June 4, 2012

Let the Seller Beware!

If you are lucky, you will never be targeted by a scam artist online. But many of us will and have.

I was last week.

Imagine my excitement when, shortly after listing a high end item in one of my shops ($750.00), I was contacted by a customer interested in buying the item as a gift for her mother's birthday. She informed me that she was an oceanographer at sea and had limited access and ability for correspondence so would I contact her via her direct email with the information about the item she requested~ i.e. condition, full cost, etc.

Tiny red flag waving.    

But since it seemed a reasonable request, despite my concerns, I complied.

But next came this: I would like to complete the transaction on PayPal since I am not familiar with Etsy.

     Large Red Flag Waving.

And then she added "Could I also send enough money to you to cover the shipping agent's fees and then you can pay them via Western Union Money Gram directly. I will have them pickup the item so you will not have to worry about shipping information. I would greatly appreciate this, since as I told you I am out to sea and would have a problem paying them directly."

Excuse me?

Tons of HUGE Red Flags Waving!!!

Okay, seriously, I may not be the brightest crayon in the box, but I'm no fool (well, maybe a bit of a fool, read on*)! But sadly, in the excitement of wanting the sale, many of us would want to believe this was sincere, and might even take the chance. It happens all the time, especially to inexperienced internet users, newbie sellers and even worse, the elderly. In the end, I sent her an email and informed her that I regret any inconvenience or difficulty for her but if she wishes to purchase the item she must do so through Etsy and I will ship the item directly to her mother.

Her account has since been closed. 

*In hindsight, I was a fool for sending her an email and not writing her from Etsy. But since my email account for that store is only for that and nothing else, fortunately I was not compromised.

So, lessons to learn:

Never do business off site! If you are selling on Etsy, stay on Etsy. All correspondence and transactions should be done through your shop. This holds true for any venue, Artfire, Bonanza, etc. Do not use your personal email address for your shop. All banking, bill paying, or other secure accounts should be kept separate from your shop's email. You should also use a separate account for your PayPal account if you are linked to a bank account. Keep only the minimum amount necessary in your PayPal account and your linked bank account, and make regular withdrawals. Working capital can be kept in another account if it is a substantial amount.

If anyone requests a pickup for the item, do so at a local UPS or FedEX store after the item is securely sold and paid for through your shop. Never give your personal address. If you are shipping from your home, I highly recommend you acquire a post office box for return shipping information and receiving goods. It may not always be possible but it is safer.

Don't ever co-mingle payments for your goods with any other fees except shipping from you. Do not use Western Union Money Grams for any transactions! The best methods for payment are PayPal and credit cards, I do not even recommend money orders, but they are acceptable and sometimes necessary for some customers. Never accept a check!

No matter how sad their story sounds~ DON'T FALL FOR IT!

If the hair on the back of your neck is standing up, your gut is telling you something or a red flag is waving~ Pay attention to it! Don't ignore your instincts and let your emotions get carried away. We all love a sale, but if someone really wants your product, they will go through the proper procedure to purchase it. (Now that's a lot of p's, lol!) But, all joking aside, please be careful out there, the scams are becoming more and more intricate and elaborate. If you have high end items, you are especially vulnerable.

I am not an expert and some of you may have some more advice to add~ I hope you will comment if you do.

Have a great week!
;) Cat

*Please note: I am in the process of finding out if they can hack your other email accounts if your mail is forwarded to another central account as mine are. I will keep you posted~ if anyone out there knows the answer let me know. Honestly, I wouldn't doubt that they can do it! I did disable forwarding on the address I used, just in case!


  1. Cat thank you for all that wise information! Just like I refused to answer the door this afternoon when solicitors were knocking on it, we all need to be cautious. You're so right about heeding the hair on the back of your neck warning! Turns out the guys left a tree-trimmer's card on the door, so I'm glad I didn't answer it as we've had a rash of scams going around town.

    1. I don't answer the door either Sharon! :)

    2. Me three- and I am trying to teach my kids to not howl and yell "DOOOR" when someone knocks! You can never be too safe!
      Great article Cat!

  2. My sis bid on a car and won on the ebay turned out it was a spoof ebay site . Looked just like the real deal. Red Flag !! They wanted a Western Union Money Gram.. Oh and when they went back to view the car they had bought there was no sign of it. HELLO ...

  3. My MIL's email was hacked the other day, and they replied to one of my emails and tried to act like Grandma. I replied back, but told my husband his mom was acting crazy. When I got the second email I knew it was a scam. I was sick at the time and they even offer prayers to get healthy soon. ha! Bad karma for them!

    Cat, great info for our shops and a nice reminder!!! Thanks!

  4. Cat, I'm glad you realized what was happening before it was too late. Thanks for the reminders about staying safe.

  5. I had a similar experience and almost fell for it. I tweeted this post Cat. A good read for all small online business owners.

  6. Thanks everyone for sharing your experiences, I am so glad this article helped and brought this to everyone's attention!

  7. Great article Cat! Thank you for the practical advice on how to deal with these situations. This is happening all over the internet. The last time I looked for an apartment on craigslist there it was about 50/50 as to who was really renting an apartment and who was doing missionary work and would sent you the keys after you wired them $800. Yeah, sure. I'll get right on that... Thankfully I sell small end items so I fly under their radar on Etsy, but one can never be too careful anymore. I also don't answer the door for people I don't know either. It is so sad that our world has come to this.