Since it comes up quite a bit, here is a compilation of steps you can take to check before you buy from a place that has prices that "seem to good to be true", as well as questioning an Ebay feedback result. If there is any use for this long-term, maybe the mods can find it in their hearts to sticky it. I am happy to keep it updated as time allows.
1) Create separate buy accounts and sell accounts (you need two separate email accounts). This protects your negative feedback from retaliatory feedback hurting your sell account, and frees you up to leave honest to goodness feedback for a seller. <EDIT: no longer valid since Ebay changed the policy where a seller cannot leave negative feedback>
2) Check the seller's withdrawn feedback count on their feedback page. If more than a few, question that seller's integrity, there is almost no reason for large numbers of withdrawn feedback, you can count on those to be negative, nobody withdraws positive feedback.
3) Use www.toolhaus.org and put in the seller's id, check the negative feedback and also check how much positive they leave, and the content of both types of feedback to get a feel for the character of the seller. You can also filter feedback with the Ebay user profile screen, under the feedback grid for 30 days, 6 months, 1 year, etc for positive, neutral and negative, you can click the counts to get the details.
4) Check the seller's historical offerings by clicking any of the item links that are still active, get a feel for whether the seller has sold big items or many small items. If all small, and now they are selling a large item, beware.
5) If no activity for a long period of time, then there is a rash of large items for sale, beware, it might be a hijacked account.
6) Contact the seller for the item you are interested in, build a dialog to see how you feel about that person, ask some very technical questions about the item to see if they know anything about it.
7) Google the seller ID and add "scam" and "ebay" to the search, for instance, barclaysphoto scam ebay, and check out the results. Do the same for "bait" and "switch", for instance barclaysphoto bait switch ebay.
Forum Sellers or Buyers
1) Look at the seller/buyer posting count, also their registration date under their public profile page. Look at their prior posts to get a feel for what the person seems like as an individual. Are their posts helpful, or nothing but "nice shot", "great capture", etc, and then blam, they start posting sale items once their probationary period is over? If they are not a well-established member, you might want to follow up with one or more of the following pointers.
2) Look to see if the forum offers some sort of positive feedback thread, like POTN's very own feedback thread. Research accordingly.
3) Ask the seller/buyer for other forum references, like Ebay, from FredMiranda.com, etc, then repeat steps 1 and 2 there to follow up. If an ebay reference is given, try using the "ask member a question" feature in ebay by entering their ebay id on this page (http://hub.ebay.com/community) and following through to get to the question area. See if they respond and can verify they are the same person as on the forum. Also read through their feedback, and reference some of the bulleted items above under the Ebay Sellers section.
4) Before sending or accepting (ie. sending the goods) paypal payments, take their email address they give for the payment and google it. Make sure nothing really negative shows up. Google their forum ID as well, many folks use the same community name across forums. See what others have to say elsewhere.
5) Keep in mind that many forums (including POTN) have policies where they will not act as the police in your transactions. It is up to you to do the research and if you do get scammed, there is little to nothing that forum leadership can do to help you recoup your money back. It is your responsibility to do the necessary research and use proper protective techniques like credit cards with protection plans, etc to help you should something terrible happen in your dealings online.
6) It is very wise to ask for photos of the items in question if you are the buyer, this is handy for detecting hijacked accounts. Sure the person at the other end can find images on the web and pawn them off as their own, but then you can maybe check the EXIF to see the date of the photo, etc.
7) Certainly ask for a phone number to call the person if you are still unsure, sometimes you can get a really good feeling (or bad) from how they respond to this question, and then again if you actually are able to talk them on the phone. Sometimes there is no substitute for person to person contact, especially in our electronic "text it and forget it" world.
1) Check this "Too Good To Be True Online Retailers" thread for the URL in question, see if they are on the watch list. This list changes often, so don't think "if I don't see it, they must be okay".
2) Check www.resellerratings.com for the online website for a community view on that seller
3) Here is a sticky master thread that has all vendor-related links in it.
4) Google the website and add "scam" or "bait" and "switch" to the search, for instance, priceritephoto.com scam or priceritephoto.com bait switch and check out the results.
5) In mid-2009, there has been some legal ramifications to these shops, read about it here.
Metaphor of how your purchase will proceed with these bait and switch shops
You buy the hamburger at the convenient and legitimate looking drive-through.
They call you out of your car into the fast food joint to confirm your .99 hamburger purchase. This should be your first clue...
While they have you at the counter, they conveniently remind you that in order to eat the hamburger, you need the bun and condiments.
You say, "What!? Those are included in a hamburger purchase, it is the way they are made".
They say "who knows better what is included, us or you? Do you want the buns for $2.99, the condiments for $1.99? And right now there is a special on the pickle for $.49".
You say "no, you will just take the hamburger and buy your own buns and condiments".
They say, "oops, somebody just sold that hamburger, it is no longer available, would you like one of the other available specials?".
You say "no" and stand at the counter for 3 hours to get your .99 refund back and disgustedly leave.
1) Remember that you hold all personal responsibility for how you send payment to the recipient. Nobody else outside that transaction is to blame if you lose your money on a bad deal.
2) There are many forms of payment, but the most popular to pop up is Paypal personal payments (otherwise known as Gift, money owed, etc). Think of this as no different than sending straight unadulterated cash to a recipient via uninsured, unregistered first class mail. Would you do this if you trusted the person at the other end? Sure. Would you do this if you don't know the other person but really want in on a good deal? Your call, but also your responsibility.
3) Look at all the alternatives when you make a payment: Paypal, Paypal Personal/Gift, Paypal Masspay, Money Orders, Checks, Google Checkout, Chase Quickpay, and many other options.
4) Many will suggest to make sure your payment through paypal is done via a credit card in order to garner other protections. A good idea, but be sure you know your credit card account terms, and the Paypal terms.
5) If you send money via Paypal personal gift payment, Paypal will almost never help you, and you certainly cannot pin blame on the forums or others outside the transaction for having sent that to an unknown party. Always double-check the seller's reputation first and foremost, then decide whether you would send cash to the person with no traceability for the item, and if the answer is yes, then using Paypal personal payments is really no different.
6) If the seller and buyer both don't want to budge on the paypal gift idea, perhaps the two could compromise and split the fees down the middle. I personally have used paypal personal payments with no issues at all, but I have also split fees with buyers in the past, as well with sellers. This leaves the normal Paypal protections in place, for what they are worth.
Motto to Live By
GREED or LUST for new equipment or a spectacular deal makes people do crazy things! Take some time and think about what you are about to do especially if it is a high-dollar item! Also ask yourself whether you could continue to make ends meet, if for some reason that money were to disappear and you received nothing. In the end remember that you, and you alone, were the one to send the money out the door, and that is a decision you ultimately have to live by.