Consumer Alert: Shipping scams can cost thousands

A simple online transaction almost cost a man thousands of dollars.

The internet is a great way to buy and sell almost anything, even a car bumper. At least, that's what one seller thought.

"I sold him the bumper and two or three days later, he opened a PayPal claim stating the bumper was missing the front grill," said fraud victim Muhammad Ikbal.

The problem was Ikbal's ad never said the grill was included. The $3000 price tag was just for the bumper. But Ikbal was prepared to make it right.

Ikbal told the buyer to send him the bumper back, and he would refund the buyer's money.

Nine days later, Ikbal received a tracking number and a notice the package arrived. But when he got to the post office, the box was small and only weighed one pound.

Clearly, the package did not contain a car bumper. Ikbal contacted postal inspectors about the problem.

"It was basically a race. What the scammer was hoping is he could deceive Muhammad into returning the money before he realized there was no bumper in route," said U.S. Postal Inspector Tom Oulette.

The scam was working.

"He picked a random priority box, filled it with a huge stack of newspapers, presented it to the post office to get a tracking number," said Oulette.

In fact, PayPal returned the money to the buyer based on the bogus tracking number showing the boxes arrived.

Ikbal was eventually able to get his money back when he disputed it with PayPal. The best advice if you are buying or selling with someone you don't know, don't do anything until you get a confirmation of payment.

If you're the buyer, buy with a credit card so you can dispute the charge if something goes wrong.

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