Swimmer beware, pirates and sharks abound online

March 22, 2007
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The fakers and scammers seem to be out in full force right now so if you are a frequent flyer in the land of online auctions, make sure you know what you’re buying and who you’re buying it from.

It should come as no surprise that Trade Me is a favourite spot for these scammers — it’s the biggest auction site in New Zealand by far so naturally it’s the biggest target.

Not all pirates are as tasty as Captain Jack Sparrow so don’t fall into the trap of automatically believing any trader who says the product they are selling is genuine.

On any auction site you’ll find a sprinkling of pirated software but it’s the designer handbags (especially Louis Vuitton) that seem to excite the pirates.

Keeping track of all the dodgy traders would be an impossible task so every auction on Trade Me features a community watch button, which means traders can report auctions they believe are suspect.

Trade Me is pretty good at responding — in fact one trader was disabled under three different names for trying to sell the same fake bags on Sunday and Monday of this week.

If you spot a Vuitton you just can’t live without, go over the photos with a fine-tooth comb, check for a date code and ask to use SafeTrader, Trade Me’s escrow service. Unfortunately, some will always get through so make sure you know as much as possible about what it is you’re buying. The Purse Forum is a good place to start if you’re into buying designer goods.

Interestingly, while Trade Me jumps on copyright infringement when it comes to handbags and software, pictures seem to be another matter. There are a couple of traders who sell personalised door signs and A4-sized posters using pictures of cartoon characters —one even offers to try to find the image for you if you want something specific. Surely that should be taken just as seriously.

Also be wary of phishing and account hijackings. The only way to stop them is for users to educate themselves. It would be too easy to lay the blame on Trade Me’s administrators but eBay hasn’t managed to stamp it out and neither have the banks and credit card companies. I suppose it’s safe to say phishing scams are here to stay.

Remember, if you get an email from Trade Me, or your bank, that says you need to verify your login details, take it with a grain of salt. If you do go to the site, type the address in yourself or use the one you have bookmarked — don’t click on a link in the email because you’re likely to be taken to a site as genuine as Michael Jackson’s nose.

From there, the scammer can track your username and password, making you a sitting duck.

Take some responsibility and educate yourself on staying safe online. Scambusters has plenty of information and offers a free ebook detailing how scams work. It won’t cost you a cent but could save you some dollars.

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