Vicki and Bob Harrold live at Indian Point, a village of 600 people near Silver Dollar City that juts into Table Rock Lake.
They moved from Springfield three years ago, and this year like many lakeside dwellers the Harrolds wanted to buy a golf cart. It’s just easier to get from the house to the dock by riding one, Vicki Harrold said. Meanwhile, she said she’s been shopping online more than usual lately, a consequence of spending more time at home due to the ongoing pandemic.
And that’s how Harrold found herself victimized by an online purchase scam this week, to the tune of $1,000.
The racket worked like this: Harrold found a post on Facebook about a golf cart for sale that suited her needs. She contacted the person who made the post, who referred Harrold to a woman he said was his aunt. The woman, who went by Barbara, said at first the golf cart was in Joplin, but later that it was in Lawrence, Kansas.
And, Barbara promised, the transaction would be genuine: It would be done through eBay Motors, a section of the popular online marketplace.
Harrold was “totally” reassured by the 25-year-old eBay brand, she told the News-Leader Wednesday. “Totally,” she repeated. “They sent an invoice, it had the eBay letters. I checked the coloring of the letters compared to the eBay sign. It all looked legit.”
But it wasn’t.
The seller asked the Harrolds to pay for their golf cart using five eBay gift cards, each worth $200.
“We went and got eBay cards and took pictures of them,” Harrold said, and sent them to the seller. She even read the card numbers to the seller over the phone, after the seller complained it was hard to read the card information.
The next day, Harrold said, the seller wanted another $1,000, this time for shipping and insurance.
Finally, red flags went up. It seemed like a complete scam. Harrold called the California-based phone number listed by the seller.
She didn’t get very far with her inquiry.
“I called him,” Harrold said. “I said I would turn him over to Better Business Bureau, and then — click. I called back three or four times, and it was a busy signal.”
Harrold said she’s used online marketplaces with third-party sellers before, such as Amazon. “And I’ve never been taken,” she said. “I do go through PayPal, though.”
Online payment services like PayPal or Venmo offer more security than sending pictures of gift cards to online sellers.
Harrold said, “We’re educated people, we’re not idiots. I even emailed (the seller) back just to confirm this is not a scam, this is legit. She said yes, that’s why she secured it with eBay. I mean, they had it down.”
Now the Harrolds will just have to wait a while before they can spend on a golf cart, she said.
The News-Leader tried reaching out to the seller, whose California phone number did not appear in online phone listings from major services like LexisNexis, Reference USA and AnyWho. But, like Harrold, the newspaper got a busy signal and wasn’t able to talk to the seller.
BBB: Stay-at-home online shoppers seen as prey by scammers
Online purchase scams are a notable problem this spring, said Stephanie Garland, the regional Better Business Bureau director. The consumer watchdog group is tracking them.
“The numbers are up in a big way,” Garland said. “We saw a huge uptick in the number of online purchase scams. We saw tons more than just the recent puppy scam. More people are falling for this because they’re spending more time online, due to the stay-at-home order and people being bored out of their minds — and what else did they have to do?”
Scammers are taking advantage of the situation, Garland said.
Ebay Motors lists a bunch of scam red flags on its own website — including two key ones.
- Watch out for online prices that are too good to be true. Even used golf carts often cost several thousand dollars, much more than the $1,000 sticker price the seller passed off on the Harrolds.
- Watch for scammers asking for gift card payment. Ebay said payment methods that put cash quickly into the hands of scammers are ripe for abuse. Services like eBay gift cards or cards from Walmart or iTunes are a preferred M.O. for scammers, along with bank transfers and Western Union. Legitimate eBay sales tend to use cash in person, credit cards, PayPal, Bill Me Later, money orders, cashier’s checks, financial loans or personal checks.
Ebay also warns shoppers to meet the seller before payment.
Better Business Bureau advises online shoppers to know the advertiser of any product, pay with credit cards and to be wary of ads posted on social media or sent through email.
Harrold said that if she had it to do all over again, she’d check for information on the seller with the BBB “before sending them a dime.”
Gregory Holman is a reporter for the News-Leader. Email news tips to email@example.com and consider supporting vital local journalism by subscribing. Learn more by visiting News-Leader.com/subscribe.
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