Buying Online - Is This Company Legitimate?

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Online Companies

Remember, if an Apple product is being advertised for significantly less than the Apple refurb store price (or if it is being advertised as 'new' and at a discount) then there is a higher probability it a scam and not worth your time. New Apple computers are never available at deep discounts.

If you are dealing with a company that you don't know and are not dealing face to face, you need to do some due diligence to investigate them.

All of this information is available with 10 minutes on a Web connection.

  • Check WHOIS on the domain(s) - one WHOIS interface is at samspade.org
    • See if the addresses match and if there is another company name registered along with the domain or another domain name in the email address - this often can give a clue to ownership.
    • Check out related companies and domains.
    • Check that the domain wasn't created only a short time ago
    • Stealthed owner info (or blatantly fake info) is a bad sign
  • Do a reverse address and phone lookup on 411.com - do the addresses and phone numbers match up as expected?
    • Note: a business that uses a mobile phone number as their main business number is a big red flag. Pay as you go cell phones are a scammer's best friend - use 'em then throw them away.
    • Not getting a hit on 411.com or other online phone number lookup is not by itself a certainty that it is a scam. The online phone books are often 6 months to a year out of date, and often do not list customers who purchase phone service through a non-telco (like a third party telephone service reseller or a cable TV company)
  • Check resellerratings.com on the store name and related company names
    • be cautious if their track record is fairly new, or if there are lots of short, glowing reviews by reviewers with few reviews - there are disreputable web merchants who change names frequently, spam the review sites with positive reviews, then catch unsuspecting customers with too-good-to-be-true prices before moving on when the real reviews start coming in).
    • Read the negative reviews carefully.
  • Check that the certificates and trusted site logo links actually go to the verification pages at the provider organization
  • Check Apple.com "Where to Buy: Find a Reseller" to see if they are authorized
  • Google for the company names and URLs to see links, reviews, ratings, and forum posts.
    • Google the address to see if other companies have operated out of the same address, and whether there are complaints with those companies.
  • Check to see if they accept Visa and Mastercard directly (not through PayPal).
    • You have a lot more protection using a charge card than PayPal. Anyone can set up PayPal with phony info and a mail drop, but it is more difficult to set up a merchant Visa and Mastercard account.
    • A 'business' that takes PayPal only should be approached cautiously. It means they are not established enough to get a merchant Visa/MC account. Also, PayPal will take your money immediately, regardless when the goods will ship. A reputable seller only charges you when your order is ready to ship.
    • A 'business' that takes money orders, bank wire transfers, direct deposit or Western Union only is a big danger signal and should be avoided on this point alone. You have almost no protection with these types of payment. It is trivially easy for them to take the money out with fake ID and disappear.
  • Read the company's policies on warranty, shipments, DOA items and returns.
    • Some companies charge the customer shipping both ways, and even restocking fees, on defective returns. These companies are to be avoided. It is normal for the customer to pay shipping on warranty after a DOA test period, however.
  • Read the details on the company's eBay feedback.
    • Do they have a history of selling the same type of items?
    • Do they handle their feedback in a professional manner?
      • If the company's feedback is based only on buying items, or if their history is mainly selling something totally different, and suddenly they are listing a bunch of Mac products, beware. eBay accounts can be hijacked.
    • If the company directs you to contact them by email outside of the eBay contact system, or sends you to an outside website, or contacts you with an offer by email (not through the eBay message system) that is a strong sign of a scam.

Anyone can do this, and it should be standard procedure if you are thinking of dealing with a company online, whether buying or selling.

Craigslist suggested precautions and scam warning flags

Craigslists (and other online classified sites like Kijiji and used*.com) are hugely popular, and equally popular with scammers because they are free and anonymous - perfect hunting grounds for the criminal minded.

  • If an Apple product is being advertised for significantly less than the Apple refurb store price (or if it is being advertised as 'new' and at a discount) then it is likely a scam and not worth your time.
  • If the seller is not in your local area then it is a scam. There is no reason for someone to advertise on a local Craigslist from outside of that locality.
  • If the seller says they are selling the item for somebody else (brother, friend) it is likely a scam.
  • If the seller says they are temporarily out of the country (England is popular) but they will ship it to you, it is a scam
  • If the seller offers free shipping, or if a buyer offers to have it shipped to them 'on their FedEx account' be wary of a scam. A buyer offering sight unseen to pay for international shipping is almost always a scam.
    • If you are selling, and an unknown buyer arranges shipping on their own courier account, then you lose control. They can have you ship to a phony address, and redirect it after the fact to themselves, and you'll have nothing to go on.
  • If the seller proposes that you send money to a website, who will hold the money and only release it to the seller once you have received the product and inspected it, it is a scam
    • The seller will direct you to a phony website that looks like a major courier (DHL, TNT Mailfast, FedEx) or bank site, with a lookalike URL. This website will take your money (and your ID) and then disappear. DHL and other couriers DO NOT offer escrow services.
    • The more detail the seller gives you about how safe the transaction will be, the more likely it is to be a scam.
  • If the seller or buyer insists on PayPal payment, and then makes an in-person or local pickup, you DO NOT have any PayPal fraud protection. PayPal only recognizes a signed courier delivery waybill as proof of delivery.
    • For example, a buyer could pay in advance by PayPal, pick it up in person, then file a chargeback with PayPal for 'goods not delivered' and the seller would lose both the product and the money. Sellers should use PayPal ONLY for courier delivery to the PayPal Confirmed address.
    • Whether you are selling or buying, all shipments must be insured and signature required.

If you are considering a Craigslist transaction

  • Insist on a face to face transaction.
  • Meet during daytime in a public place like a cafe where there are people.
  • Make sure you can inspect the goods before paying - including plugging it in if necessary and turning it on.
  • If it is a high dollar value item, make it clear that you will not be bringing cash. You don't want to be mugged for the cash on the way there.
    • Take the seller to a bank, where you can make a withdrawal or cash a cheque, and do the exchange for the product right there.
  • take a printout of the advert., and written notation of any promises made about the goods included and their condition. Review this with the seller to confirm before finalizing the deal.
  • Insist on a signed receipt for the cash / product, including serial number.