If you use Craigslist to sell products or services, it's important to be aware of the scams you may encounter along the way. One of the most common is the Craigslist overpayment scam, which usually involves a cashier's check or money order sent from the buyer for an amount that exceeds the cost of the item being sold. With this scam, these cashier's checks and money orders won't clear, leaving the seller responsible for the amount with the bank.
Understanding the Overpayment Scam
Most overpayment scams are completed through the mail. Buyers send the seller a cashier's check or money order to "hold" the item until they can arrange for pickup. Once the check has been sent, the buyer then "realizes" that she overpaid and asks that you cash the check at your bank, keep the amount due and send the remaining balance back in cash using Western Union or a similar payment service. The check will then bounce, leaving you responsible for paying back the bank for any funds withdrawn from the account. The buyer keeps the overpayment you've sent back to her.
Spotting Common Warning Signs
Once you're aware of the tactics these scammers use, they can be fairly easy to spot. Most conversations will start via email and include poor English, spelling and grammar, and include the use of a third-party, such as an assistant or shipping agent. These buyers will be willing to pay for an item without first seeing it, and often claim to be unavailable to pick up the item for an extended period of time. After you agree to a price, the scammer attempts to send a money order or cashier's check through the mail. Don't proceed any further with the transaction.
Taking Steps to Protect Yourself
The best way to avoid an overpayment scam is to conduct business face-to-face. Although not all transactions completed through the mail are scams, it does increase the possibility that something will go wrong. Don't accept cashier's checks, money orders or personal checks. Stick to cash transactions whenever possible, and never accept an amount over the price. Never send money using wire services to someone you don't know. If you're asked to cash a check and then send a refund using a money payment service, report the individual to Craigslist and walk away from the transaction.
Reporting the Scam
If you've been approached with a possible scam, or have been scammed during a transaction, report it to the Internet Fraud Complaint Center and the Federal Trade Commission. You should also contact Craigslist immediately with the details. If you've found the scam in a post, ensure you include the link so it can be taken down. If you cash a suspected fake check with your bank, report it as a soon possible; you could be held responsible for the amount.