Online Classified Ad Sites: Three Tips to Protect Your Customers from Privacy Risks and Fraud Attacks

By Jay Innes, Director of Business Development

Personal info shouldn’t have to be surrendered to land an unbelievable online discount.

Walking during lunch hour, balancing a hot dog and a smartphone while dodging a parked car, it’s only the most thorough online seller who will take the time to do background research after receiving a phone call, SMS or email. With today’s technology, it’s easier to just reach out to an interested Buyer by making a return call, text or email. Unfortunately, too often this action is the first step in a downward spiral that can lead to personal privacy risks, harassment and countless headaches.

Online marketplaces continue to evolve and adapt to the public’s rapid migration toward tablets and smartphones. While users pursue simplicity and easy access, the sophistication of personal privacy threats increase.

Privatis_Rapid_Autodialer_Detector_Identify_Block_Robocall_iconThese risks are real and growing as harassing marketers, identity thieves and scammers seek out new methods to capture personal information. The Privacy Commissioner of Canada has weighed in advising users against “sharing your email address online on websites, social networking sites, blogs or in chat rooms”. Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart warns that these sites can be “easy prey for electronic address harvesters who make a living trolling the Internet for email addresses and selling them to spammers”.

The Privatis team believes that consumers of online classified ad sites need more protection than just relying on a sixth sense to gauge the safety level of a personal interaction. The purchase of a disposable phone or the creation of a new, dummy email address runs counter to the public’s demand for rapid, effortless and trustworthy communications. And it doesn’t solve the problem of the seemingly endless calls, SMS and emails from telemarketers and fraudsters that flood a Seller once an ad is posted on a classified site.

For more than two years, Privatis has conducted in-the-field research into these privacy threats and the tactics used to extract personal information. The Privatis Blog has been created to share our research findings and engage with our audience so that more online classified ad sites are able to protect their consumers and ensure they can connect confidently.

Like the canary in a coal mine, here are three (of the many) warning signs that a consumer’s personal privacy is threatened:

  1. Reading from a script and change of pace: The online seller answers an incoming phone from someone who appears to be an interested buyer but the conversational tone and pace quickly turns into an aggressive sales pitch from a telemarketer who has all the details at their fingertips about the item for sale. As the seller you think – Who is this? Why do you sound like you are reading from a script? Where did you get my information? Feeling confused and alarmed the seller is unsure of what to do next. using automated software, the fraudsters and telemarketers scrape details from numerous classified ad sites every day and soon after, the barrage of outbound automated robocall campaigns begin. If the caller sounds scripted and the pace of the conversation changes abruptly be assured this is a telemarketer or fraudster not someone who is a legitimate, interested buyer.
  2. The old bait and switch: Referencing an affiliation with a reputable online classified site, these charlatans will promise the world to help sell a vehicle- free shipping, full warranties, no commissions, even uttering the promise of a guaranteed sale. Short, sharp questions to the seller engage the individual and raise the expectation level while softening up the seller for “the ask”. The switch is made when the seller is told that these amazing features can all be had for a mere $499, er… $399, make that $299, okay only $. 199. After payment is made and promises broken, it’s the consumer who has been “had”.
  3. Mother was right, if it sounds too good to be true then it is! Think about it for a minute – are individuals and organizations going to just give away products and services because they interact online? This is not some story about a long, lost, rich Auntie who died and left you with the riches of Megaupload’s Kim Dotcom! Do retail and sales staff markups constitute 95% of all costs? Gauge the percentage of the savings and make the comparison to market value to test whether to raise a Red Flag.

The potential for online interactions are limitless, opening markets, breaking down barriers and compressing distance.  The sites that will endure are the ones that build customer loyalty through safety precautions that provide easy-to-use communication tools to connect sellers and legitimate buyers.

At Privatis, we look forward to engaging our audience with relevant insights into our work and commit to provide even more useful research findings in our weekly blog entries. We aspire to become a thought-leader in this sector and welcome all feedback on this article or any topic that touches online privacy and online classified ads sites. We also invite guest blogs to expand our reach and become a go-to-resource for our colleagues and customers. Please share your comments.

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