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Watch out for the eScam

Online marketplaces popular during holidays, potentially dangerous

Staff Writer
Online shopping safety tips:

• Check for “HTTPS” in webpage — it means it is secure

• Don’t shop on public WiFi

• Research vendors you’re not familiar with

• Copy and paste links into browser; don’t click in email

• Password protect mobile devices

• Update computer often

• Use credit card, not debit card


BARSTOW • J. Halpin wished to sell an old gift, a Young Chang piano, so earlier this month, she put it up for bid on eBay. She was ecstatic when it had seemingly sold, then quickly devastated to learn it was all probably a scam.

Halpin, a Barstow senior citizen who requested her first name not be revealed, nearly made a mistake that would have likely cost her hundreds of dollars.

It started when she began exchanging emails through eBay with an interested buyer out of San Francisco. A couple of days after the initial conversation, the deal appeared to be dead when the buyer asked Halpin to pay shipping costs, to which Halpin responded she would not. After all, she had explicitly noted “local delivery only.”

Then, after a few days of lull in communication between Halpin and the prospective buyer, when Halpin had written it off completely, something strange happened: Halpin received a follow-up email from the prospect who now suddenly showed a fervent interest to buy the piano and would even pay for the shipping costs, as long as Halpin had it shipped to Nairobi, Kenya.

Halpin was excited to have a buyer, but also new to eBay and admittedly naive to the process. She had provided her home address to the “buyer,” but immediately had reservations when the “buyer” wanted to circumvent eBay’s standard payment process, PayPal, and, instead, send Halpin a check for $2,950 directly — $600 for the piano and the rest to cover shipping. They also persisted that Halpin deposit the check as soon as she received it.

“I just contacted my movers and they are getting the paper work done for the pick up of the Item (sic),” one email to Halpin read. “I need you to deduct the money for the merchandise and get the remaining Cash (sic) sent to them for the paperwork/documents so they could have it recorded on their system database. (I believe you know the excess covers the pick up/handling fees).”

“I immediately wrote back and said, no, I don’t want to do it this way,” Halpin said.

It was too late. A certified check from what appeared to be an account at a Wells Fargo bank in San Francisco came in the mail on Monday.

According to the “Consumer Information” section on the Federal Trade Commission’s website, “check overpayment scams target consumers selling cars or other valuable items through classified ads or online auction sites.”

The way it works is, “a scam artist replies to a classified ad or auction posting, offers to pay for the item with a check, and then comes up with a reason for writing the check for more than the purchase price,” the FTC website said.

It continues, “The scammer asks the seller to wire back the difference after depositing the check. The seller does it, and later, when the scammer’s check bounces, the seller is left liable for the entire amount.”

Needless to say, Halpin didn’t deposit the check nor send the “movers” their needed portion. She contacted eBay who she said verified the initial sender email address to be legit, but also informed her that it was a different email address — an unverified one — which later contacted her with such eagerness. It’s a practice known as “spoofing,” when the sender address and other parts of an email header are altered to appear as though the email originated from a different source.

eBay also assisted Halpin in blocking the user.

Halpin reached out to Barstow Police, as well, who logged the incident.

When asked if there was anything to be learned from the ordeal, she replied with a creed she knew in her heart all along: “Always stay within the rules of eBay."

eBay will be a popular destination for holiday shoppers this year. On Cyber Monday, client sales were up 55.2 percent from the previous year. Earlier this month, on Dec. 9, the number of transactions made via smartphones alone was up 133 percent over last year’s highest volume mobile shopping day of Dec. 4, according to Daily Deal Media.

For consumers who turn to eBay, or any other online marketplace, for deals and last minute gifts, Halpin offered one last piece of advice.

“If it’s too good to be true...” and after a brief pause, she left it at that.

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