Tips for recognizing internet scams

Tip #1 – Google it.

If you come across an ad that just doesn’t look right to you – like maybe it’s too good to be true – try doing a search for the item on Google, Yahoo!, Bing, etc. If the ad is on a local site, like Craigslist, see if there are other ads posted for the same thing. Or check to see if the item’s been mentioned anywhere else.

If you just want to search Craigslist, try this:
[item name]
This will also work for other sites. Just put a different site name in, like “”.

The search results will include a small piece of the ad, which may be enough for you to tell if it’s the same ad as the one you’re interested in. If it is, and it’s posted in an area that is not close to you, be suspicious. Try clicking on it. Does it look just like “your” ad, for example – are the pictures the same? Or is the ad flagged down? Those are bad signs.

If there are too many results try putting quotes around the item name, or include the item’s price in your search. Scammers like to use slightly different prices on their ads just so they won’t look like duplicates – like $2854, $2855, $2856 – but not all of them do this. If you include the price, or something else specific to that ad, you may be able to narrow the results down to something manageable.

If there’s an email address in the ad you can also try searching for that. If the address is in a picture (a typical scam technique, to keep the address from being searchable) you probably won’t find any ads with it, but if anyone’s reported it anywhere you should find that report. For example, if it’s been reported here you’ll see a link to that post. Once again, if you don’t get any results try putting quotes around the address; some search engines have trouble with email addresses unless they’re in quotes.

Some ads that look suspicious aren’t. Some ads that look innocent – aren’t. Just doing a basic internet search may help you decide which is the case – and whether you should pursue the ad.

Tip #2 – If you get a message that looks like it came from eBay but you’re not sure, send a copy to eBay.

Forward a copy of the message to [email protected] and ask if it’s really from them. You should hear back very quickly; the longest they’ve ever taken with me is about an hour.

If you’re buying or selling something that is listed on eBay there’s always a chance you could get a message from them. But if you aren’t – if you’re trying to buy something on Craigslist, for example – eBay shouldn’t be involved. At all.

If you get a message, especially if it’s an invoice for the item you’re buying, and it looks like it came from eBay, send them a copy. If they tell you it’s not from them, stop the transaction. Do not send any money, do not send any more messages to the seller of the item.

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