How it works:
This scam can be triggered by a variety of online activities such as posting an ad on craigslist or listing/bidding on eBay. In other instances, victims are seemingly targeted at random and are contacted via email or receive an unsolicited check in the mail.
In the eBay/craigslist check frauds, the scammer pretends to be interested in whatever is being sold online and may even offer to pay more than the asking price. Here’s the catch. The scammer will send a cashier’s check or money order that LOOKS real. Even when the recipient takes it to a bank, they bank may report that it is a legitimate financial instrument. It is not. The check is fake!
Let’s pretend that the scammer sends someone a check for $3000 when they were due $800. The scammer may tell the recipient that they accidentally sent the wrong amount, or have overpaid to cover international shipping fees or taxes. The scammer who has overpaid by $2,200 will then ask the victim to wire $2000 back to them, often letting the victim “keep” a little extra money ($200) for their trouble. This offer feeds on the victim’s desperation or greed and many people fall for it. From the victim’s perspective, wiring $2,000 is not a big deal because the bank just deposited $3,000 into their account. Unfortunately, it may take the bank a month or more to learn that the check is bad. Not only does the victim loose the $1,000 they were expecting to earn, they have lost $2,000 to a scammer. Sadly, banks will not reimburse victims for this type of fraud; the victim is held responsible for the entire amount of the fraudulent check
In another variation of the eBay/craigslist scam, victims are lured in by a low “buy it now” price or offered a “deal” by the seller before the auction is complete. The prospective buyer is instructed to wire funds in order to receive the merchandise. Victims that fall for this scam will not only lose their money, but they will never receive the desired item.
What to do:
Do be wary of international/out-of-state purchasers that seem highly interested in buying your grandmother’s ten year old couch.
Do not accept payment for more than your selling price.
Do not accept payment by check unless it is from a local bank or a bank with a local branch. You can visit that bank branch to determine if the check is legitimate
Do consider using an escrow service or online payment service (e.g. PayPal) when selling items online.
Do not wire money to a buyer and never give electronic access to your checking account.