Selling stuff online can be a great way to make some extra cash. Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, and other sites attract a lot of buyers — and scammers. Here are some ways scammers try to cheat you and what to do about it.
Fake payments and bogus refund requests
A scammer posing as a buyer says they want to buy the thing you have for sale. When it comes time to pay, they insist on paying through a mobile payment app. They send you a fake payment notification and hope you send the item before you realize it’s a scam.
Or they say there was an issue with the payment they sent. For example, they might say they accidentally paid you twice and ask you to refund one of the payments.
Fake check overpayment
The scammer offers to give you a check for more than the selling price. They tell you to deposit the check and send the difference back to them.
The check is fake, but if you deposit it, it’ll appear in your account balance. That’s because banks must make your money available quickly, usually within two days.
When a bank says the check cleared, that doesn’t mean it was a good check. It can take weeks for the bank to figure out the check was fake. By that time, the scammer has the item you sold and the money you sent back. And the bank takes the money from the fake check out of your account.
Fake verification codes
A scammer posing as a buyer says they’ve heard about fake online listings and wants to verify that you’re a real person. They send you a text message with a Google Voice verification code and ask you for that code. If you give it to them, they’ll use it to create a Google Voice number linked to your phone number. Then the scammer could use the Google Voice number to rip off other people. If someone tracks the Google Voice number, it’ll be linked to your real phone number. That’s how the scammers conceal their identity.
Advice for selling things online
Many sites recommend selling your stuff to a local buyer you can meet in person and only accepting cash payments. If you’re not selling locally, see what seller protections the site offers.
To avoid a scam:
- Don’t accept a mobile payment from someone you don’t know.
- Never deposit a check for more than the selling price.
- Don’t share your Google Voice verification code — or any verification code — with someone you don’t know.
Report a Scam
If someone tries to cheat you, report it to the Federal Trade Commission at ReportFraud.ftc.gov.
By Alvaro Puig of the Federal Trade Commission