Step Number One: Understand the realistic sale or rental price of what you want to buy or sell online!
Always remember the cliche "If it sounds too good to be true it probably is!".. This old standard is the number one protection you have against becoming a victim of online fraud. If you are being offered too high a price for something you are selling, or too low a price for something you are buying- there is a good chance it may be a fraudulent offer! Before doing any business, try to obtain a realistic pricing expectation. If you are dealing with real estate or timeshares, start by talking to a respected real estate broker and simply ask what is a reasonable expectation of price! Most of the timeshare resale scams involve unrealistic promises of high selling prices, and most of the online rental scams advertise extremely low rental prices. If you know upfront what is a reasonable price expectation, you won't be taken in by either of these cons!
Step Number Two: Research the person or business before sending in any money!
This is another relatively simple task. Internet search engines such as Google make it incredibly easy to find information about any established business. One technique I often use is to search the name of the business along with the word "scam". If there is one or two complaints, perhaps I can chalk that up a few unhappy customers. If there are numerous complaints- then I take my business elsewhere!
Another red flag to consumers should be a lack of available information about a person or business. If you try to find information online, and there is nothing to be found- this can be a strong indicator that it is either a brand new business or simply a brand new disguise for a con artist! In either case, you might be much better served by walking away from that transaction and looking for another opportunity with a more established business with a positive track record.
Step Number Three: Use an independent escrow agent or pay with a credit card for a safer online transaction!
When dealing with any type of real estate purchase or rental, an independent third-party escrow agent is always a wise choice! Since it's your money, you should have the right to choose the escrow company and all funds should be able to be paid directly to the escrow agent. Be sure to read and understand the escrow agreement to understand what verification process will be performed and if there are deadlines to file a dispute or claim against the other party.
Also, paying with your credit card may give you some additional protection with your online purchase. If you are not comfortable giving your personal credit card information, a third party organization such as PayPal may be an option. With PayPal, you can submit payment by credit card- but never release your personal account information to the other party. There are fees for this type of service, so again be sure to read and understand the process and cost of such a tran