Consumer Protection Bureau

Tips For Selling and Buying With Online Classifieds

The Internet can be a great tool to find the perfect boat for you or to sell the boat that you have (so you can find the next perfect one). Sometimes, though, navigating its murky waters can be tough. Below are some tips that can help buyers and sellers avoid unseen shoals.


Selling
  • The most “popular” scam affecting boat sellers online is the Check Overpayment Scam, a variation of the Nigerian Scam (AKA 419 Scam). Here’s how it works: The consumer is contacted by an individual overseas (or at least claiming to be overseas) trying to buy a boat in the U.S. with a cashier’s check or bank draft written for more than the asking price — with the stipulation that the seller wire the overage back.
  • The use of poor grammar or a poorly written email can often be a sign of an overseas scammer, especially if it is used in combination with an overseas Yahoo email account. These email addresses often end with yahoo.es, yahoo.uk, etc.
  • There can be variations. Sometimes the scammer claims to be a representative of an overseas buyer or the wire transfer will go to a shipping agent. But the end is always the same: the buyer’s check turns out to be a fake... and the seller doesn’t find out until after his wire transfer has gone through and the money is sent to the scammer!
  • For more information, check out The Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) guide on Check Overpayment Scams (www.ftc.gov) and the BoatU.S. Magazine July 2003 article, “Tale of Two Internet Scams”.
  • Be wary of overseas buyers. The Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) (www.ic3.gov), a partnership between the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center, states “Be cautious when dealing with individuals outside of your own country.”
  • Read emails from possible buyers thoroughly. Be wary of emails from sellers that aren’t concerned with surveying or even seeing the boat before purchase.
  • Don’t accept a check for more than your selling price. The FTC (www.ftc.gov) says, “Ask the buyer to write the check for the correct amount. If the buyer refuses to send the correct amount, return the check. Don’t send the merchandise.”
  • Make sure their check has cleared your bank before you send any money back to the purchaser. Even though you may deposit a check, it is still not cleared until your bank tells you that it is.
  • Keep in mind that a cashier’s check is just a check, and it is not considered cash by your bank. The sender can always put a stop payment on the cashier’s check.
  • Consider using an escrow or alternate payment service to buy the boat. Find more about the BoatU.S. Settlement Service at www.boatus.com/buyer.
  • Don’t let the buyer take delivery of the boat until the payment has cleared.
  • Since your information is out in the public for everyone to see, be wary of “phishing” schemes. You may have seen these before: someone sends you an e-mail claiming to be a representative of eBay or another E-Commerce site, asking for an update on your account information.
  • The Internet Crime Complaint Center (ICCC) states that there are three typical steps to a phishing scheme:
    1. The phisher creates a web site that copycats portions of a legitimate financial institution or other e-commerce web site. No one is immune: eBay, Bank of America, even the IRS. The ICCC wrote in December of e-mail going out to victims claiming to be from the IRS and involving a refund.
    2. A scam e-mail is sent from the phishing web site that will notify the recipient of a problem with his account and tell him to log onto the web site to “verify” his account information.
    3. The phisher sends the e-mail to thousands of potential victims. If a victim falls for the scheme, the information (credit card numbers, names, etc) is used to commit credit card fraud and other identity theft crimes.
  • For more information on recent updates to phishing schemes go to ICCC’s Press Room at www.ic3.gov/media.
  • Don’t click on a link in an e-mail that asks for your personal information. Be suspicious of any unsolicited e-mail requesting personal information.
  • Log on to the web site you are actually seeking, instead of "linking" to it from an unsolicited e-mail.
  • Be wary if someone stating that you are a victim of fraud contacts you. Verify the person’s identity before you provide any personal information.
  • Submit any phishing e-mails to the Anti-Phishing Working Group (www.antiphishing.org), National Fraud Information Center (www.fraud.org), and Internet Crime Complaint Center (www.ic3.gov/complaint).
  • Immediately contact the Federal Trade Commission (http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft/ or 877-438-4338) if you think you’ve been scammed.

Buying
  • Remember the old adage: “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.” If a boat is being sold online for half of what it’s worth, there’s probably a reason (it’s damaged or a scam).
  • Never buy sight unseen. As with any boat purchase, always go see the boat, sea trial it, and have a professional marine surveyor perform a survey inspection, especially if you can’t be present. You can find BoatU.S.’ surveyor referral list at www.boatus.com/insurance/survey.htm.
  • Don’t give out personal information (such as credit card numbers, social security numbers, driver license numbers, etc) over e-mail. The National Consumers League’s National Fraud Information Center (NFIC) (www.fraud.org) says, “Don’t provide your credit card or bank account number unless you are actually paying for something.”
  • Use sites that are secure and reputable. The NFIC states, “When you provide payment information, the “http” at the beginning of the address bar should change to “https” or “shttp.” They further add, “Look for a symbol at the bottom of your computer screen such as a broken key that becomes whole or a lock that closes.”
  • Always verify seller’s information. The NFIC state, “The name, physical street address, e-mail address, and phone number are helpful to have for checking the seller out and following up later if there is a problem. Don’t do business with anyone who refuses to provide that information.”
  • Be careful if you buy your boat using an Internet auction. The IC3 reported that in 2004, "Internet auction fraud was by far the most reported offense, comprising 71.2% of referred complaints.”
  • Consider using an escrow or alternate payment service to buy the boat. Find more about the BoatU.S. Settlement Service at www.boatus.com/buyer.

Recent scams

BoatU.S. Classified users have recently received e-mails that appear to be scams. For example:

  • A man is buying a boat on behalf of a sick client (most emails say he had a stroke). He has a cashier’s check that is a refund from a previously cancelled order. The difference in amount from the selling price and the cashier’s check is to be wired by the seller to a shipping agent.
  • A man buying a boat who wants to use a cashier’s check made directly to you, the seller, by the man’s best friend (a Canadian bank employee vacationing in Saudi Arabia). It seems the best friend owes the man some money. Excess of the cashier’s check is to go to the shipping agent.
  • An auto dealer who is trying to buy boats for clients. He states that the payment he sends will include extra for shipping & handling charges and asks that the Seller wire the difference to a shipper in the United Kingdom to pay for the charges.
  • A South African company that specializes in the purchase and sales of boats and “heavy equipment.” Their e-mail has many of the same elements of the Nigerian scam.
  • A Canadian company who is willing to buy a boat for more than it’s worth as long as the buyer sends a check for the difference to the agent who is working on the shipping of the boat. They will come and get the boat when the buyer’s check for the difference clears. Again, this is textbook Nigerian scam.

Note

Law enforcement officials advise not to respond to possible scam e-mails because your e-mail address could be added to a “spam list” and end up with even more spam messages.


Other Resources

Here are links to a few E-commerce websites where information on scams and Internet safety can be found:

Ebay: http://pages.ebay.com/securitycenter
Paypal: www.paypal.com/securitycenter
Citibank: www.citi.com/domain/redirect/footer/abuse.htm
Microsoft: http://microsoft.com/security/incident/authenticate_mail.mspx
Yahoo: http://security.yahoo.com
Federal Trade Commission: www.ftc.gov/onlineshopping
The Internet Crime Complaint Center: www.ic3.gov
The National Consumers League’s National Fraud Information Center: www.fraud.org
Anti-Phishing Working Group: www.antiphishing.org

Have you been contacted by an e-mail scammer?
Send the e-mail message to: ConsumerProtection@boatus.com


(If you can, please forward us a copy of your e-mails with the scammer. You can forward them or place them in the body of an e-mail to ConsumerProtection@boatus.com. Also include their e-mail address.)