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At PaySAFE, we pride ourselves in providing a safe, secure and easy-to-use escrow service. Unfortunately, there are scammers out there who will try to take advantage of unsuspecting victims, no matter the online medium. And, as with other types of online fraud, escrow fraud is a real threat. When attempting to buy or sell goods or services online, there are several things to be aware of before proceeding, including remembering to double check everything and use common sense — both will go a long way in avoiding being scammed.
Red flags

Here are some common red flags buyers should look for which might indicate a scam:

  • Price is too-good-to-be true. Rarely will someone sell something at a price much lower than what it’s really worth. This is one of the simplest ways for a scammer to bait a victim.
  • Email only contact. Sure, many of us use email as our preferred method of communication, but when purchasing something online, having the seller refuse to share their phone number is a sign they’re not being honest. Also, if a phone number is offered, be sure to call it before proceeding with the transaction — if it’s a wrong or unconnected number, avoid the transaction.
  • Seller lives out of the country. This is a common tactic scammers use for justifying things like, for example, the low price of their item/service.
  • Seller wants your personal information. Any personal request for information is a warning sign that the seller may not have the best intentions, especially early on in the transaction.

In the same light, sellers should be aware of common scams, such as:

  • Buyer claims to have an agent/represents a client. Don’t be fooled by a fictitious “agent” or “client” involved in the transaction.
  • Buyer sends too much money. This goes hand-in-hand with the above point. If the buyer sends too much money via check and asks you to wire the extra cash back (for their “agent”), it’s most likely a fraud. Checks take several days to weeks to clear, so by the time you wire the money, the buyer’s check has bounced and, well, you’ve been scammed. The bottom line: never accept payment for MORE than the selling price of the item.
  • Unsafe payment methods. Cashier’s checks, money wires, Western Union, Money Gram and other unusual/nonsecure forms of payment should be avoided. Using PaySAFE helps alleviate this situation by providing trust and integrity to both buyer and seller.
  • Buyer is out of country. See above.
  • Emails only contact. See above.
  • Seller wants your personal information. See above.

Related: Fraud Prevention Tips (via
Identifying a phony escrow company
By providing transparency during the entire transaction, PaySAFE acts as a neutral third party that both the buyer and seller can trust. This is one of the greatest advantages of using a secure escrow service. Even so, scammers know this, sometimes going so far as creating a fake website that looks like it belongs to a legitimate escrow company. Obviously, their purpose is to steal your money, so use extreme caution, especially if you suspect anything.
Here are some more things that can reveal a phony escrow company:

  • During correspondence, ALWAYS check the domain name of the email — e.g., (good) vs. (bad).
  • When utilizing PaySAFE escrow, all communication will be from or, and will require you to register the transaction on our website.
  • Be wary of links in an ad, as they could easily go to a different URL then shown. Instead, type in the URL yourself.
  • When purchasing high-end goods and services, always be worried about Craigslist ads where the seller is not able to visit you in person.
  • Call the website number to confirm that it’s legitimate.
  • Do a Google search of the escrow company’s name and address and make sure they match.
  • PaySAFE does not have escrow agents (see above).
  • PaySAFE does not accept payment through Western Union or Money Gram (see Unsafe Payment Methods above).

If you’re at all worried you might be dealing with a scammer, immediately cancel and avoid anything to do with the transaction (and if the transaction involves Craigslist, flag the ad to be removed). If you’ve avoided or fallen victim to a scammer, report the crime to the Internet Crime Complaint Center — this will help stop other innocent people from being harmed.
Photo: Flickr

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