I was trying to sell an old laptop on Craigslist and got so confused trying to differentiate between legitimate and scam offers. For example, one guy from France offered to send me a money order and let me cash it before I sent out the computer, and was willing to pay more than I was asking. Another said he was happy to pay via Paypal if I just sent him my Paypal account ID. Were either of those legit? If not, how do the scams work?
This time of year is a great time for me to address this issue, actually, because there are a lot of people who decide to “regift” unwanted things through various online sales and auction sites and, well, there are a lot of scammers out there.
You were right to be skeptical. Both of the offers you got were fake.
The first and classic sign of a scam is that they don’t ask the kind of questions you would expect a buyer would want to know. In your case, a legit buyer might ask for additional photos or what software you’d be including, and just about all of them would want to use an escrow service (like escrow.com) to ensure that you aren’t going to rip them off by receiving the money and never shipping anything.
With the money order scam, a typical interaction has you going back and forth with the potential buyer and them saying “since I’m causing you hassle, I’m happy to pay you more than your asking price”, or perhaps offering extra for shipping overseas or similar. Why would they do that? To make you greedy and stop thinking clearly. I mean, really, what buyer who would be shopping on Craigslist offer *more* than your asking price?
Anyway, you agree on a price, they mail you a money order, you cash it at your bank and all appears to be well. But it’s not. The money order was counterfeit and the bank won’t learn that until 5-8 days later when the money order itself is rejected by the remote bank and your bank comes back – rather surprisingly – and tells you that it’s pulling the money back out of your account. If you’ve already shipping the goods, you’re completely out of luck.
The more sophisticated and easier version of this transaction involves Paypal, a convenient online payment service owned by eBay. Again, the buyer is happy to pay more than you’re asking or is happy to buy your used product without asking for any questions or suggesting an escrow service. You send along your Paypal account ID or even issue a payment request from within Paypal and a day or two later you get a payment notification from Paypal in your inbox.
All is well, right? Time to ship your product and consider it a transaction well completed.
But it’s not. The email from Paypal is a fake and no deposit of funds has taken place.
You can guess the outcome. You ship the product based on the email notification, you then log in to your Paypal account a few days later and are shocked to find that the deposit isn’t showing up! You contact Paypal and they tell you the bad news.
My friend Doyle Albee (of Boulder-based Metzger Associates) had a similar experience when he tried to sell his iPod on Craigslist: the potential buyer never asked a single question about the actual product and offered to pay via Paypal. When the buyer said he wanted to send the iPod to his wife in Africa, Doyle said he’d want an additional $200 for shipping and packing to Africa. The seller, incredibly, agreed and suggested Doyle issue a payment request from within the Paypal system.
Luckily for him, Doyle’s hip to these sort of scams and not only didn’t fall for it, but wrote about it on his blog, hoping to help others avoid the same ripoff.
In the end, selling your stuff online has the same rules of everything else: if it seems too good to e true, it is. Don’t be greedy, be smart.
Let this be your year to not fall for a single scam or con.