions are handled on a secure site and that you understand the terms of any ‘special offers.’ Free shipping, return policies and rebates are seldom as attractive when you read the fine print.

When contributing to a charity, do a little additional research about the organization’s fiscal integrity.

And when selling something online, especially a big ticket item like a car, don’t be embarrassed about asking for more information. Internet search engines can work to your advantage if you take time to use them. Cross check and independently verify the buyer’s phone number and address. If something smells fishy, take the time to follow up on your instincts.

In the Oakley case, the buyer sent ‘extra’ money hoping a naive seller would see the additional money as a windfall. Fortunately, this seller took the time to look up the specific money orders’ serial numbers (online) and discovered they were fake.

If you are shopping or if trying to sell something online, don’t let the eGrinch steal your holiday. Shop locally whenever possible and when you are online follow the same advice you give your kids about guarding personal information and dealing with trustworthy sites.


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