The Internet can be a great thing for aquarium hobbyists. It provides unlimited access to information and tons of places from which to purchase aquarium equipment and livestock. Online aquarium forums are usually crawling with people looking to unload used equipment and you can find some great deals. However, you can also get burned very badly. You trust someone you’ve never met before to be honest and ship (in a timely fashion) the item you purchased. You are also gambling on whether or not the item you receive will match the description used to sell the item. So how does one trust somebody he (or she) has never met? How can you protect yourself against scams and ensure that you aren’t getting the runaround? Below is a list of helpful tips to consider when purchasing equipment and livestock from online forums or even vendors.
Research the Seller!
For starters, when purchasing online research the company or individual you are considering buying from. This is a little easier if you plan on buying from an actual business. Ask around on your favorite aquarium forum to see if anyone else has used the vendor you are considering. Chances are, someone has done business with them. Don’t get caught up with a few bad apples. Make sure to get opinions from a as many people as possible. It seems most of the people who have a bad experience are very vocal, whereas those who have good experiences tend to not be so forthcoming.
Researching a fellow hobbyist might be a little harder. Hobbyists can change their usernames, or simply register multiple ones if they are hoping scam someone else. To be safe, only purchase from hobbyists you know, or at least ones who have been active on the forum for a long time. Chances are, if the individual is active in the community, he or she has a reputation to uphold. This of course doesn’t make you immune to a scam, but it certainly decreases your risks. Additionally, some forums have buyer, seller, and trader feedback sections. Browse them extensively if you have doubts about the seller.
Continue reading below for tips on how to send money, as well as how to resolve any conflicts.
Payment Selection and Protection
Once you find the item you want and are comfortable with the seller, you must then decided on how to pay. Most buyers and sellers prefer PayPal, as it is very easy to use and provided some protection if used properly. However, PayPal is not without its limitations. For one, it won’t cover damages if livestock is involved. Additionally, PayPal won’t get involved if the seller ships an item, any item, regardless of whether or not it is the same one described in the original forum post. I’ve heard stories where a seller would ship a few bricks instead of the actual item, but because an item was shipped, there was nothing that PayPal would do.
To protect yourself when using PayPal, use a credit card. Most credit cards will side with the purchaser, as they are the ones paying all that interest to the credit card company (kidding somewhat of course). If the item you purchase never shows up, shows up damaged, or isn’t the described in the for sale post, contact your credit card company and they will fight for you. American Express in particular is very good with this. Sometimes, if you are using a bank transfer and you get scammed or other trouble arises, the bank might be able to issue a reversal of the transaction. It’s probably not very likely, but it wouldn’t hurt to try it.
Shipping and the Item’s Arrival
Shipping can be a very frustrating thing. Items can become lost or damaged in the mail and sometimes it’s not always clear who to blame. Prior to making your purchase, contact the buyer and discuss how the item will be shipped. If it will cost you more to add things like insurance or special packaging, do it! Take care of any issues before they arise. Also keep in mind that UPS and FedEx may not honor the insurance policy placed on the item if the packaging is sub-par. To be safe, have the seller take the item(s) to the shipping company and have them box it up. This way, the insurance will cover any damages that could arise during the shipping process. Also keep in mind that the insurance will not cover livestock, no matter what! If you are purchasing livestock, try to get priority overnight service and make sure you are home when the fish or corals arrive. It’s not the seller’s fault if a box of corals has been sitting on your doorstep, in the sun for several hours.
After the item you purchased arrives
When you get home and see that package on your doorstep, there are a few things you should do. For one, don’t open it right away. Inspect the package for damage. Take pictures of the box prior to opening it if you suspect something is damaged. If you have a video camera, maybe you should videotape the entire unboxing process. It may be overkill, but if something was broken or missing, it would certainly help your case. If the aquarium equipment is damaged or livestock is dead, document and photography any damage and report it to the seller immediately.
Damaged items and items lost in the mail will have to be taken care of by the seller. Assuming the seller purchased insurance for the shipment, he or she will have to file the claim. If everything was done properly and the shipping companies takes repsonsibility for the loss, they will then issue funds for the claim. The seller will then have to refund your original purchase. These things happen from time to time, but they rarely go smoothly. Keep in mind that damages incurred during shipping are not the seller’s fault.
If the Transaction Goes Sour
If the item you purchase never shows up, shows up damaged, or the box is full of bricks instead of the item you thought you were purchasing, contact the seller immediately. If the seller doesn’t cooperate or respond to your emails within a few days (typically 5 business days), it’s time to take action. Open up a PayPal claim or a credit card charge back, contact your bank, and discuss the situation on the forum from which the sale was made. If the seller is ignoring your emails, he or she might not be able to ignore a publicly posted complaint. At this point though, I would let PayPal or the credit card company take charge, assuming that’s what you used. If PayPal decides they can’t or won’t help, you might have to contact the authorities. Do not contact your local police department, contact the PD local to the seller. Don’t expect much from this route, as police have bigger fish to fry. But eventually something may come of it, so it’s still a valid option.
There are two paths to choose on this one. If the seller fulfilled his agreement with you and you are happy, leave positive feedback for him so others can use him/her in the future. This will also reinforce good behavior. Even if something bad happened during the transaction but the seller corrected the mistake, be sure to communicate that as well. However, if something goes wrong and the seller refuses to make things right or outright scams you, warn others. Try to contact the seller and resolve the issue prior to blasting him or her publicly. Sometimes confusions will arise when communicating over the net and keep in mind language barriers can become an issue as well. But still do you part to warn others if the seller refuses to cooperate.