Auction Scams

An introduction to auction and online selling scams

Buyer beware

Check the site where you are buying goods, and see what protection they offer against fraud or other problems. Know what you’re bidding on and roughly how much it should cost, and be wary of anything that appears very cheap for its age and condition. The scams are especially common for phones, electronic goods, vehicles and other popular or expensive items. Check for any returns policy, and be very cautious of a seller who will only accept payment via a wire transfer service. They are largely anonymous, so if your money is collected but the goods are not delivered, you will have difficulty tracing the seller or recovering your payment. Don’t bid until you’re completely happy. Follow this link for tips for buyers from OnGuard Online (a US federal government site).

More links for buyers:

Paypal’s guide for buyers

Ebay’s guide to buying safely

Information on fake sellers, especially scammers offering cheap phones

Seller beware

Be wary of anyone who does not appear to be interested in the goods you are selling, or who does not ask any of the questions you would normally expect for the type of goods, e.g. about the condition or any warranty. If the seller offers you more than the asking price, and asks you to send on some of the proceeds to him or to a third party such as a relative or a courier company, it is a scam. The scammer uses this ploy to send fake checks/cheques and it is the overpayment element that he is interested in, much more than the goods. He is hoping that your bank will not notice the fake until after you have sent off the goods and the money. You can read more about how check scams work in our Fake Check Scams section.

Do not use an escrow service without checking it carefully. Fake escrow services are used to scam sellers into thinking that their money is safe. In fact, the fake site, which is controlled by the scammer, will tell the seller that the payment is safe even though it has never been made. The seller sends the goods but never gets paid. If the buyer insists on using an escrow service you have never heard of, check its website and make sure it has a customer information line that is a fixed landline, not a mobile phone number. Also check how secure it is and make sure it processes its own payments. If you are at all unsure, insist on a different payment method. We have a section for fake sites, including Fake Escrow Sites here.

More links for sellers:

Federal Trade Commission alert on check overpayments

OnGuard Online tips for sellers

Others beware

Some scammers recruit unsuspecting people to help the scammer cover their tracks or conceal where they are coming from, such as using a re-shipper. The scammer will ask for goods to be delivered to the home of the victim so that it looks to the seller as though the scammer/buyer is in the same country as the seller (which is lower risk). The victim then forwards the delivery to the scammer, and is the first port of call for the police when they come looking for the stolen goods.

Links to general advice for shopping online

Ebay Safety centre

Paypal safety centre

OnGuard Online auction guide and information on online shopping

Federal Trade Commission guide to auction scams

Metropolitan Police guide to internet auction scams

News items or articles about online selling scams

Report of scammers targeting losing bidders on Ebay

Anatomy of an Ebay scam

News item about reshipping

Learn about scammers’ fake sites at aa419. Report scams to the Internet Crime Complaint Centre at IC3.

Example of how a reshipping scam works

The shortened example below was taken from this cybercrooks lure citizens into international crime scam article, see the link for full details of the scam.

How a reshipment gets done

USA TODAY examined a paper trail of e-mails, letters, credit card statements, packing receipts and mailing labels that Karl kept of his work as a ‘mule’ and pieced together this account of an illegal reshipment:

April 18. Someone from a bogus Web site at the center of the scam,, tests a $1 charge on, a prize-giveaway Web page, using a Bank One Visa credit card number stolen from Brian Spoutz, a 48-year-old San Jose, Calif., software salesman. A Visa investigator notified him about the compromised card in May, Spoutz says.

April 20. uses Spoutz’s Visa card to place an order at for a $2,607 digital camera and extra memory. It directs shipment of two separate parcels to a home in Gilroy, Calif.

April 22. FedEx attempts to deliver the parcels, but the reshipper in Gilroy has gotten cold feet and rejects the delivery. Using FedEx’s online tracking, Michael Birman of notes the failed delivery, contacts FedEx and redirects delivery to Karl in Grass Valley, Calif. Birman then alerts Karl via e-mail to watch for the two parcels.

April 23. Birman goes to Using a hot credit card number, Birman purchases a $48 Global Express Mail shipping label addressed to Roman Radeckiy in Moscow, then downloads the new label as a JPEG image file. Birman attaches the JPEG file to an e-mail to Karl, instructing Karl to combine the two parcels into one box, affix the label and mail to Radeckiy.

April 24. FedEx delivers the parcels to Karl in Grass Valley.

April 27. Karl prints out the JPEG label. Karl repacks the camera and memory into one box, affixes the printed JPEG label and completes the reshipment.

“The operation was amazing," says Karl. "It was highly coordinated.”

Are you being recruited to commit a crime? If you answer a job posting for at-home work, you may be.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation says Americans are being recruited as “reshippers” in various ways, and end up being unknowing accomplices in a crime.

Here’s how the scam works: The scammer places a help-wanted ad at a popular Internet job-search site offering a work-at-home job. Sometimes, the scammer sets up an elaborate, official-looking Web site for the bogus company he claims to represent.

The victim must fill out an employment application that asks for Social Security number and date of birth. Then the victim is told he got the job.

Packages arrive at the victim’s home. He is told to repackage the items and ship them overseas, using his own money which will be repaid. Unbeknownst to the victim, the packages he’s receiving were paid for with fraudulent credit cards.

At stage two of the scam, the victim is told he will be paid by cashier’s check. But there’s a catch. The check will be written for more than the amount the victim is owed. The victim is told to deposit the check and forward the difference to his employer’s overseas bank account. Eventually, the victim’s bank informs him that the cashier’s check bounced — and he owes the bank the amount of the check.

At stage three, the victim realizes it’s a scam and thinks the ordeal is over — but it’s not. The fraudulent employer has the victim’s birth date and SSN. He has applied for several credit cards in the victim’s name and has been using them to buy merchandise that is being shipped to other unknowing victims of the scam.

The cycle continues and more Americans in search of employment find themselves in worse shape than they were when their job search began.

If you think you may be involved in reshipping fraud, contact the FBI.

Advice from the FBI and U.S. Postal Service.

Don’t be a mule

Authorities advise taking these precautions to avoid being drawn into a reshipping scam:

Be wary of advertisements and Web sites pitching home-based jobs for mail managers or shipping clerks.

Insist on communicating with your prospective employer by phone or in person. Be wary of company officials who communicate exclusively via e-mail, particularly if the correspondence has poor grammar and spelling.

Never e-mail or fax your driver’s license number, Social Security number or other sensitive information — or anything with your signature — until verifying an employer’s legitimacy.

In online chat rooms, be wary of people who seek to quickly bond with you, then request your help with reshipping duties.

When in doubt, contact the Federal Trade Commission or Better Business Bureau for guidance.

Sources: FBI, U.S. Postal Service