Tips for avoiding international buying scams

Source products for import over the internet, and the world is your oyster. A quick Google search offers a wealth of international sellers to choose from, and instant payment portals such as PayPal make it easier than ever to seal the deal. However, this convenient connection to the global marketplace also provides the perfect opportunity for international buying scams. These scams take various forms; for example, the seller might cease contact with the buyer after the buyer makes payment, and the buyer never receives their goods. Other times, the seller might charge a premium price and deliver substandard goods. Often, unscrupulous sellers may also engage in phishing practices to obtain buyers’ personal information.

The presence of scamming in the global marketplace does not mean that you, as an international buyer, are completely at the scammers’ mercy. Here are some tactics you can employ to make sure you don’t become the next e-commerce victim:

1) Do your homework

It is always advisable to do some research on the seller, especially if you want to purchase popular, rare, or valuable items. Be extra alert if you see these items being advertised at discounted prices.

Some tips for supplier research:

  • Obtain the seller’s telephone number and physical address. Use your local telephone directory or an equivalent online service to verify whether the telephone number and address belong to the seller.
  • Use a map service such as Google Earth to look up the seller’s physical address. This way you can assess whether the image rendered on Google Earth seems appropriate for the type of business being advertised.
  • Ask your freight agent to contact their office in the seller’s country to verify the seller’s business contact details. You can also ask their opinion on the business’s legitimacy.
  • Search for company reviews online. If you are dealing with a company that conducts business in a foreign language, you can also request assistance from your freight company.
  • If the seller is registered on PayPal, check if they’ve had verified PayPal member status for a reasonable time period. Verified member status provides an indication of whether past buyers have trusted the supplier.  To check the seller’s PayPal status, first initiate payment with the seller (don’t worry, it isn’t necessary to finalise the payment). On the “Check the details of your payment” page, you will see a “seller’s reputation” link. This link provides details on the seller’s membership status.

2) Use credible B2B platforms

The majority of trading platforms allow users to rate and provide feedback on sellers. If sellers have several “good” or “excellent” ratings (e.g. 4-5 stars) and positive reviews from satisfied buyers, it is an indication that the supplier can be trusted to deliver good products and customer service. Make sure to only communicate with the seller through the online trading platform – this ensures that there is a comprehensive communication record to refer back to if needed. Most trading platforms provide buyer protection services. Be sure to read the platform’s buyer protection policy, or contact them directly if you require more information.

3) Use protected payment methods

Many B2B platforms offer payment methods (such as escrow services) to protect the buyer. A letter of credit or a documentary bank collection can also be used for larger payments. Research the pros and cons of each method before deciding what is best for your needs.  As a rule, never wire money directly to a seller’s account until you have established a trusted relationship with the seller.

4) Control and insure the freight

Opt to make freight arrangements and obtain freight insurance yourself as then you maintain full control. If the seller arranges the freight, they can easily blame any damage on the shipping company. The good news is that, due to low claim rates, you can obtain freight insurance for international transport at very reasonable rates. If you would like assistance with freight quotes, visit our website or contact our offices at 087 550 1038.

5) Conduct a pre-shipment inspection

Your freight agent can arrange a pre-shipment inspection for you. To protect yourself, you can stipulate to the seller that payment will only be completed once you receive an approved inspection certificate.

These steps will significantly lower your chances of falling prey to international buying scams, giving you the freedom to source new products with confidence.

About the author

Tracy Venter

Tracy studied at Stellenbosch University and gained her initial experience in imports and exports through working for industry. After starting her own import business, and helping some friends do the same, she realised there was a need for reliable customs registration services. As a result, in 2011, Import Export License was born. Since then thousands of importers and exporters have been helped to obtain their import export licences, permits, specialised customs registrations and connect with Import Export License consultants for advice on importing, exporting, and other customs related matters.