The downside of the internet is never more prevalent than when you attempt to sell a personal item online. Whether it’s via eBay or Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace, scammers are on the constant hunt for fresh victims, especially first-timers who venture into the world of selling goods and services.
For the most part, scams and scammers are easy to spot, but some are a bit more sophisticated than others. I experienced this firsthand in my attempts to sell a camera. Here are a couple of examples of scammers in the wild, followed by a few tips and tricks for avoiding frauds.
Larry wants to pay me more than asking to cover shipping.
One of the most common attempts by crooks is the ol’ “I’ll pay you above and beyond your asking price if you’ll ship it to my niece in New Jersey” scam.
The above Craigslist example has multiple red flags. The buyer’s poor use of grammar, in particular, is something that really stands out. Not unlike standard phishing emails, his use of punctuation is also quite awful, and some words are randomly capitalized. Larry even had the decency to email me PayPal’s website address so I could set up an account. Thanks, Larry!
And then there’s the request to ship the item to a different state, even though, like most Craigslist ads, I specifically stated that I would only accept cash payments in person. This scam was obvious and easy to ignore.
John buys my camera and then changes his shipping address.
A few days after listing on eBay, I received the ever rewarding “your item has sold!” email, followed up by a PayPal notification informing me that John sent a payment. I logged into my account and sure enough, money! But then I received this message:
Hmmm. Let’s do the math. First, John buys my camera outright using the “buy it now” option, even though there were no current bids. He then sends me a poorly worded message asking to ship to a completely different address than what’s associated with his eBay account. But I did receive actual money for the item. What should I do next? Google the address, perhaps?
Turns out, 600 Markley St. is a warehouse that fraudsters use as a front to collect illegally purchased items. Here’s how it works:
John never purchased my camera, but it’s likely he clicked on a phishing link of some sort, which allowed the scammer to gain access to his accounts. The scammer then makes the payment, which processes immediately, and asks the seller to ship to this warehouse. The seller, having received the funds, agrees to ship the item to New Jersey. John at some point will log into his account and notice several hundred dollars missing and file a complaint. Funds will eventually be reversed, and the seller will be out of business.
Had I not been paying attention, or if I was desperate to sell, my camera would be in New Jersey right now. In fact, over 75% of responses to my listing were from scammers. Most of them were obvious like Larry, but some, like John above, surprised me.
Without a doubt, it was a frustrating experience that would have ended in even more frustration had I been duped. Thankfully, I saw all the red flags and avoided them accordingly. You, too, can avoid these fraudsters when selling items online by following these seven steps:
7 Ways to Avoid Getting Scammed
Keep all communication on the host site whenever possible.
Some scammers will attempt to deal with you directly through email or text to avoid the security layers of websites like eBay. If you sell to the scammer directly, you have no recourse for action. By staying onsite, you have the ability to file official complaints and potentially get your money back if you make a mistake.
Research the buyer before shipping and take screenshots of all conversations. Photograph every angle of your item, especially the packaging if you have to ship your item. Try to think of every possible situation where you might need to show proof that the item is as advertised, and the sale is legitimate.
Don’t ship your item until funds have cleared.
This one should be obvious, but some scammers will push a sense of urgency and even offer more money if you ship ASAP. As a general rule, never send the buyer your item until payment has cleared.
Watch out for fraudulent emails claiming payment has been sent.
Email spoofing is a classic social engineering trick. Here’s one user’s testimony of falling for fake PayPal emails that claimed funds had been sent. Always log directly into your accounts and verify that they have been credited before you ship.
When selling on Craigslist only accept cash.
This is the same concept as not shipping before the funds clear. Remember that once you give a stranger your item, you have no way of getting it back. It’s best to demand cash in person. Be sure to count twice, and even though counterfeit money is unlikely, here are eight ways to detect fake bills: https://fitsmallbusiness.com/how-to-detect-counterfeit-money/
If selling locally, pick a safe place to meet.
Physical safety is even more important than avoiding scammers. When selling to a stranger in public, be sure to pick a well-lit, popular location at which to meet the prospective buyer. Even better, find a place that has security cameras such as a bank parking lot. If possible, bring a friend or have them meet you there.
Think before you click.
Remember how nice it was for Larry to send me a link to PayPal? A quick hover with my mouse revealed a rather suspicious string of characters. Scammers see public listings as an opportunity to fire off phishing emails. As usual, handle every email with a heavy dose of skepticism. Ask yourself these questions so you don’t get phished.