Skip to Content
© Fizkes | Dreamstime.com
Security & privacy

Overpayment scams are back – Be careful who you sell your old stuff to

Scams come in many shapes and sizes, and they don’t always need tech to be effective. An emerging scam targeting online sellers doesn’t use any hacks or phishing sites to take money from victims — just good old fashioned social engineering.

If one of these scammers contacts you, they’ll offer to buy an item you’re selling online for a fair price. When they send you a payment, the numbers won’t add up. Sound fishy, yet? Tap or click here to see how scammers are using PayPal invoices to trick victims.

Then the scammer will ask you to send the money they overpaid back to them. If you do it, the scammer could drain hundreds of dollars from your bank account in a flash. Here’s how you can spot the scam before it’s too late.

Overpayment scam is a new twist on a classic grift

Carol Tucker of Sun City, Arizona, decided it was finally time to part ways with her beloved leather chair. After putting it up for sale, she received a message from an out-of-state buyer willing to pay by check. Everything seemed normal enough, but things got strange once the mail arrived.

As soon as Carol opened the envelope, she couldn’t believe what she saw: A check for $3,000.23! The buyer, Carol said, had agreed to pay $275 for the chair. After contacting them, the buyer asked Carol to send the balance to a “shipper” by bank transfer.

That’s when Carol realized something was wrong. Speaking to 3 On Your Side, Carol said she suspected the buyer was a scammer. As it turns out, she was right on the money. The check was no good, and she would have lost thousands of dollars if she had sent the balance.

This old scam can be hard to spot

The FTC has documented the check overpayment scam since at least 2004, but it appears to have made a comeback in recent weeks.

Victims selling items online will get a message from an interested buyer (a scammer). They will offer to pay by check, and the amount that they mail will be much higher than the value of the item.

When asked about the payment, the scammer will say they overpaid by mistake and the seller needs to send the balance back by bank transfer. After a few days pass, the check bounces and the victim is left on the hook for hundreds or thousands of dollars.

The scam works because of the time it takes for banks to process a check. Larger checks can take several days to clear, and if a payment is sent in that time, the victim could end up with a huge chunk of their savings missing.

The scam is low tech, which can make it tricky to spot. Fortunately, the FTC has a few suggestions to help you identify fraudulent buyers before it’s too late.

  • Know who you are dealing with. Confirm the buyer’s contact and shipping information upfront before accepting a payment.
  • Never accept a higher payment than what you agreed on. Avoid accepting payments by check if possible.
  • Never agree to wire back funds to a buyer. Legitimate buyers will never ask for this.
  • Beware high-pressure language. Scammers will attempt to pressure you into following along with their plan. Treat any sense of urgency from a buyer as a red flag. You’re the seller, which means you’re in control.
  • If you accept payment by check, ask for a check drawn from a local bank or a bank with a local branch. You can verify with the bank that the check is real.
  • Consider an alternative method of payment. Online payment services like PayPal are popular for offering protection to buyers and sellers. If there is a problem with your transaction, you can file a dispute and let PayPal act as the middleman. Tap or click here to see the safest ways to pay, shop and send money online.

Online sellers need to stay vigilant as 2020 comes to a close. With the holiday season in full swing, scammers will be all over the place. Don’t let them catch you unprepared.

Tap or click here to see the top shopping scam texts you need to watch out for.

Refer friends, earn rewards!

Why not share your source of digital lifestyle news, tips and advice with others? When your friends and family subscribe to Kim's free newsletters, you earn points toward awesome rewards!

Get rewarded