Online sellers hide behind unclear definitions for "used" or "new": Internet Scambusters #967
Vague definitions of the meaning of the words "used" or "new" can allow online sellers to inflate the condition of an item they've listed.
The definitions are a matter of opinion, but you need to be clear about what they mean when you're buying on the Internet.
We'll tell you how to do that in this week's issue.
Let's get started…
"Used" or "New" Confusion Leads to Scams
Is it used or new? Or, how about nearly new, acceptable, good, very good, as new, or like new? Or even open box, used once, gently used, new without tags, pre-owned, or even new to you?
You get the picture. These are the myriad of terms used to describe items we buy online.
We've become used (pardon the pun) to them. But we also know that not only do these words mean different things to different people, they're also used to mislead or, in a worst case, to scam buyers.
The problem is that there are often no shared definitions of these terms. Even when there are, describing the condition of a for-sale item is down to personal opinion. And, when we're selling, we all went to get as much as we can. So, some people may think there's no harm in bending the truth a little.
Unfortunately, we all learn the reality of this situation from bitter experience and the disappointment that follows when an item turns out to be in a poorer condition than we imagined. You're a lucky person if this has never happened to you!
And the fact that these descriptions are vague and hard to define means that it's difficult for lawmakers to legislate against. It's nearly always a case of "caveat emptor" -- buyer beware.
So, what can you do to reduce the risk of being scammed or misled? Here are 5 tips to follow:
1. Is it new?
This should be the easiest question to ask because it's the one area where there are legal definitions.
But you don't need to be a lawyer. A useful definition to guide you is that used by eBay -- an item that is unused, unopened, undamaged in its original packaging (where packaging is applicable).
Beware, however, that "new" has a second meaning in sales -- the latest version of a product. The US Federal Trade Commission says the term can be used within the first six months after a launch.
Watch out for this one. A scammer could actually be selling you a used new product!
2. Is there a warranty?
In other words: Can you return the item if it's defective or it doesn't match the description? If so, what is the time limit window for returns?
But make sure you read the small print. If you can return it, will you get all your money back, or do you have to pay shipping costs, or the dreaded "restocking fee"?
3. Is there a description?
Sometimes scammers and untrustable sellers try to hide the true condition by simply not providing a description. They may simply say that it's used, or one of the other terms we listed above, leaving you to assume there's basically nothing wrong with an item by simply not saying.
If it has been used, try to establish by whom and for how long.
Be especially cautious when an item is described as "open box". There is a big difference between packaging that has been opened so an item can be inspected or shown to a potential customer and one that's been on display and handled/used in a store for weeks.
You also need to know whether a product is a return from a dissatisfied customer. Big box stores and other online retailers dispose of their returns to vendors who specialize in these products. Sellers should say if an item has been returned but, sometimes, they don't.
If in doubt, ask.
4. Does the seller describe any defects?
Is it in working order? If the seller says it's "for parts," it's not working. And if there are defects, look for or ask for a description, ideally with photographs. If it's local, try to inspect the item; if the seller makes excuses to avoid this, walk away.
Ask yourself if any defects will affect how you intend to use or display the item.
5. Who is selling?
Check out the reliability of the person or organization you're buying from.
Big marketplaces like Amazon and eBay lay down fairly strict rules on product descriptions, with their own definitions. But private sellers may not follow them.
So, if Amazon says an item is "like new" or "very good," it's probably fairly accurate. But sellers on its Marketplace forum may not be quite so honest.
Obviously, wherever possible, you should check out seller feedback, but you really need a high number of comments before you can feel confident they're accurate.
Following all this guidance may seem like hard work, but the more an item costs the more you need to be sure you're getting what you pay for.
And don't forget the old rule: If it's too good to be true, it's probably a scam.
If you feel like you've been conned, take this up with the seller initially. If that doesn't work, see if you can follow a disputes procedure, such as via the primary marketplace (like Amazon or eBay) or via the organization you used to pay -- PayPal or your credit card company for example.
Bear all of these points in mind too if you're selling something online. The more honest you are, the better your reputation will be and, in the long term, the more you will be able to sell.
Describe any defects. Make it clear if you will accept returns and the circumstances that qualify.
Buying and selling is about more than just whether an item is used or new. As we continue to switch our consumption habits to the Internet, it's about knowing how to protect yourself. Caveat emptor!
Alert of the Week
It may not be flu season, but it's definitely FluBot season.
That's the name given to a piece of malware that's currently circulating on Android phones and tablets.
According to the National Cyber Security Center (NCSC), targets receive an SMS text message about a failed parcel delivery -- most recently supposedly from courier company DHL.
The message asks the recipient to install a tracking app so that the package can be redirected.
But the app is actually a version of FluBot. The spyware has been around for years but has suddenly reappeared and, according to the NCSC, it's spreading fast.
That's it for today -- we hope you enjoy your week!