I never thought I would ever get scammed. I always figured I was too smart and too discerning to be conned by a shadowy figure/smooth criminal on the other end of a telephone or keyboard. I was wrong. I got scammed, and hopefully, this post will prevent someone else from suffering a similar fate. The chain of events was set in motion when I decided to advertise a new Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge Plus smartphone for sale on eBay. I had never used eBay before because I always felt it was not worth the risk of somebody selling me a box of bricks (trust me I have heard the stories) to get a good deal. In this instance I was desperate, I was in the market for a DSLR camera and selling this smartphone was the fastest and least costly way I could get it. I could have easily and safely sold the phone back to the dealer, but store credit wasn’t going to get me my DSLR camera.
Being a newbie to eBay, I was unfamiliar with its policies and customs. I figured I would post the smartphone and in a couple of days at most, somebody would pay me my asking price of 400 USD, and I would be able to get my camera. Posting the item on eBay was relatively straightforward. There were options for payment type, sale type, shipment and the length of the advertisement. Less than one day after I advertised the phone for sale I got my first response. The prospective buyer had met my asking price and was also willing to cover the shipping expenses. All looked right with the world, I was already dreaming about taking photographs with my shiny new camera.
Because of the detail and extent of the scam, I thought it was best to outline what happened in bullet form. This way persons can see clearly my missteps and not make the same mistakes.
Outline of the events that unfolded:
- I advertise smartphone for sale on eBay.
- Receives message from potential buyer informing me of willingness to purchase the item for my selling price.
- Buyer requests my email address to send payment via PayPal.
- The buyer tells me to use USPS to ship the item and provide him with the tracking number as soon as I send the package.
- I receive an email from PayPal notifying me that 500 USD was deposited to my account. 400 USD for the sale of the phone and 100 USD to cover shipping expenses. The PayPal email states that it is their policy to hold the money for security for new accounts or transactions over a certain amount. The email also lists the name and address of the recipient.
- I notice that the recipient is in Lagos, Nigeria. This is my first red flag, but I still go ahead with the transaction.
- I go to USPS to have the phone shipped. While I am there, I voice my concerns to a couple of the employees about the possibility of this transaction being a scam. One of the employees warns me against sending the phone and tells me that his son got scammed in a similar situation. Nevertheless, I still go ahead and have the phone shipped.
- I then post the tracking number on eBay, email tracking number to PayPal and then send the tracking number via SMS to the buyer.
- I inform the buyer that my money is still not cleared. The buyer tells me not to worry and that it’s standard PayPal policy.
- I check with PayPal and find out that it is indeed protocol to hold payments from new transactions or payments over a certain amount.
- I check my PayPal account and realize that the 500 USD is not being reflected in the PayPal app. This is my second red flag.
- Two days pass and the money has still not been cleared or is reflecting in my PayPal app (only in email). At this point, I can’t help but think that something is wrong.
- I get a message from the buyer asking my reasons selling the phone and the condition of the phone. I tell the buyer that it is a new phone and that I need the money. The buyer tells me they are purchasing the phone for their brother and that they hope he likes it. I also let the buyer know that the money is still not cleared. The buyer assures me that it is normal and that everything is fine.
- As soon as I am done messaging the buyer, I get an email from PayPal telling me that they are having technical difficulties and that they are working to process my payment. This is my third red flag.
- The next day I tell my mother (who has used eBay before) about my experiences and she tells me that the buyer is not supposed to be messaging me outside of the eBay network. Suddenly a sickening feeling descends over me, and I start feeling a numbing pain in my belly. The painful realization that I was scammed hits me, and I freeze right there on my mother’s carpet.
- I contact USPS to find out if I can have the packaged stopped. They tell me that an international shipment cannot be stopped or returned to sender.
- After doing some reading on the USPS website, I realize that indeed the package cannot be stopped. I can’t help but wonder if that was why the buyer was so determined for me to use this particular shipping service. Is that the case with all courier services? I was too broken to check.
- After doing some more reading online, I also realized that this and similar scams were very popular on eBay.
- After I had exhausted my limited options, I was resigned to the fact that I was scammed. I even contacted the buyer/scammer to congratulate him on a well-played scam (yes, I am weird like that).
If you are still reading this post, you might be wondering how I managed to get scammed even with all those red flags. Well, PayPal played a big part in this scam. The scammer used spoof emails from PayPal to authenticate the fraud. If I hadn’t received those emails purporting to be from PayPal, I would never have shipped the item.
I grew angry as the days went by and I wallowed in my embarrassment and self-pity. How could I get taken like this? I was now out of my phone, the money I paid for shipping and I wouldn’t have enough money to buy my new DSLR camera. After a couple more days of rationalizing what had happened and feeling sorry for myself, I decided to take action. It was an incredibly long shot; I couldn’t physically get to Nigeria, and it was too expensive for me to deal with the matter over the telephone, but I had to do something. That’s when I had the light-bulb moment. Like the old saying goes: The pen is mightier than the sword. I wrote emails to the Nigerian Post Master General, the Nigerian Police Commissioner, and any other Nigerian agency I thought would be interested.
Screenshot of emails
After my series of email messages to the Nigerian authorities, I contacted the International Division of USPS. I explained the situation to the customer service representative and asked if they could instruct the post office in Lagos, Nigeria to hold and then return the package. The customer service person informed me that he couldn’t make any promises, but he could take my information and pass it on to the appropriate department.There I thought that they were the appropriate department. I was also told that this process would take fifteen days. Fifteen days to pass information from one department to another, talk about efficiency. I had no choice but to wait and wait I did. After ten days I called the International Division of USPS for the second time. This time they were less than helpful (if that was possible). The representative told me that these incidents of fraud occur often, are difficult to investigate and have low success rates.
It was now almost four weeks since I advertised my phone on eBay. Four weeks since I shipped my phone to a stranger in Nigeria. Four weeks since I was scammed. I had been taught an embarrassing, difficult and expensive lesson.
One day I was home in front of my laptop when I heard a knock at the door. I opened the door, and there was a USPS personnel. Guess what he had in his hands?