Fraud Prevention: Online Classifieds Buying and Selling Tips

Are you selling something on Craigslist or through another online classified advertisement website?

If so, stay frosty.

Craigslist offers a variety of excellent tips about how to avoid fraud when buying or selling through the site.

Here’s a growing trend: You and the buyer agree to a price for the item. The buyer then sends you a cashier’s or official check for an amount above the agreed price. Next, the buyer asks you to wire the difference between the sale price and the amount declared on the check.

Should you encounter this scenario . . .

. . . you are dealing with fraud.

Almost always, the deal seems too good to be true. This is a new spin on an old scam. The best way to protect yourself from this is to follow the advice of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency: Never accept a check from someone you don’t know; and, throw away any offer that asks you to pay for a prize or gift (e.g., lottery winnings).

But we’ve seen this exact scenario—fraudulent cashier’s or official checks from prospective buyers—no less than FIVE times in the past two weeks. The fraudster you’re dealing with is clever. He or she likely did any of the following to make the check appear legitimate:

(1) The fraudster ordered the cashier’s or official check from a professional check maker. Today anyone can order checks online. Security features embedded in the check will function properly because the check came from a legitimate producer.

(2) The fraudster printed the correct routing number on the bottom of the fraudulent check.

(3) The fraudster has printed the number of a closed account at the bank the check is draw on; or, the fraudster has researched and guessed a few of the numbers for a legitimate account at the bank the check is drawn on.

Because these fraudulent items are printed on authorized stock, the security features work properly. This makes them difficult to spot. While we have a variety of safety measures beyond a check’s security features, knowing the nature of the transaction is one of the best ways for us to catch and stop fraud.

How can you help? Tell us what’s going on.

If you’re in the process of completing a sale through a classified advertising website, tell us about it. If your buyer sends you a cashier’s or official check, bring it by so we can examine it. Whatever you do, don’t wire money to the buyer until you verify the collectability of the cashier’s or official check.

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