Dealer theft schemes differ from luxury watch misrepresentation in that thieves strive only to steal money, and actual goods may not play any role. In certain cases, a watch collector may detect misrepresentation in photos or descriptions as the first clue that something is amiss; watch buyers on alert for one hazard should be prepared to encounter the other. Theft attempts can be thwarted by diligent attention to payment requests and by conducting a background check of the watch sellers in question.

Payment requests should be regarded with caution. At the expense of stating the obvious, never pay cash for a watch. Even an in-person deal shouldn’t require a watch collector to present himself to a stranger with thousands of dollars on his person. Massive cash handovers are the domain of thieves and drug dealers; many of dubious enterprise will dabble in both. Stick to checks, escrow accounts, credit cards, and bank wires.

Bank wire payments for luxury watches present both the best-price purchase option for many deals and a chance to fact-check one’s counterparty. Always ensure that the given bank, address, and owner name for the seller’s account corresponds to the seller’s physical proximity, nation, and identity. If a watch seller of a given name – purportedly in Canada – specifies a bank in the Balkans with a different account name, think twice and ask hard questions.

When purchasing a watch through eBay, be certain to actually purchase the watch through eBay. Any attempt by a seller to advertise a watch on eBay while requesting a transaction off of eBay should raise a massive red flag. These transactions are not subject to eBay or PayPal’s buyer protections or seller after-sale satisfaction requirements. Many instances of fraud have resulted from watch collectors agreeing to take a transaction from eBay to a private party deal.

Seller history can help a watch collector to distinguish between thieves and real trading counterparties.

The best statistical summary of watch seller histories can be found on eBay. eBay remains the largest and most regimented outlet for buying watches online and doing so in a secure fashion. eBay seller protections are robust, and the feedback system is a reliable grading scale for evaluating seller longevity and quality. Sellers with years of eBay experience and thousands of feedback ratings generally have worked for years to create reputations and have incentive to preserve them.

Look for high eBay feedback ratings, and ensure that a watch dealer’s rating is the cumulative product of its experience as an eBay seller rather than an eBay buyer. Once a seller accumulates years of feedback reputation and transaction history, a true financial theft scam is almost inconceivable.

Outside of eBay, it is important to look for other signs of a seller’s history, permanence, and investment in its reputation. A substantial commercial website that operates in parallel or in lieu of eBay is a good start. Evidence of past customer testimonials – with names and contact information – should be obtained prior to buying a watch. Real customer references should be available from the watch seller to vouch for his ethics, product standards, and history. Regard anonymous “testimonials” with extreme suspicion, and avoid any seller that refuses to provide multiple independent references.

Finally, in-person deals should be conducted only in secure public locations with no cash changing hand. The best option is to meet at the watch buyer’s bank of choice. At that point, a wire transfer can take place with critical input from a bank professional regarding any potential hazards. Moreover, the presence of cameras, security personnel, and availability of documentation helps to cement the buyer’s protection from outright theft. The watch to be purchased should be available for evaluation, and a payment can be made effective upon the buyer’s approval.

Ultimately, watch collectors can secure their investments by maintaining a skeptical attitude and a “show-me” policy towards seller credentials. Avoiding blind wire transfers, dubious in-person proposals, cash deals, and risks with unproven sellers are the keys to unlocking peace of mind.

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