The new year might mean that, for some, it’s time to declutter. When selling used items, the quickest and most efficient way could be an online forum like Craiglist or Facebook Marketplace. But, instead of buyer beware, sellers should be on the lookout for scammers attempting to buy and overpay for used items online.

Earlier this month, a northern Indiana man reported to BBB that he was trying to sell an entertainment system on Craigslist when an interested buyer offered him more than his asking price. The buyer said the overpayment was to hold the item for one week until the delivery truck arrived to pick it up. The seller received a legitimate check for $1,800, which was almost $1,000 more than his listed price.

The seller was surprised by the amount of the overpayment, so he called the number on the check to confirm. The phone number led to Patterson Schwartz Real Estate, located in Delaware. Company officials informed him that the check was fraudulent. The company informed him that even though the account number and routing number on the check were real, they did not issue this check.

Even though receiving more than your asking price may seem like a win, the buyer will usually ask for their extra money back, or for you to make payment to a third party for things like transporting or holding the item. Once you’ve handed over the extra money — and the item you’re selling — you will likely find that the initial payment is fake because the check will bounce, or the buyer’s online payment will be denied. This leaves you, the seller, on the hook to pay back the entire amount.

BBB offers some tips to sellers to help them protect against these scams:

  • Don’t believe offers that are too good to be true. Unless you are 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.
  • More is not always better. Never accept a check, money order or online payment for more than the original price of the item. Issue a refund and ask for the exact amount to be paid.
  • Never ship an item before payment clears. 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.
  • 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 to the online marketplace where you listed the item for sale.

If you spot a scam, whether you’ve lost money or not, report it to BBB’s Scam Tracker at BBB.org/ScamTracker and the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov. Your story can help other consumers avoid similar scams.

Marjorie Stephens is the executive director of the Northeaster Indiana Better Business Bureau.

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