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Selling something online? Be careful

A couple of weeks ago I decided that some of the machines kicking around the farmyard had been here far too long. If left as they were long enough, they’d eventually degrade into big brown piles of rust. There’s no profit in that.

So I sat down at the computer and posted some online ads to see if I could get rid of a few of them. I have to say, I had remarkably good luck doing that, but one of those things, an old grain truck box, hooked an unusual response.

One morning I found a text on my cell phone from someone about the box. It asked that I reply, but not via text, only by email. This sounded a bit odd, but I did. (In retrospect I’d have left things there and ignored such a message.) Then came the long email message that made things even stranger.

The writing wasn’t in very good English and it never really referred to the box by name, calling it, instead, “the item”. The sender said she was from the Yukon and was willing to pay full price, but wanted to make sure I didn’t cheat her, insisting she would only pay via PayPal. If I didn’t have a PayPal account, she conveniently provided instructions for me on how to set one up. After I sent her my PayPal account information, she would arrange for a “courier to pick up the item”.

Now I admit I’m not an expert in transportation logistics, but no courier I know can fit a 12 foot grain box in the back of a van. The oddities were starting to pile up. Is there no old truck box closer to the Yukon than this, I wondered. Transportation costs would be enormous. I looked back at the text on my cell phone, and the prefix on the number was from there. But this still didn’t sound right.

So, I did what any good researcher would do and began with a Google search of the name on the email. It didn’t take long to find a hit on that name from a website that exposes online scams. There were several entries from people sharing their experiences relating to someone with that name, or a variation of it.

This person—or these people—hit on anyone advertising anything and ask for PayPal information. From there, it seems the scam could go several ways. Sellers are paid from a hacked PayPal account and the scammer ends up with the “item” for sale at no cost. Or sellers are overpaid and asked for a refund, and on, and on. I didn’t bite on the scammer’s offer, so I didn’t get taken.

A few days later a real person from not far away emailed then showed up with real money to buy the box, and the deal was done. But that scammer did point out the need to be cautious when soliciting contact with people out there in cyberspace. There are more than a few scumbags around waiting to bilk people out of their hard-earned cash.

If you are selling something online, be careful. It’s easy to let your eagerness to turn something into cash overrule that little voice in the back of your head that says “I smell a rat”. Based on my experience, I’d say go slow. Don’t be in a big rush to return emails to anonymous people with odd email addresses. Think critically about the circumstances.

Does the name on the email address sound like a real person, the way yours probably does? Is the person asking you to send personal information to them online? That’s a major red flag. And does the story they are feeding you make sense, just like the idea of couriering a truck box from Saskatchewan to the Yukon? Does the message sound generic, like the reference to the “item” not the box? And does it sound like someone who doesn’t speak English very well wrote the email? That’s another major red flag.

And when it comes to payment, remember to use what I’ve come to call the Don Cherry rule: no cheques. (Think about it. It’ll come to you). Coin of the realm paid in person is the only acceptable way to complete a transaction.

Scott

About the author

Machinery Editor

Scott Garvey is the machinery editor for Grainews.

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