I’m selling a lightly used home theater system on Craigslist and after a week of no activity and no interest I sudden got an email from someone who says they’ll pay full price plus a few dollars if I’ll accept a money order. Now obviously that’s suspicious, but I dunno, maybe it’s legit. Should I accept a money order as payment for stuff I am selling on Craigslist?
No you should not.
Let me explain the why’s and wherefore’s, though, so you understand why this is a tricky way to separate you from your stereo system or other expensive electronics.
I’ll start by saying that I have also experienced this sort of thing, and the email I got from the buyer looked like this:
Subject: Re: Philips HTS8100 compact home theater system (North Boulder, Colorado)
I am willing to pay your asking price.I will pay by money order as its the only way i can pay you at the moment.I will make arrangement for the pick-up after payment have been received by you. I dont mind adding an extra twenty dollars so you can keep it in my favor.Please take the posting off craigslist today and consider it sold to me.
Now, in addition to the whole payment thing and the strange not minding paying an extra $20 for no reason (what legitimate buyer offers to pay more than the asking price?) I also noticed that her email address indicated she was “Suzan”, but she signed it “Susan”. Quite unlikely to be her (or his) real name.
More importantly, the words money order have become a flashing red warning sign in the world of ecommerce and auctions, and, heck, the very top of the email from the potential seller said:
To test out whether it was a scam or not, I responded with: “I’m afraid that’s not going to work for me. I only accept cash, as I indicated in the advert.” and, of course, never heard back.
But I was curious: how does this Craigslist (or, presumably, eBay or any other transaction) scam work? So I dug around a bit and here’s what I found from the US Postal Service, in a document ominously titled Top Six Counterfeit Check or Money Order Schemes [PDF]:
“You place goods for sale online. The perpetrator poses as a buyer, sends you a check or money order for more than the purchase price, and asks you to wire the excess money to a third party (often someone in a foreign country who allegedly handles shipping logistics). This scheme may be used for large items sales, such as automobiles, motorcycles, or boats.”
Gosh, that sure sounds like what the buyer had suggested!
The Postal Inspectors document goes on to explain what happens in these cases:
“You deposit the check into your account and wire the money to the contact (the employer, shipper, cyber-soulmate, businessman, etc.) when the funds are posted to your bank account. Few consumers realize that, while banks are required to post checks within a matter of days, it generally takes weeks for a check to clear. Weeks later the bank notifies you that the check was counterfeit or stolen, and you are responsible for the full value of the deposited check.”
Phew! The short answer is what I gave at the beginning: Just say no!
Good luck and be careful out there, whether you’re on eBay, Craigslist or just selling something through your local newspaper.