12 Tips for Safe Online and Meetup Transactions with Strangers

12 Tips for Safe Online and Meetup Transactions with Strangers

Social media and other digital platforms are racing to become super apps or all-in-one apps. We can pick out a few that are already miles ahead of others. 

What are super apps? 

Take a Swiss Army knife for an analogy. Apart from its main blade, it comes with various component tools such as a screwdriver, can opener, a saw blade, and a pair of scissors, among many others.

WeChat, the most popular Chinese app, is a super app. In addition to the typical instant messaging feature, it provides other in-demand services such as live streaming, video conferencing, online shopping, booking trips, mobile payments, video games, and many more.

We see an inevitable future of having these ‘apps for everything’ that harness the full power and potential of mobile technologies and artificial intelligence and respond to our evolving lifestyles and needs.

But as early as now, these apps have already been integrated into our daily life. We can have things done at our fingertips. With taps and clicks, we can simplify tasks, multitask, and create endless possibilities. 

We always seek convenience.

On special occasions, I order homemade dishes through Facebook Marketplace and skip the hassles of preparing them all myself. 

I even felt I hit the jackpot when I ordered a legit spit-roasted lechon (just a pig’s head, though) for PHP2,500 last Christmas. It was the star of Noche Buena.

When our automatic washing machine broke, I instantly availed a repair service within the area, and that was also through the Marketplace.

I shop and haggle with other enthusiasts over the prices of bonsai mats, aquascaping (even live freshwater shrimp and plans, actually), and other hobby needs on Facebook Groups and Pages.

I also jump on the bandwagon during mega sale campaigns and check out branded clothes and other personal stuff at flagship stores on Shopee and Lazada. Occasionally, I pay bills and buy mobile credits on these apps.

Just a few days ago, I had some SM Gift Passes exchanged for cash with a legit buyer I met on Carousell. It was also a smooth and legit transaction, although I had to travel long and meet the buyer at Torre de Manila. 

I have never been scammed in all of these transactions, but I have always done a little digging online before going through. 

I know that convenience and security are two different things, and the latter weighs more for me. The irony is that life gets more complicated and stressful as things get more convenient.

We need to look into the other side of convenience.

12 Tips for Safe Online and Meetup Transactions with Strangers

To keep your online and offline transactions with strangers safe and secure, here are 12 safety tips. 

Remember that it’s not just about risking your hard-earned money but also having peace of mind. 

[1] Check for obvious red flags. You should not give your hundred or even sixty percent of your trust to strangers you meet online, especially if obvious red flags are waving and shouting right in your face not to do so. 

If you’re transacting on Facebook, for example, you must scan the stranger’s profile. Check if the account has been around for quite some time and if there are photos that identify the person and other related transactions. 

Other red flags of fake social media accounts include weird or fabricated bio information, low-resolution photos that may have been taken elsewhere, and profile urls unrelated to the account names.

The account or person may also not be found on other social media platforms, not have connections, i.e., very few friends, followers, and subscribers, and have a blank wall or content not related to the person, e.g., grabbed and reshared photos.

[2] Ask all essential questions. As a buyer or client, it is your right to ask questions regarding the product or service you’re interested in availing. 

You should also demand proof of product quality, seller identification if the profile is insufficient to build trust, and even successful past transactions. 

The payment method is the most critical aspect of online transactions. You need to be mindful of this and clarify the details.

It is always best to agree with the payment method you are familiar with, giving you the most security and peace of mind. But this may also be negotiated. 

[3] Take inconsistencies seriously. People who run serious businesses, whether big or small, know all aspects of the operations, from product details to secure payment methods and shipment procedures.

They can answer questions accurately and consistently and justify their systems, practices, and decisions. 

Interestingly, they may not be desperate enough to deviate from their usual business operations or make a gamble just to pursue you as a client. Let’s say that they just know who their real clients are.

On the other hand, scammers and fraudsters may struggle or appear to be trying hard to give consistent answers about products that may not exist in the first place or transactions that did not happen. 

Also, they may employ social engineering tactics to convince you to bite the bait at all costs. 

So, aside from inconsistent answers, persistent and desperate sales talks must be taken seriously or as additional red flags to watch out for.

[4] Share limited information. As a buyer, you are less obliged than the seller to share personal information. 

Do not share them yet if there are still questions unanswered or those which may be in your mind. Your doubts will save you. 

Share only the information required when you’re done with your digging when you’re confident enough about the legitimacy of the seller and the transaction, and when you’re ready to proceed to the next steps. 

For example, if you’re transacting via Facebook Marketplace, you may limit the information you share to your name, mobile number, and pinnable address for order delivery purposes. 

Others simply give their first or nicknames and landmarks instead of complete names and actual home addresses. Anyway, couriers call upon their arrival at the delivery location.

[5] Save your conversations. You can only and fully confirm the legitimacy of the seller and the transaction after receiving the order or availing of the service.

It is normal to be suspicious before this, so save your conversations and proofs of initial transactions and payments while you still can.

Take screenshots. Bogus sellers may block you on chat anytime soon, delete their profiles, or stop responding. 

If any of these happens, at least you have the receipts and their identities. Worse comes to worst, and you may file formal complaints to the authorities and present your proofs. 

Yes, you won’t be able to retrieve your money in many cases, but at least you may share your documented experience and warn others about the modus.

[6] Dig the social media and the web. It only takes typing names and keywords on search boxes to do some background checks, but people neglect to do this. Let us make this a good practice.

Although searching online does not always give you results, in case there are or even one that is negative, take it seriously. It must be a big issue after all. 

People these days are no longer taking to social media their petty rants because of the culture of bashing here and there. They instead share their experiences that are incredibly frustrating and worth public attention. 

Aside from social media, you may also check Google, Reddit, and other online forums. You may also ask for legit checks and testimonials from members of your group. You’ll find out that people still care. 

[7] Don’t buy the technical tricks. Aside from social engineering tactics, scammers and fraudsters may also push reasons or justifications unknown to you and are packaged with a high degree of technicality. 

Of course, these can be something that will leave you puzzled but quite impressed and interested. 

For instance, you may get lured to make payments through bogus websites believing you will earn discounts or enjoy a speedy transaction. Be very careful, as you may fall victim to identity theft or credit card fraud. 

In terms of payment methods, stick to what is familiar to you and what gives you a sense of security. If you want to try something new, then thoroughly research first.

[8] Meet up at a familiar public place. It may counter the concept of convenience, but if the transaction involves a large sum of money, for example, tens of thousands of pesos, it is way better to arrange a meetup with the seller. 

You cannot just wire the money or send it via an e-wallet and wait for nothing or receive something that is of poor quality or does not reach even your minimum expectations. Of course, you want value for your money. 

When arranging a meetup with a stranger, agree only with places or landmarks that are public, safe, and quite familiar. 

These can be cafés, fast food restaurants, and malls where there are other people, security guards, and probably, CCTVs. Avoid meetups at the stranger’s place, in a private vehicle, and in dark alleys. 

[9] Share your meetup plan. You’ve heard and watched over the news those horrendous and infuriating stories about people who went missing or were found dead at dumpsites after meetups with strangers. 

Share the details of your meetup plan with your family or a friend. Make updates on your whereabouts as necessary. Or better yet, bring someone with you. 

If you don’t have any other choice but to go alone, be at the meeting place earlier than scheduled. Familiarize yourself with the entrances and exits and choose the strategic location where you can wait and soon transact with the stranger. 

[10] Disagree with last-minute changes. When your meetup location is finalized and agreed upon, and yet the stranger requests a last-minute change or to take you somewhere far from the original site, insist on honoring the agreement. 

Whatever inconvenience or emergency reasoned out to you, don’t proceed. Better reschedule the meetup or cancel the transaction.

Changes can shake off your mental consciousness and plans. You cannot compromise your safety and security. 

It is also the same when the stranger requests that you meet with another or a different person for some emergency reasons or, perhaps, alibis. Make informed and wise decisions about these changes.

[11] Bring only the necessary. Don’t bring a large sum of money, lots of credit and debit cards, or any other documents not needed in your transaction. But if you must, keep them in your close watch or in your bag stuffed with other things. 

There is a high risk for you to get preoccupied with the transaction, your excitement about the purchased product, and other things. 

It may be impossible to spread your attention to all your valuables. You may forget about the wallet in your back pocket or your pouch while waiting at a café, navigating through a crowded sidewalk, or taking public transportation. 

[12] If you can’t get rid of your suspicion, you better not proceed with the transaction. There may be other ways or alternatives for you to avail of the product or service other than online or meetup transactions with strangers who are, from all angles, suspicious. 

You may instead have it from more trustworthy and reputable platforms and shops. You don’t have to put yourself in a difficult situation and face mental stress when there are other ways. Better not proceed with it. 

When you find a good deal online, especially on social media, and you need to transact with a stranger, you start with your initial inquiries about it right away, but you may also let a few days pass first before you get into the actual transaction. 

With this, you’ll have enough time to weigh in on the advantages, risks, and whether you really need or still want it.

Read also:

How to Protect Yourself from Online Shopping Scams in the Philippines. This article provides 20 ways and measures to protect ourselves from falling victim to online shopping scams and fraud that are common in the Philippines today.

6 Common Credit Card Scams in the Philippines [Facebook Stories]. This article lists and describes six of the most common credit card scams in the Philippines today based on stories and experiences shared by victims on social media.

How to Report Scams in the Philippines. This article emphasizes the need and importance of reporting scams and fraud to the authorities and further provides hotlines and contact details of various government agencies such as the NBI, PNP, Insurance Commission, and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), among others.

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