The Better Business Bureau has issued an alert about a grift impacting consumers who sell their stuff online. If you get an offer that’s a lot more than what you’re selling your item for, think twice about the transaction—it’s likely an overpayment scam.
How overpayment scams work
Overpayment scams are a persistent problem that plagues online selling. Typically, they prey upon listings on reseller sites like Facebook marketplace and Craigslist, as well as eBay, Etsy, Amazon Handmade, and others.
Here’s how it works: after you post a listing for an item online, a normal-seeming “prospective buyer” will contact you and agree to purchase your item. The catch is that they’ll send you more money than you ask for—either via a check or through a digital wallet—and explain it away by noting some sort of made-up restriction on their account, or chalk it up to a simple error.
The scam takes a turn once you’ve been overpaid, as the buyer will invariably ask for some of their money back. They will likely be really nice about it, too, as if it were a simple mistake best handled informally between the buyer and seller. After you return the money, however, the initial payment will turn out to be false, as the check or transfer will be denied. At this stage, you will have lost the difference between the phony payment and the cost of your item, as well as the item itself.
How to avoid the scam
Part of what makes this scam so effective is that it lowers your guard—why would a scammer send you more money than you need? So, as a rule of thumb, don’t let people overpay you for items on online marketplaces.
The BBB also offers these tips:
- Don’t ship an item before you receive a payment. Make sure any payments you receive are legitimate before you ship your item to the seller. If you ship before they pay, you will have no way to get your item back.
- Don’t believe offers that are too good to be true. Unless you a selling a rare or highly desirable item that several people are bidding on, you should not expect anyone to offer to pay more than what you are asking. If someone tries to overpay you, consider it a red flag.
- Look out for counterfeit emails. Scammers are skilled at imitating emails from popular payment services, such as Venmo or PayPal. Examine all emails carefully. If an email comes from a domain that isn’t official or contains obvious typos and grammatical errors, it’s probably a scam.
- Report scams to the online marketplace. Be sure to report suspicious activity including dishonest buyers or sellers.
The BBB recommends reporting these scams as you encounter them on their scam tracker, found here. Even if you didn’t fall for the scam, your report can help protect others from getting conned.