Beware of Overpayment Buyers

The Better Business Bureau has issued a Grift warning to consumers who sell their stuff online. If you receive an offer that far exceeds what you are selling your item for, think twice about the transaction – it is most likely an overpayment scam.

How overpayment scams work

Overpayment scams are an ongoing problem in online sales. Typically, they hunt for 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 place an advertisement for a product on the Internet, a regular “potential buyer” will contact you and agree to purchase your product. The catch is that they will send you more money than you ask for – either via check or e-wallet – and will explain this by noting some contrived limitation on their account, or blaming it as a simple mistake.

Once you are overpaid, the scam changes as the buyer invariably asks for some of their money back. They will most likely be very nice too, as if it were a simple mistake that is best corrected informally between buyer and seller. However, once the money is refunded, the initial payment will be bogus because the check or transfer will be refused. At this stage, you will lose the difference between the fake payment and the value of your item, as well as the item itself.

How to avoid a scam

Part of the effectiveness of this scam is that it lowers your vigilance – why would a scammer send you more money than you need? So, as a general rule of thumb, don’t let people overpay for you in online marketplaces. The BBB also offers the following tips:

  • Do not ship until payment has been received. Please make sure all payments you receive are legal before sending the item to the seller. If you ship before payment has been made, you will not be able to return your item.
  • Don’t trust sentences that are too good to be true. Unless you’re selling a rare or highly coveted item that multiple people are bidding on, you shouldn’t expect someone to offer to pay more than you are asking for. If someone is trying to overpay you, consider it a red flag.
  • Watch out for fake emails. Scammers are able to imitate emails from popular payment services such as Venmo or PayPal. Study all emails carefully. If the email comes from an unofficial domain or contains obvious typos and grammatical errors, it is likely a scam.
  • Report fraud to the online marketplace. Be sure to report suspicious activity, including unscrupulous buyers or sellers.

The BBB recommends reporting these scams when you encounter them on their scam counter, which can be found here . Even if you don’t get scammed, your message can help protect others from being scammed.

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