When selling and buying items online, we know to heed the warnings: protect personal information, use reputable websites, be wary of scams. But in an age when the cyber marketplace is just as popular with crooks as it is with consumers, even the most cautious online sellers and buyers are vulnerable to fraud.
When Doug, a member of the Credit Union since 1976, received an e-mail from an interested out-of-state buyer about a guitar that he had posted on a top classified-advertising website, he had little reason to be suspicious. “He asked questions about the guitar and we negotiated back and forth,” Doug says. “It all seemed very legitimate.”
It wasn’t until the cashier’s check arrived in the mail for $2,000 more than the negotiated price that the red flags began to pop up. “I thought, ‘this guy must be nuts, this guitar isn’t going to cost that much to ship!'” Doug recalls.
Doug questioned the buyer, who explained convincingly that he owed money for a different transaction to the person who was going to pick up and ship the guitar. At the buyer’s request, Doug agreed to deposit the cashier’s check and wire the excess funds to the shipper. A few days passed, but no one came for the guitar. Then Doug received an additional check in the mail from the buyer, followed by another request to wire more funds to the “shipper.”
“That’s when I really started to get nervous that something was wrong,” he says.
Doug called the FBI to report his suspicions. But by the time Doug learned the cashier’s check was fake, and that he had actually wired $1,700 of his own money to the so-called shipper, it was too late. Doug had fallen victim to the check-overpayment scam, one of the most common forms of Internet fraud around the world. “They ripped me off. The money was gone, and there was nothing I could do about it,” he says.
It was a hard-learned lesson, but Doug hopes his story will serve as a reminder to others about the importance of keeping their guard up online. “Don’t be gullible. Question anything that you get and do over the Internet,” he advises. “It’s our human nature to want to trust people. But in this day and age, and in this world we live in, you just can’t be too careful.”
To learn how you can avoid the check-overpayment scheme and other fake-check scams, visit the Federal Trade Commission consumer website.
Steps to Protect Yourself
Follow these tips* to avoid a check-overpayment scam:
- Never accept a check for more than your selling price
- Resist pressure to “act now”
- Don’t wire funds to a buyer or to a buyer’s third party
- Ask for cash payment or consider using an online payment service (e.g. Paypal)
- If you accept payment by check, ask for a check drawn on a local bank branch so you can visit the bank in person to determine if the check is legitimate
*Federal Trade Commission: www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0159-fake-checks