The age of COVID-19 has prompted many people to foray into the internet to make purchases or sell items.

They may want to stick to closer to home, to local businesses and people they trust, or do some research first.

More and more incidents of online scams and rip-offs are causing big concerns; the Minnesota Department of Commerce sent out an alert last week, urging Minnesotans who sell and buy items online to be cautious. The department noted that online sales websites may offer an easy way for consumers to save money buying or to earn extra money selling through Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, Nextdoor and other platforms, but scammers are searching those same sites, hoping to steal your money.

The commerce department offers these tips:

  • Before you buy or sell to anyone, do your homework and check out who they are. Search online for the buyer or seller’s name, email address and any other identifying information to see if they have been reported by others as fraudulent or otherwise not trustworthy.

  • Check whether you are getting a good price. Search online for the value of the goods or services you are seeking to buy. If you find a sales price that is significantly undervalued compared to other sellers, that can be a warning sign that the seller is engaged in a “too good to be true” scam.

  • Read buyer reviews about the seller. If the seller’s feedback profile has a low approval rating, that seller may not be trustworthy. If the seller has been inactive for a long period and is now offering extremely discounted goods or services, the seller’s account may have been hijacked by an unauthorized third-party and should not be trusted.

  • Review the platform’s policies about accepting payments for goods or services. The site may have rules or tips for users of the online marketplace.

  • If you agree to accept payment via a money transmission app or payment website, look carefully at any emails you receive regarding payments: Is the sender’s email address and reply-to address one(s) you would expect to see for a large company? A legitimate money transmitter will not send emails from Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail, etc.; they will use their own domain.

  • Check the grammar and spelling of the entire message, including disclosure language. Scammers often make errors in the small details.

  • Do not rely solely on emails regarding payments. Log into your account directly, via your app or the money transmitter’s website. Do not click links in emails. Confirm the funds are in your account.

  • Contact the money transmitter directly by phone, email or chat support found on the company’s website. Does the information you receive from customer service match the emails you received?

  • Do not send money in order to receive money. Scammers may overpay for an item and ask that you refund the extra back to them, or request you forward a portion of the funds to a third party to handle shipping. By the time you learn the payment you initially received bounced or doesn’t exist, you’ve already sent your own hard-earned money to the scammer.

  • Be wary of emails insisting you pay for an account upgrade fee or a “certificate” before you can receive full payment. Legitimate money transmitters will have their fees posted on their website and will not request additional fees via email.

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Lastly remember this golden rule when it comes to online offers: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Those who have a problem or question about money transmission or a money transmitter, may contact the Commerce Department’s Consumer Services Center at consumer.protection@state.mn.us 651-539-1600 or 800-657-3602.