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Consumer Advice for Buying Cichlids on the Internet
by Michael Milazzo


Not only is the internet a great place to find information about anything and everything, but its a great place to shop as well. Today we have access to a selection of buyers and sellers far greater then in the past. Cichlid-Forum, in the context of fish, brings together both of these aspects.

Although many people have purchased a book or similar item from a big online retailer, a good portion has not purchased items off a trading board or a small internet business. Your first potential purchase can leave you feeling a bit nervous.

This article will focus on general buying techniques. Since internet fraud is growing each year, I will focus on ways to avoid fraudulent purchases. Some techniques are more general then others and they can be applied outside of the cichlid hobby as well.

General Tips for Buyers

  • Always use your full name when inquiring about a purchase (no nicknames or handles)
  • An email should never contain more then 2 or 3 questions. Anything more and you run the risk of not getting all your questions answered.
  • If its too good to be true...it probably is.
  • Make sure you are completely aware of all Terms and Conditions before the sale is completed. Do not rely on the seller to bring them to your attention.
  • The only stupid question is the one that is not asked.
  • If given the option of using the phone or email...USE THE PHONE!

Buying Tips when Dealing with an Individual Seller (not a business)

For the purposes of this article individual sellers are defined as members who post in the "Trading Post" outlined by these rules. These do not include site sponsors.

  • If a member mentions that he/she will not cover shipping losses proceed with caution and think twice about your potential purchase.
  • Always have your merchandise shipped insured with a tracking number.
  • Always use guaranteed same day or next day air shipping services when dealing with live fish.
  • Do not assume that because a member has a website he/she is trustworthy.
  • Do not use debit/check cards, money orders, cashiers checks, personal checks, or wire transfers to pay for something on the internet, you may not be covered from fraudulent transactions.
  • Do not use checking/savings accounts to transfer money through an online payment service, just like debit cards, you may not covered against fraud.

Your form of payment is very important. There are a few options available that will help you avoid fraud. I advocate that before you purchase anything from a member, sign up for an online payment service. Paypal is just one example of an online payment service. Paypal and other online payment services provide an exchange medium so that individual buyers and sellers can commit transactions over the internet. This is done by two different ways; one is through the use of a credit card and the other is a direct debit through your bank account. This is a free service for the buyer. The advantage to this service is that anyone can use it and unlike a merchant account, there is no monthly fee involved. The seller is required to pay a percentage of the sale to the online payment service.

The important thing is that your liability against fraud is considerably lower when you use your credit card through this service. Any legitimate seller should accept this form of payment. Remember the steadfast rule of using only your credit card when dealing with sellers whom you have never done business with in the past or who can not provide adequate references.

Some sellers try to avoid using online payment services because of the fee applied. If this is the case, I suggest negotiating with the seller and suggest splitting the difference. If a seller chooses not to accept an online payment service and they cannot provide solid references, then take your business elsewhere.

Sometimes a seller will try to convince you that using the direct debit option of Paypal is the same as the credit card option, this is not the case. Remember the money for debit purchases is transferred almost immediately from your bank account to the sellers account. In addition, your liability limits for a debit card are different from your liability of your credit card.

Next thing to consider is communication. Always save your correspondence concerning your purchase until the sale is completed and you are satisfied. If using the private message (PM) feature of Cichlid-Forum, you may want to consider moving all of your messages to the savebox so that they not automatically deleted if you inbox goes over its limit.

Buying Tips with Auction Sites

Although not offered by Cichlid-Forum, online auctions offer another avenue for buying fish and related merchandise. Online auctions currently represent upwards of 43% of all online fraud. So you need to be cautious with whom you deal.

With auctions, watch out for shill bidding or phantom bidding. Shill bidding is when friends of the seller purposely bids up their auctions. Phantom bidding is identical to shill bidding, but perpetrated by the same individual rather than co-conspirators.

Your focus should be on doing your research beforehand. Before committing to a sale, always check out the sellers feedback, whether it is on the auction site itself or on another fish related website.

Buying Tips When Dealing with a Retailer

  • If given the option of using the phone or email...USE THE PHONE!
  • Stocklists can sometimes be outdated, always inquire regardless if you see something listed or not.
  • Mailing lists are great for being updated with sales and new stock information.
  • Read the policies posted on their website.
  • Retailers can often order a fish or product that is not on their list. Dont be afraid to ask.

Generally buying fish from an established retailer is a much easier and safer process then buying from an individual. Fraud is usually less of a concern. The purpose of a business is to make a profit and committing acts of fraud doesnt meet that purpose. In addition, businesses generally have more experience in the logistics of shipping live fish and thus have less shipping issues.

Cichlid-Forum has created a Retailer Reviews section for buyers who want to research a retailer whether it is local or online. In this section, members can leave feedback on a retailer. If you have never purchased fish before, its a good place to start. Because Cichlid-Forum will not take on sponsors who have a poor or even a fair rating from site members, a site sponsor is your best bet to make purchase. They are listed on the first page of the Retailer Reviews section.

Now armed with this article in your left hand and your credit card in your right...GO FISHING!! □

Dispute Resolution

» Mail Fraud

» Better Business Bureau

» Internet Fraud Complain Center

» Paypal Buyer Complaint Process

Resources

  1. A Consumer's Guide to E-Payments
  2. Shop Safely Online
  3. Visa Secure & Better Business Bureau: Online Shopping Tips
  4. IFCC Internet Fraud Preventive Measures
  5. Auction Tips & Tactics
  6. A Comparison of Online Payment Services
  7. Online fraud cases triple
  8. EBays tough talk on fraud doesnt withstand scrutiny
 
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