DRUMMONS, Tenn. — As consumers become more dependent on online shopping, it can be hard to tell what’s a good deal and what’s too good to be true. One Tipton County grandmother learned that lesson the hard way.
Loretta Harris says she would do anything for her family, but she has some limitations. The 51-year-old grandmother of six has COPD. She’s at high-risk during the pandemic.
“Little hectic with not being able to go shopping,” she said.
That’s why she shops on her phone and recently a product caught her eye.
“I was flipping through Facebook, you see ‘Wish,’ all that. I seen ebay. So I clicked on it, kept scrolling, started seeing campers, boats, stuff like that. It was a small camper, I thought, ‘Well that would be perfect,’” she said.
At $800 dollars, it fit her budget.
“That would be nice for Christmas. That would give me and the kids somewhere we could get away for a little bit. Instead of staying pinned up in this house,” she said.
But something gave her pause: the low price and that she had to send a message to get the deal going.
In her exchanges with the seller, she wants to use her credit card, but they ask her to send gift cards, first totaling $800 and then they sent an email, labeled with an ebay logo, asking her to add another $600 for shipping from Virginia.
“I was like, ‘Why won’t y’all take my credit card?’ ‘Well we do it through ebay cards,’” she recalled them saying over chat. “I asked my daughter-in-law, said, ‘Do y’all think this is legit?’ They said, ‘Yeah, being ebay, it’s legit.'”
So she went out and bought $1,400 worth of ebay gift cards and sent the numbers from the back.
She waited, but as Christmas got closer, her camper didn’t come.
“You never know what’s safe and what’s not. I should’ve known better,” she said.
“Anytime you’re asking to pay in an unusual or untraceable method like wiring money or gift cards that’s always a red flag,” said Nancy Crawford with the Better Business Bureau of the Mid-South.
People can learn from Harris’s experience, Crawford said.
For one, if a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
You should also make sure you can find an address and phone number to talk with any seller, rather than relying on chats.
And remember, even though they’re on a reputable website like ebay, they may not be verified.
“It’s probably a bad actor posting something on the actual ebay site. They police those sites but there are so many, probably millions of people who sell stuff,” Crawford said.
To find out more, the Problem Solvers contacted ebay and sent Harris’s chat records as well as her order confirmation.
Unfortunately the representative emailed back they were “unable to locate an ebay account and the chat appears to not be with an ebay representative.”
The ebay spokesperson echoed what the BBB said about gift cards: any legitimate seller would never require a customer use one.
She pointed to an exchange in particular where the seller tells Harris to email the gift card numbers rather than being able to enter them on the ebay site.
“Anyone can be a victim. There is no typical victim of a scam,” Crawford said. “Unfortunately, with untraceable money like gift cards, once the money is drained, there’s no way to get it back. It’s gone.”
For its part, ebay says it guarantees money back but only for items purchased on its website.
Harris was hopeful but prepared for that reality.
“I did let the kids know they prob would get no Christmas this year from me,” she said.
The Problem Solvers sent all of Harris’s interactions with this seller to ebay so they can hopefully keep them from doing the same thing to anyone else.
You can report suspicious activity on ebay to https://pages.ebay.com/securitycenter/law_enforcement_customers.html.
And report any scams like this to the FBI at ic3.gov.
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