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Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming:
"WOW, what a ride !!!"

How to Avoid Getting Ripped-Off at the Cybermarket

These are a few things I have picked up over the last few years as I deal more and more in the "cyber marketplace". There's not one of these actions that are unique or unfamiliar to any of us but I make it a RULE to do on each and every transaction.

Here's the first one: "Who do you trust?" That's an easy one for me. We all have folks in our lives that we'd give $20 to no questions asked, knowing with all confidence you're going to see it. Some of us are even lucky enough to have a few folks we'd give $500 (or more) with the same confidence. That's the test I use. I ask myself, "would I hand this person $500?" If not, they go into the second group: the group that needs due diligence before performing a transaction. This is why I wrote "RULE". If you make rules for yourself and consider them to be rules, you're much less likely to "bend" them and make a mistake.

Second: Know who you're dealing with. Even if it's off a website, a message board or an online auction, ask the seller for a name, address and phone number. On big transactions, I ask for a fax of a driver's license. If a guy won't send this info, there must be a reason and I'm gone. Now that you have the information, CONFIRM IT! A simple call to directory information will let you know if it's legit. While you're there, dial the number and say hi. Maybe you just made a thousand dollar deal with this guy's 15-year-old pothead kid. You'll know after the call. Here's another great tool: http://www.langenberg.com. You can look up everyone on this. Remember, kids can now build complete websites. Just because someone looks like a big business doesn't mean they are. Check everyone out unless you trust them implicitly- make no assumptions unless you have the money to burn. While I'm online, I can easily search the county that the seller lives in and in a minute know if he has a criminal record. I figure if a guy does it once, he just may do it again. I don't hire felons and I don't trade with them.

Third: Documentation, documentation, documentation. Every email, auction result page and everything else gets printed and stapled together. If I have a phone conversation, those notes get sent to the other party, either by e-mail, fax or mail. I avoid a lot of misunderstandings this way- even if there's no malice intended on either part. If we both understand the same thing, we're likely to avoid problems. I go into some details, such as "This is what I understand the condition to be... (And write the seller's description in detail)" Sometimes what someone says doesn't look as good to them when they're reading it. Plus, if things go bad, you have proof and evidence of an agreement- in some circles this is known as a contract. Contracts are useful if you ever want to enjoy that other magic word- judgment. There are lots of creative ways to get and collect on judgments and I won't go into them here. Suffice to say that no details make judgments unlikely. No judgment often makes collection unlikely.

OK, so we've made our deal and we both have a clear understanding of what's expected of each other. Time for..

Fourth- Payment. This is a no-brainer. USPS money orders sent via USPS priority mail with delivery receipt. If you pay this way, you just got your own private, nationwide police force in the deal- the Postal Inspector's Service. Soliciting funds for goods and not delivering is fraud. Use the mail and it's POSTAL FRAUD. Fraud is a local thing and the police in Ludowici, Georgia are unlikely to get too interested in some local boy clipping a Yankee for a couple hundred bucks. Mail fraud is a Federal crime and these boys don't screw around. If you did the first steps and documented everything, paying by Postal MO and sending it confirmed delivery is handing it to these guys on a silver platter. Anyone who doesn't want to accept payment in this form KNOWS this is a sure-fire way to end up doing time. I had a fellow in Atlanta get funny on me a year or so ago. Lots of excuses for not sending the package, no response to calls or email. The last e-mail told him about the part where cashing those Postal MO's and refusing to send the item was a Federal crime and I was filing charges in 72 hours. Of course, I didn't hear from him so I did as I said I would. It's an easy form to fill out and you staple all the copies right to it. 2 weeks later, I received a Western Union wire of funds and an apology, asking that I let the Mail cops know he did what they asked. Here's the thing- I made it absolutely simple for the Postal Inspector boys. I had everything on paper- both his and mine. There was absolutely no question on this one and they could clear one quick and easy. I did the tough parts for them and handed it to them "on a silver platter".

Fifth- know the law. A bit of research on State-level laws can be very helpful. A few years back, I got clipped for about a grand from a guy I knew in Connecticut. He was an acquaintance and a business associate. I made the mistake of confusing friendliness for friendship. Familiarity can be dangerous. Anyway, Mr. Deadbeat was slow to send a check and when it did come, it bounced. I called him and he ducked me for a bit but I finally caught him. More excuses and a sob story. I hung up and called the local police station. Amazingly, they were happy to help. The faxed a form and I filled it out, had it notarized and sent it back. They went right out and hooked him. About 3 hours later, I got a call from Mr. Deadbeat's wife begging me to drop the charge and have her husband released from custody. Apparently Connecticut has some very strict check bouncing laws. Wife managed to make it to Western Union and hubby was home for dinner. It's funny how handcuffs and bars eliminate obstacles to locating funds. I know Florida is that same way.

I'm happy to say that no one I know that uses these techniques has ever lost a dime on a transaction. That doesn't mean it won't happen at some point. There are crooks out there that can and do catch smart, diligent people all the time. The really good ones are usually trolling for a big-ticket score so I figure I'm safe. The one's we usually run into trying to knock off $500 in a knife scam are usually amateurs and penny-ante guys.

The last thing... Most of the people I talk to that got clipped got caught being greedy or doing something they knew they shouldn't be doing. Greed can make smart people really stupid. Ask a cop; they'll tell you hundreds of amazing stories. "Too good to be true" and "hurry before you miss it" are typically recipes for disaster.

***


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