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Avoid Scams: Online Sales and Auction Fraud 

Online sales fraud, which may take the form of online auction fraud, is a type of scheme whereby scammers obtain payment, merchandise, or credit card information from unsuspecting individuals and organizations. 

Main Categories of Online Sales and Auction Fraud

  • Change passwords regularly and use different passwords for each system and account.
  • Non-Delivery: A scammer elicits an advance payment for merchandise or a service, but the merchandise or service is never delivered to the customer (the victim).
  • Non-Payment: A scammer receives merchandise or a service, but does not remit payment to the seller (the victim).
  • Phishing: A scammer receives credit card information from a prospective buyer (the victim) with the real intention of stealing said information from the victim and using it for fraudulent activity. This category typically accompanies a non-delivery scheme.

Red Flags

  • The price of a good or service seems too good to be true.
  • The alleged seller of a good or service provides elaborate justification on why the item is cheaper than market value.
  • The alleged seller or buyer uses a post office box instead of a physical address for delivery of payment (in the case of a seller) or delivery of a good (in the case of a buyer)
  • The alleged seller uses a free online email service to communicate.
  • The alleged seller or buyer avoids regular communication channels or provides a phone number that appears to be out of service.
  • The alleged seller or buyer asks for your social security number or other personally identifiable information (PII).
  • The alleged seller or buyer claims to be a U.S. military member stationed overseas.
  • The alleged seller claims to be selling an item because it belonged to a lost loved one or deceased family member.
  • The alleged seller or buyer encourages you to complete the transaction “offline” or outside of the official online marketplace platform to avoid fees.
  • The alleged seller encourages you to purchase the item via wire transfer or gift card.
  • The alleged seller insists on using prepaid gift cards for payment and asks you to photograph the gift card to send proof of payment to the seller.
  • The alleged seller tries to rush the sale.
  • The alleged seller requests additional payments after the sale to cover certain previously undisclosed fees.


How to Protect Yourself



  • Use reputable websites to purchase and sell merchandise and services.

  • Ensure the websites you are using are SSL encrypted by looking for a lock icon next to the URL in your browser.

  • Review the history and customer feedback for any buyer or seller to identify bad reviews online.

  • Utilize an online search engine to search the name and contact information of the prospective buyer or seller to identify any negative associations.

  • Check if the buyer or seller has multiple email accounts and phone numbers listed on the online marketplace platform. If so, this is suspicious.

  • Try to determine any discrepancies between information publicly available online and information posted online by the buyer or seller.

  • If using an escrow service, verify that it is legitimate.


If you suspect you are a victim of an online sales or auction fraud scheme, contact your local Secret Service field office.