Beware of Wolves in Sheep's Clothing

By : JD Gallant September 18, 2020

It's a known fact that many websites masquerading as legitimate businesses actually serve as fronts for scams that prey upon the unwary seeker of bargains and business opportunities. Other websites, in response to this problem, offer advice to buyers on how to avoid being taken. But what about the seller? Could you be at risk if you want to use the Internet to sell your RV, for example?

One of our members emailed us a few years ago with the following experience - we are sharing it with you again because we have received similar complaints lately. He had posted his truck and trailer for sale with just enough information to spark a buyer's interest. To his surprise and consternation, he received an emailed offer from an alleged broker whose client wanted to wire payment directly into our member's bank account. The broker, whose letter aroused suspicion that English was not his native language, then asked for the bank name and address, account holder name, account number, routing number, and other codes pertinent to the seller's bank account, with the assurance that his client would pick up the vehicles as soon as the transfer was verified. Our member, of course, backed off immediately.

Apparently the "broker" assumed that, with his ungrammatical attempts to pepper his communication with legalese, and by providing an email address on a legal website, he would gain credibility as an attorney. However, a little research on RVCG's part revealed that he was nowhere to be found on the site - as an attorney or anything else. Although the site looked like a legitimate and detailed resource for finding legal help, we don't know how well they screen their email listings. It's often ridiculously easy to set up an email or website account without much more than a credit card number. Our member's experience put us in mind of a news headline a while back concerning a ring of scammers operating out of Nigeria that targeted victims in the U.S by offering millions of dollars in exchange for advance "attorney's fees" of $7,500. Police in Nigeria have cracked down on scammers but, because Internet cafes abound, it is easy for the leopard to change its spots and move on to fresh hunting grounds with a new and slicker fraud. These con games are by no means limited to Nigeria. Wherever in the world there is ready access to the Internet, there is ample opportunity for scammers to set up shop.

How can you, as a seller, escape the claws of financial terrorism? You should be wary if someone responds to your ad with a generous offer, but asks for some kind of upfront "fee." This applies especially if they have solicited you directly, offering big bucks under any pretext.

Be extra cautious about offers you even suspect may come from outside the U.S. In many countries with depressed economies there are those who will resort to desperate measures to glean a few American dollars. The $7500 fee mentioned above could represent quite a few years' wages to someone in Africa, the Middle East, India, Southeast Asia, and most of Central and South America.

Never give account numbers or other personal financial information to a prospective buyer. Don't laugh, it's been done. Get a phone number from your prospect and check it out. Scammers will find an excuse not to provide you with anything that could pinpoint their geographical location.

While it would be great to be able to trust enough to seal a deal with a handshake or a verbal agreement, a written contract is absolutely essential in Internet business deals. And, as a private party, why not ask for a cashier's check?

Although the slogan "Buyer Beware" has become a cliché , "Seller Beware," as we've learned, could become almost as common usage when it comes to the Internet.

JD Gallant

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