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Buyer beware: Thieves prowl online auctions

Thieves prowl online auctions (WKRC)

CINCINNATI (WKRC) - Thieves are getting more sophisticated when it comes to online auction sites.

It's gotten so bad that even experienced buyers are getting ripped off.

A local man says he communicated with a scammer trying to sell a used car online.

You pay the money upfront, he writes, and get a promise that the car will be shipped within a few days.

An Oklahoma man, Matthew Sidley, has been buying and selling firearms online for more than 15 years.

So, he too knows what to look for, or so he thought.

“He was asking me the right questions the whole time, and he was asking me for all of the proper documentation, so it seemed legitimate,” said Matthew Sidley, a victim of fraud.

They agreed on a price and moved forward.

“He is one of the first people I have ever had request payment with tracking,” said Matthew.

So, Matthew sent money orders for the fee, but no item ever came.

“I was sending him emails and getting no response after the second day of the payment going out,” said Matthew.

Postal inspectors discovered the seller was tracking the payments to an address where he could pick up the mail.

“It was the most painful $2200 I’ve ever lost for sure and it was the most embarrassing $2200 I've ever lost,” said Matthew.

In hindsight, the fact that he had no phone and asked for payment tracking were red flags.

“The second it started it didn't feel right, I should have known not to stick with it once I got the first red flag,” said Matthew.

Matthew was one of 30 victims in a case with over $30,000 in losses.

Postal inspectors say the popularity of buying off the internet also makes it a breeding ground for fraud.

“Well, you got to know who you are dealing with,” said Ryan Brakhage, a US Postal Inspector.

If possible, try to meet or talk to the seller in person, not just email or text. "How" you pay them is also key.

Money orders is almost as good as cash. As soon as that, if that name is on that money order that person can cash it and you can't get it back, you know, it's not like a check, you know, the bank's not going to reimburse you.

A lesson Matthew has certainly learned.

“That's the internet. I mean, everybody hides behind those computers. You don't know what you're dealing with and that's the key, you've got to be on your game and you cannot just wing it and expect it to be okay. You've got to do your homework or you're going to get burned at some point,” said Matthew.

Matthew never got his money back, but postal inspectors say they were able to intercept a few packages in time to return money to some victims.

Just to reiterate, Howard says you should always try to meet someone in person or at least try to talk to them by phone.

Be wary if someone insists on having you buy prepaid credit cards or money orders because once you've sent them, they're impossible to track

And always trust your first instincts.

If you get a bad vibe from someone don't do business with them.

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