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How to choose an escrow company

Think ostrich farms are a good way of making money? Or selling London bridge? How about walking into a bank and holding it up? None of them compare to how much you can make by starting an escrow company and doing a disappearing act. (Except, of course, for becoming Chancellor of the Exchequer). 

Like with any firm, an escrow company can go bust. Causes could be poor trading conditions and lack of profitability or it could be because Dell Boy was CEO. Whatever the reason, you don't want to be caught short.

Further, there are escrow companies around that are out and out fakes. They've been setup with the sole intention of making a quick buck. The owner frequents places like eBay, sells expensive goods and requires the buyers to pay into his "preferred" escrow website. Then he disappears and the site goes offline.

The US government used to have a handy guide to choosing an escrow company. They say:

1. Read the terms and conditions carefully including areas covering what happens if one party doesn't keep their end of the deal, what happens if either party wants to pull out of the transaction and who pays the escrow fees should the transaction not proceed to a satisfactory conclusion.

2. Be aware of their security and privacy policies. You don't want to be disclosing personal and financial details to a spoofed site or a pretend escrow company (Just because a professional looking site exists doesn't mean there's a rock solid company behind it. Sites can be easily throw together, any idiot can do one. See.)

3. Do some research on the company. Call their customer support line and see if it's answered or if it's as imaginary as their honesty. Use our favourite search engine - or even MSN -  with the escrow agency's name combined with terms like "suck/s", "bad service", "avoid", and "feedback".

4. If you're based in the US check with the Better Business Bureau, state attorney general or consumer protection agency where you live and where the online payment or escrow service is based. If you're based elsewhere you may have other organisations who may be able to help, like Trading Standards in the UK. Even if you're not US based you can do some background checks on the company at the above locations if they are US based.

5. Tread carefully with companies registered in California.

Our recommendation:

I have generally gone with a company I have used for many years in the past. They've  always provided a good service. They are also the largest and best known of escrow companies and the URL makes it easy to remember them: For a handy calculator to see how much your escrow transaction will cost click here. (Note: For practical purposes all escrow transactions are conducted in US dollars). But do note that they are licenced in California and I've warned against that here.

There are good alternatives to and many are cheaper and better suited to non-US transactions.