Online fraud pinches thousands from unsuspecting buyers
The hunt for a good deal cost more than money for a former Labrador City resident who fell victim to an online scam over sealskin.
© Submitted photo.
A pair of sealskin gloves was one of many fraudulent items “sold” to victims in Newfoundland and Labrador, some sending upwards of $900 to an online scammer.
Cyndie Johnson Stapleton, a resident of Conception Bay South, just wanted a pair of gloves to match the sealskin boots she received for Christmas. An expensive commodity, she was thrilled to hear a recommendation from a friend where she could purchase discounted sealskin items.
As someone from Newfoundland and Labrador, she said it’s a longstanding tradition to trust word-of-mouth.
“I’ve known my friend for 25 years, and if she recommends her then she must be on the up-and-up,” she said.
The seller set up a Facebook page where buyers could contact a Dana Mitchell in Corner Brook to make an order. Stapleton contacted her and the seller immediately responded, giving her the specifications to some sealskin jackets she had available. However, they wouldn’t fit Stapleton, who told the seller she would need a bigger size.
“She said she’d make it for me, and she buys enough sealskin pelts to last a whole season. It was the beginning of the season for her so she was starting to make everything. She seemed very legitimate.”
The seller told Stapleton to sketch what she’s looking for and a $95 payment was made.
She also added her as a friend on Facebook. Looking back, Stapleton said it’s her biggest regret.
“It grosses me out the most. I have a kid and a life going on.”
But the clever prudence of the seller gave Stapleton a piece of mind.
“Seeing her profile, it was very rounded. Lots of pictures and friends. I would know better if there were no friends; I would think otherwise. I had no reason to be skeptical.”
The seller went so far as to have comments from other customers expressing thanks for the shipments.
“Every day someone would say, ‘thank you, Dana, my boots came today.’ This person was not stupid. They know we see their activity.”
A red flag
Stapleton received a nasty note from someone accusing her of being part of a scam because she defended the seller amongst other accusations.
“I defended her because that’s in my nature,” she said.
Despite defending the seller, Stapleton said she began to have an uneasy feeling and called her friend to double-check if she meant to recommend this person.
“She said, ‘I did, but I don’t have my items yet.’”
It was discovered the seller was not in Corner Brook and the bank account was not in her name.
“That’s what really set everything in motion. We knew we were in trouble.”
Stapleton called the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary and had an officer at her door on April 18, three days after her initial contact with the seller.
She also made a post to the Labrador City Virtual Flea Market page on Facebook, warning others of the fraud and inviting anyone concerned to send her a message for more information.
“I’ve received at least six messages from people, some paying upwards of $1,000.”
The RNC told the victims it was unlikely they would ever see their money again, even if the perpetrators were caught.
It’s not the money bothering Stapleton, but the feeling of betrayal and being scammed.
“Whoever this is, they came into our lives. She saw my daughter, if it’s even a she. They seen my kid’s pictures and played on my feelings talking about their newborn and sick husband.”
Stapleton is hoping others will learn from her mistakes, taking caution where she neglected to.
“Check twice. Call your friend and ask them what their experience was like. My friend never purposely told me she didn’t receive her stuff. But if I had asked the right question, she would have told me she didn’t have it yet and I wouldn’t have bought it. I would have waited.”
Even with her Facebook privacy settings adjusted, Stapleton said her feeling of trust has been forever shaken. She is unlikely to shop online again outside reputable sites like Amazon or eBay.
Whoever did this is still out there, Stapleton said, and they likely aren’t done yet.
“People need to tread likely, because there are people out there just waiting to take advantage of you. And you might think you’re smart and you’re savvy, but they’re two steps ahead of you.”
Some tips on how to protect yourself shopping online:
• Deal with companies or individuals you know by reputation or experience. If you are not familiar with the company, do some research. Reputable on-line merchants will post plenty of information about themselves, their location, their phone and fax numbers and details like their membership in organizations such as the Better Business Bureau.
• Do not be lured into using payment methods other than the options recommended by the Internet auction site. Do not pay by sending cash, money transfers or money orders.
• Consider using a company that provides an escrow service (reliable third-party). Escrow agents will hold the buyer's payment until they have received notification that the goods or services have been delivered. The escrow service then delivers the payment to the seller or provider. Research the credibility of the escrow service approved by the online auction service provider. Beware of criminals who create fraudulent escrow sites by mimicking legitimate sites or creating entirely fictitious sites to get money from trusting victims.
• Shop only from your home computer. It's much safer than shopping at a terminal in an Internet café or library.
• If you plan to buy something, go directly to a store's website by manually typing its address into your web browser. Don't click on links in an e-mail message even if you know who sent it.
• Verify secure connections. When shopping online, do not enter any financial information on a site if you see a broken key or an open padlock symbol in your Internet browser. This means the transaction is not secure and could be intercepted by a third party. When the key is complete or the padlock is locked, your browser is indicating a secure transaction.
• Consider using a credit card with a low credit limit or a single use payment card.
• Monitor your bank and credit card statements online. Electronic statements allow you to review your purchases and payments as they happen rather than waiting until the end of the month to review your paper statement.
• Never give out your social insurance number, date of birth or driver's license number to a seller.
• Always remember, if an offer sounds suspicious or too good to be true, it probably is.