A Buying and Selling FAQ
by Ted Verrill
Welcome to the IBMWR Marketplace Buying and Selling FAQ, version 1. Please send along any comments or suggestions.
Making Sure Things Go Right
Buying and selling over the Internet has been a great success, but as with all other areas of life, there will be a few bad apples trying their hardest to ruin it for everyone. You will never be free of the risk that someone is out to rip you off, but you can lessen the chances with a few simple steps. In general, you will want to go with your instinct - if something doesn't seem right, it usually isn't.
1. Find out about the person you will be dealing with, then confirm that the information is correct. This is absolutely critical and the number one thing that a crook will want to hide and an honest Joe will have no problem revealing. Do NOT feel bad about being upfront and saying to the transaction party ("TP") something along the lines of, "I am very cautious about doing business on the Internet and I've found that having contact info makes for a much better transaction - please find mine below." Send your name, e-mail, address and phone number, and accept no less than the same. Any hesitancy on the part of the other party to provide this should be an INSTANT red flag that something is not above board and that you might avoid a whole lot of headache down the road if you just move on. Be also extremely wary of anonymous e-mail, especially from folks like HotMail, Yahoo and RocketMail - it is another thing that sets off an INSTANT red flag for me. I usually insist on a "real" e-mail, although many honest folks use the anonymous e-mail services, the crooks almost exclusively use them. Now, when you get the info from the TP, make sure to check it! There is a great service by AT&T called Anywho that is the best confirmation tool I have ever found. Type in the phone number and see if it matches the name (they have reverse lookup, yes it is a VERY cool tool!) Type in the address and see what phone numbers come up (it can do this too - even cooler!) Check on the name and see if it confirms the address. While there is sometimes some inconsistencies, in general if I cannot confirm through Anywho I tend to proceed much more cautiously. OK, now you've gotten the info and confirmed it, call the phone number and see if it works - I usually call to introduce myself and ask a silly question that could easily be answered in email. The call has three great purposes - first it allows you to confirm that you can reach the TP there should something go amiss, second it allows you to ask and follow-up on the little questions that you might dismiss as not worthy of an e-mail, and lastly it allows you to get a feel for this TP and let your intuition have some input.
2. Know exactly what you are buying/selling, and how and when it will be delivered. Many of these deals go wrong simply because the two parties had wildly different ideas about what was expected out of it. I still remember a disagreement from the early days about two folks who agreed to a sale for a "set of exhaust pipes for an R75" - the set was aftermarket and in good shape, but the buyer thought he was getting OEM pipes. The two ended up in a huge disagreement with arguments over deal nullification, then who would pay for shipping, etc. The thing is they were both folks I know to be honest and trustworthy, both had the best intentions and had there not been the lack of proper communication before the deal it would have gone off without a hitch. When you are setting up a deal, be as specific as possible regarding the exact item, whether OEM or aftermarket, complete with all original hardware, what condition, installed or new in box, etc. - if it is going to matter to you, you'd better ask now.
3. Be prepared up front for what will happen should someone not be happy or if something goes wrong (wrong part, broken in shipping, etc.) Agree up front to what will happen if one TP is unhappy, usually either when one party is not happy with what he received (deal nullification with the unhappy party paying reasonable shipping and all monies being swiftly returned), or if the items were broken or the box missing in transit (usually the shipper will get a notarized affidavit from receiver to file for insurance claim and will return any money sent.)
4. Cover Your Bases. When you ship, make sure you insure for the proper amount, and that you send with a delivery confirmation with a reputable shipper. Never ship to PO boxes and always make sure there is some way to confirm delivery. Many folks use the US Postal Service Priority mail - it is extremely cheap, and has similarly inexpensive options for delivery confirmation and insurance. Another bonus with using the USPS is the U.S. Postal Inspection Service - these are the guys that root out crime committed through the US Mail and will be your best friend if something goes south.
5. Protect Your Wallet. As for payment, you should try to use PayPal - they have an alternative dispute resolution that works quite well from what I am told (plus the IBMWR gets a referral bonus if you sign up from this link :). You can also use an escrow service or a personal check, though the seller may want to hold the item(s) until it clears. Whatever you do, do not ever send cash or a cash equivalent like a money order unless you personally know and intimately trust the person who is receiving it. Sending cash to someone you do not know is a certain recipe for disaster.
Please Note... A recent scam to hit the streets (12/2002) involves very well forged cashier's checks [WIRED Story.] Please remember that, much like any written instrument, a Cashier's Check can be forged and you may not unfortunately find out until after you have completed a transaction (and the bank takes their money back.)
Communication is really key in making sure a deal goes well - know what you are buying or selling, for how much, how and when the item/money will be sent, make sure to e-mail the tracking number when it goes into the mail, and make sure to e-mail when the item/payment arrives and express any concerns at that point.
When things go bad...
You've sent your money/parts/etc. and suddenly the guy at the other end is no longer answering your e-mail and the package still hasn't shown up after a week or two (you should have requested the tracking number ;) What do you do now? Well, first and foremost, collect all of the receipts, e-mail, shipping receipts, notes taken during phone calls, etc. into one place. Having all of this is critical to making sure you don't end up on the short end (and if you unfortunately do, making sure others don't suffer the same fate...)
Well hopefully you've read the preceding and know to pick up the phone and call the TP and let him know you are concerned. For the most part, people let things slide and often a quick phone call will put the wheels in motion and get the item/money shipped. At this point you might want to ask that the sender send it USPS Priority or some other method of shipping that can be tracked (UPS is a good one) and to send you the tracking number. Until or unless he does, it is generally prudent assume the item/money has not yet been sent. Some folks just need a little prodding.
At this stage you are starting to wonder if you are ever going to get your items/money. Has it been more than a couple of weeks and you've both called and e-mailed the TP and have either been ignored, found the contact info no longer valid, or been repeatedly given evasive excuses or unfilled promises? At this stage you are still trying to make the deal go through and should try and find a way to motivate your TP. You can do anything from trying to find a local friend or acquaintance (try the contact for the local BMW club, the local BMW shop, or post a request for someone who may know the person on the IBMWR list - make sure to keep it a one line request and to keep the details off the list though, we're still at the stage where it may all be a stupid misunderstanding) or try tracking the person down through other contact info (Anywho again ;)
You've spent a week or so trying to get through to this knucklehead and still no luck? Notify the Marketplace Admin and send along as much info as you can - and move into the mode where you must unfortunately assume that the person you've sent things to (parts, money, etc.) is probably not going to be sending back his part of the deal. This doesn't happen very often, but it does unfortunately happen - some folks are out to get you from the start, some just fall into it. In either case, you can either write it off or you can take action. If you decide to write it off, collect all of the details and notes you've taken and put them in a box ready at a moment's notice should the TP's name ever come up. Then go out for a nice long ride and put it all behind you.
If you want to take action, move on to Defcon 1 ...
OK, it is war and you get to start filing complaints with various scary folks. Let the TP know that you are escalating the issue and will be going to state and federal law enforcement agencies (and offer him yet another chance to come clean...) The first step is to file a complaint with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (you did use the US mail somewhere in the equation, didn't you?) These guys are real pitbulls. Remember all those e-mails you saved, copies of checks, shipping labels, etc. and notes you took? They may want copies of everything so have it ready to pump out at Kinko's at a moment's notice. Second is to contact your State Attorney General Office, then it can't hurt (but probably won't help much) to contact and file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. Follow through with this and while you probably won't get your money/parts, you will probably sleep better at night knowing you've just substantially shaved the chances of the same thing happening to someone else.
As I mentioned, almost all transactions go quite smoothly with both sides quite happy with what they received. With the steps taken above, even the ones that don't go so well usually turn out OK. If you have any questions or comments, please do not hesitate to give me a shout!