The Digital Journalist
How to Avoid Becoming a Victim in an Online Auction
April 2004

by Dirck Halstead

Well, I got taken big time.

I consider myself a very street-wise person. I can generally smell a scam a mile off.

But last month, I got suckered.

I had offered a Mamiya camera outfit that I no longer used for sale on E-Bay. It was a great outfit, with two RZ67 bodies, a winder, and four lenses including a 50, 65,110, and 100-200 zoom in a light ware case.

The asking price was $6,499, which was a bargain. In a few days I began to get bids by email. Most of them were from Indonesia, where this kind of outfit could be sold at a much higher price. My reaction was not to even consider them. Indonesia? Give me a break!

However, I got what looked like a legitimate bid that was posted on Ebay, from a potential buyer in Santa Monica.

He won the bid at the asking price. Within a few hours, I got an email from him saying he wanted to go through an escrow service. Escrow services are commonly used when the price of items exceed $1.000.

The idea is that the escrow services represent both buyer and seller. They collect the money from the buyer, and then advise the seller that they have the funds, and advise the seller to ship the item. There are several legitimate escrow services available, but as I was to find out, 90% of them are frauds. Within a few hours I got an email from congratulating me on the sale, and directing me to their web site. It looked very official, with an Ebay logo, and asked me to fill in the necessary blanks. They confirmed they had the funds from the buyer, and directed me to ship the items.

I shipped the cameras via FedEx, insured, to Santa Monica.

I got a call from the FedEx office that they couldn't find the address, and they would hold the package for pickup. I contacted the buyer, whose email was (By the way, I asked him about the UK address, and he told me he had moved from the UK to California.)

I had asked the buyer to tell me when he had picked up the cameras. But that was the last I ever heard from him. I called the escrow agency at the phone number they had listed, but only received an answering machine.

By this time, the warning bells were belatedly going off in my head.

I checked Google for "escrow frauds" and guess what? There was

So, bottom line is that I lost my Mamiya outfit and the $6,500.

So let me tell you what I learned from this episode:

CONFINE YOUR DEAL TO EBAY. Use their pay-pal and verification systems. Do not deal off -site.

NEVER USE AN ESCROW ACCOUNT REPRESENTED BY THE BUYER/SELLER. In a scam, the buyer/seller is really the same as the escrow account site. These escrow sites look very professional, and generally have the logo of Ebay or Ubid.

CHECK OUT THE ESCROW ACCOUNT. Use Google to look it up. After I had been scammed I checked Google, and immediately found out it was a scam. Go to Escrow frauds and you will find out a lot.

DISREGARD ANY ENDORSEMENTS OF YOUR SELLER/BUYER. Most scam artists have set up extensive trading history recommendation. Any one can do that.

IF YOU SEE A DASH IN THE ESCROW SITE ADDRESS such as, chances are it is a fraud.

IF YOU GET A CALL FROM THE SHIPPER THAT THERE IS AN IRREGULARITY such as a bad address, stop everything right then.

REPORT any fraud to E bay on their security site, plus the FBI. This is interstate fraud.

Finally, approach any E bay transaction as if it were most likely a fraud. Unfortunately, the chances are you will be right.

© Dirck Halstead

Dirck Halstead is the editor and publisher of The Digital Journalist.