Online sales platforms can be a gateway for criminals and fraudsters. One of the current scams even undermines PayPal’s buyer protection. What you should be careful of.

The first triangular fraud scam is relatively simple: someone wants to sell an item on a sales platform such as eBay classifieds or Amazon and advertises an offer. Shortly afterwards, an interested party gets in touch and asks to pay via PayPal and to have a friend pick up the product from their front door.

From the seller’s point of view, this is a clean affair: receipt of payment is recorded and you don’t even have to send the product by post because it is picked up at the front door. But a little later, another person contacted the seller and asked about the whereabouts of the item he had purchased. What happened?

The person who picked up the item for sale at the door is part of the fraudulent network. In reality, she or her backers created another offer and used the original seller’s data for this one. Therefore, the correct amount of money is transferred and there is no suspicion. However, the money came from a third person and not from the fraudsters who simply made off with the goods.

According to the Cologne police, the legal situation in such a case is clear: the person who originally wanted to sell something privately on one of the portals must pay the money back to the buyer who made the incorrect transfer. “Otherwise it would be a case of so-called unjust enrichment,” says the law enforcement website.

The Cologne police also point out that PayPal’s buyer protection is ineffective in such a case. She explains: “This only applies if you have delivered to the address stored with PayPal. However, since the cell phone was handed over to the front door in our case, the PayPal protection expires.”

Another variant of the triangle fraud involves buyers ordering from a fake online shop that accepts payment. This requires sensitive data such as name, address and bank or PayPal connection. Because the product actually arrives a few days later, the buyer does not initially suspect anything. Only when a payment request or reminder arrives in the mailbox some time later will the fraud be discovered. What happened here?

In fact, as a buyer, you have given your data to criminals who use it to order in advance from a reputable online shop. Because the invoice is never paid, but the product is delivered, there are demands for payment from the honest seller. If the matter then comes to light, the damage ultimately lies with the original buyer because he has to return the product but is stuck with the payment.

In such a case, the consumer advice center recommends going to the police immediately to file a criminal complaint. You should also report the fraud to the sales portal and the damaged online shop with reference to the criminal complaint. In principle, those affected can return the goods and then do not have to pay the bill, explains Kathrin Bartsch, legal expert at the consumer advice center and adds: “Anyone who returns the goods should definitely point out that the outstanding claim has not been reported to a credit agency such as Schufa becomes.”

A sure sign of fraud when shopping online is usually the price. If it seems too good to be true, you should be skeptical and research carefully whether other reputable shops offer the product at comparable prices.

If you have already ordered and paid for a product, you should check the sender address carefully when you receive the package. If this does not correspond to the same address of the shop from which you ordered, you should refuse acceptance and contact the shop.

In contrast to the first variant, PayPal’s buyer protection applies in the second case because there is no private sale at the front door. Alternatively, transactions from credit cards or SEPA direct debits can be reversed or canceled – even if this is sometimes associated with fees.