Online Money Fraud Hits Home

Online money fraud is a threat to every family, even those like mine that try to be careful in everything financial.  Here is what happened.

Yesterday my youngest son called me about purchasing a used XBOX 360 game console on eBay.  I told him that it was not how I would spend my money but he had his own money and was free to spend it how he sees fit.  (He is a college sophomore.)  I suggested that he try craigslist so that he could conduct the transaction in person.  I also cautioned him that if he did buy it online, he needed to use PayPal so that he would at least have some protection against online fraud.

When I came home from work, my son excitedly told me that he and his mother had found an amazingly low price ($39.95) for a used game console with a one year warranty.  The seller was not on eBay but at a site called  I said that was an unbelievable price which means that the seller is likely not legitimate.  I then asked him how he paid for the order.  He said that he has used his debit card.  (He does not have a credit card.)  I said “oh-oh” that is not good.

My son told me that the seller had ads displayed on several reputable web sites.  Of course, I knew that these ads`no doubt were bought through Google Adwords, which means nothing about the credibility of the company that bought them.  Scammers know that they can use Google Adwords to get their ads pushed out through Adsense equipped sites almost immediately.   I then checked the seller’s domain name and discovered that the domain had just been activated on 7/24.  In addition there were other warning flags, such as various “safe seller” and “hacker free” icons on the company’s web page with no links behind them.  Finally, a quick Google search of some message boards found others who were also questioning the bona fides of this company.  Others had ordered – no one had yet received the game console.

My next move was to access his checking account online.  Sure enough, the transaction was already posted and pending in his account.  I called our bank (Bank of America) and my son instructed them to cancel his current debit card and issue a new one.  The bank told me that they could not stop the transaction at this point but when it did complete, we could call back and dispute it.  This would cause the bank to put a hold on the money leaving his account until the merchant was contacted and responded.  Of course, we know that this “merchant” is going to disappear as fast it arrived.

My son immediately realized how careless he had been with his money.  I told him he was lucky that the “merchant” didn’t hit his account for more money.  (I believe that the seller withdrew the correct amount so that any suspicions would not arise until much later.)  Unfortunately, my wife was partially complicit in facilitating this questionable transaction so there is plenty of blame to go around. 

This was a good teaching moment for financial responsibility for my son.  If he ends up losing the money, it will be tough love lesson as well.  Hopefully, he will get it back.

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