If you sell items online, watch out for this con. Scammers are fooling sellers with fake emails that appear to be payment confirmation messages from PayPal.
How the Scam Works
You post a big-ticket item (vehicle, computer, furniture) for sale on Craigslist, eBay or another online sales site.An interested buyer contacts you and says that he or she wants to buy the item right away and arranges to meet for the exchange.
When you arrive, however, the buyer doesn’t have cash. Instead, they claim to have sent the money through PayPal. You check your email and, sure enough, you have what appears to be a message from PayPal confirming the transfer. The scammer may even claim that the transfer is “invisible,” and that’s why you can’t see it in your PayPal account.
Of course, there is no such thing as an “invisible” transfer. The scammer didn’t send any money, and is just trying to take your item without paying. Some versions of this scam also have an overpayment twist. In these, the scammer “accidentally” overpays you for the item. For example, he or she “sends” you $2,000 payment for the item you are selling for $200. Then, he or she requests that you wire back the difference. By the time you figure out the PayPal transfer was a fake, the scammer is long gone.
Tips to avoid online sales scams:
- Don’t accept checks or money orders: When selling to someone you don’t know, it is safer to accept cash or credit card payments.
- Do not accept overpayments: When selling on Craigslist, eBay or similar sites, don’t take payments for more than the sales price, no matter what convincing story the buyer tells you.
- Always confirm the buyer has paid before handing over the item. Don’t take the buyer’s word for it.
- Be wary of individuals claiming to be overseas. In many different types of scams, con artists claim to be living abroad to avoid in person contact. Consider this a red flag.
- Meet sellers/potential buyers in person and in a safe place: Meet in a public area and never invite buyers/sellers into your home. Ask your local police department if they have a “safe lot” program. Even if they don’t, suggesting the parking lot or lobby of a police station as a meeting place might be enough to scare off a scammer.
For More Information
Read more about selling on eBay, including what to do when sellers don’t pay. Also, check out Craigslist’s resources about avoiding scams when selling on the site.
To find out more about other scams, check out BBB Scam Stopper (bbb.org/scam). To report a scam, go to BBB Scam Tracker (bbb.org/scamtracker).