Use These Tips to Protect Against Online Auction Identity Theft

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online auction identity theft

When we hear about online auction fraud, most of us assume that we're hearing about victims of eBay fraud. It's a safe assumption, since eBay is the undisputed heavyweight in the online auction world. Online auctions are big business, and while eBay devotes many resources to fighting scams, protecting its brand, and helping victims, the responsibility for protecting oneself against online auction fraud ultimately belongs to the bidder. Scam artists make some money by failing to sell the advertised item, but for many, the underlying goal is to obtain the buyer's personal information.

With a name, an address, and a few other items of personal information, a criminal can commit more eBay fraud and escape detection by using the victim's personal information to create false identities.  This makes it devilishly difficult for investigators to unravel the schemes — and harder still to find the criminal.

How do these thieves gain access to victims' personal information? New eBay scams are uncovered all the time, but in most cases, the "seller" concocts some excuse to trick the victim into divulging more information that necessary by doing the following:

• The seller posts that the item's location is in the U.S. or Canada and then tells the buyer that he or she has had to travel out of the country for an emergency of some kind. Because the seller will have to ship the item from abroad, he or she will need more information to "get the item through customs" or some other lie.

• The seller tells the buyer they can both save money and avoid fees and taxes by sending the item and funds to a third party. Naturally, in order for this to work, the seller needs a little more information from the buyer — just enough to steal his or her identity.

Admittedly, these examples are fairly vague, so as not to give potential identity thieves a primer on how to conduct eBay scams while we discuss online auction fraud. If you occasionally buy items from online auction sites, how can you protect yourself against eBay fraud?

Here are a few tips:

Comparison-shop to see the going rate for the item, and be sure you know what you're bidding on. If the price seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Communicate only through the online auction site, and only use your account name in correspondence with the seller.

Buy from sellers with excellent ratings. Top-rated sellers have a stake in keeping their buyers happy, and they'll work hard to protect their ratings. Be wary of sellers with low ratings, and always read a seller's buyer feedback before bidding.

Be skeptical of winning bid notifications asking for money orders, Western Union transfers, and other unauthorized methods of payment. Identity thieves are adept at creating official-looking emails that "phish" for personal information by telling would-be victims that they've won an auction and need to provide information to finish the sale.

If you're a frequent online auction buyer or seller and are concerned about identity theft, consider enrolling in an identity monitoring service. For pennies a day, members enjoy a wide range of benefits that can help them detect identity theft.

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