It's a classic online scam: A buyer who lives far away sends a check for more than the asking price, usually followed by a request for some of the money back.
When unsuspecting sellers play along, they almost always end up getting burned when it's discovered that the check is fake and the money is long gone.
Craigslist has become especially fertile ground for scammers employing this method. In one recent case, a Colorado woman selling her car Craigslist was contacted by an out-of-town buyer who sent her a check for more than the asking price, purportedly to "hold the car." The woman figured out she was getting scammed when she tried to cash the check and found out it was fake, Colorado Springs' KKTV reports.
A Fake-Check Checklist
According to the Federal Trade Commission, the woman in this case was lucky. Often it's not until several days or weeks after the check is deposited that a victim discovers the check is no good. By then, any money the victim has "refunded" or any items that have been shipped or sold to the scammer are long gone.
What can you do to prevent being victimized by these check scams? Here are a few tips:
- Never accept checks for more than the asking price. This should be a red flag. Scammers are great at crafting legitimate-sounding stories, but you should be firm in only accepting checks for the proper amount.
- If you're going to accept checks, ask for a check from a local bank. Dealing with a local bank will allow you to visit the branch in person to find out if the check is real.
- Never wire bank funds, for any reason. If a buyer asks you to wire back any portion of the sale price, you are almost certainly being scammed. Stop the transaction immediately.
What to Do If You've Been Scammed?
If you believe you've been or are being scammed, you should immediately contact your state's attorney general's office. You can also file a complaint with the FTC using the agency's online complaint assistant.
- Craigslist Scam Alert: 5 Signs a Con Artist Is Replying to Your Ad (FindLaw's Common Law)
- Is It Illegal to Bounce a Check? (FindLaw's Blotter)
- Car Buyers Beware the Yo-Yo Car Sale Scam (FindLaw's Common Law)
- 5 Tips to Protect Yourself When Using Craigslist (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life)