Online Modus Operandi to Watch Out For

Online Modus Operandi to Watch Out For

When taking caution online, we watch out for common signs that point to danger and deceit. Some scammers are more obvious than others, but some can get so creative that they sneak their way in unnoticed. When this happens, we fall victim to modus operandi.

To prevent these, we’ve compiled a list of some common modus operandi that we’ve noticed happening online. Read on to find out how they play out:

1. Photo-grabbing

Ever hear stories of strangers using profile pictures of your friends under a different name? Maybe you’ve experienced this yourself? This happens on classifieds websites as well.

Step 1: A user contacts you (seller) posing as a buyer and says they are interested in your item. You respond.
2: They tell you that they are ready to purchase the item. But as an additional proof of the item, they ask you for an additional photo with their names included in the frame.
3: You comply.
4: They stop responding.
5: They use the photo you just sent (photo-grabbing) and create an identical ad using said photo through a different account.
6: They scam other people using the photo.

What to do to prevent this from happening?
Provide an alternative to photos with their names on it. Perhaps they could ask you to do a gesture, like your hand or a piece of item instead of their names.

2. Identity theft

Just as you wouldn’t immediately trust someone you met through a dating website, many scammers can easily pretend to be someone they are not. When making first contact, always take caution when asking for their identity.

Step 1: You contact a buyer/seller for an ad you’re interested in.
2: You ask them for some form of identity, like photos or a Facebook account.
3: They provide photos and info that aren’t theirs, so you believe them and start to trust them.
4: They ask you to send money so they could ship the item/ask for the item before making their payment.
5: They disappear and you never hear from them again.

What to do to prevent this from happening?
You could cross check the information they give by doing searches on Google. You may also ask them to provide more than one identification for cross-referencing. But better yet, always prefer meet-ups over sending items or money online to lessen the risk of fraud.

3. Fake PayPal email

PayPal is a reputable company and a convenient way to transfer money online. But some scheming buyers use this as a creative way to get the item without actually paying by posing as an official email from PayPal. When receiving emails from PayPal, it’s important to take a second and third look to verify it’s legitimacy.

Step 1: A buyer contacts you on OLX. You respond.
2: They insist that you continue the transaction through email. They ask for your email address.
3: They suggest that they pay you through PayPal. If you don’t have an account, they ask you to make one.
4: They will claim to have already made the payment by sending you a fake screenshot of an email from PayPal.
5: You send the item thinking they have made the payment.
6: You never hear from them again. You never received the payment.

What to do to prevent this from happening?
Refrain from transacting through email. If there’s no other choice, always double check the legitimacy of the PayPal email. Make sure that the email provider is the official email provider of PayPal. If it looks fishy in any way, report the user right away or stop transacting altogether.

*Added tip: Always watch out for emails with this format “name+number@email provider” (ex:

4. Location-based

Sometimes, the item you really want is from a seller far away from where you are. In cases like this, always check if the seller is indeed telling the truth about their location, or just wants to run away with the down payment they ask from you.

Scenario 1
Step 1: An ad you’re interested in is based from a far away location. You contact the seller anyway.
2: The seller claims that they will be shipping the item once they receive the down payment from you.
3: You send them the down payment but never hear from them again.

What happened here?
It’s possible that the seller set their location from a far away city only to deceive you.

What should you do to prevent this?
In cases like these, you may ask the seller questions about their knowledge of the city they claim to be in. If you aren’t convinced or have some doubts, don’t send the down payment at all. It’s always best to encourage a meet-up so you could inspect the item, so look for ads nearby where meeting up is more doable.

Scenario 2
Step 1: You are interested in an ad of a car and will contact the seller.
2: The seller says that they are currently out of town, and will connect you to a “caretaker”
3: You will then be connected to a caretaker who will ask for a down payment. Once down payment has been made, they promise to drive it to your home.
4: Once you’ve sent out the down payment, you never hear from them again.

What should you do to prevent this?
When buying cars, always make sure you have time to inspect it to make sure it exists and to make sure that it’s not a damaged unit. Don’t fall for people asking for down payment, especially if it’s a large one.

5. Two sellers, one scammer

Scam cases can also happen during a meet-up. What’s worse is if a scammer scams two sellers at the same time. Don’t be one of the sellers in these cases!

Step 1: A buyer sets a meet up with two sellers in one location.
2: When all three are in the meet up, the buyer says that the other seller is his friend. He gets the item from one seller and asks to be excused to withdraw the rest of the money.
3: Buyer never returns and has just scammed both sellers.

What to do to prevent this?
Never give out your item without receiving the full payment during a meet up.

For more tips on staying safe online, check out our Cybersecurity homebase!