How to Spot Popular Scams on LetGo, Craigslist, OfferUp, Ebay and More

Published by Aqqaint on

How to Spot Popular Scams on Letgo, Offerup, Craigslist, Ebay and More.

Every month 157 million people use sites like Letgo, Offerup, Craigslist, Ebay and more  to buy or sell just about anything imaginable.  These peer exchanges are an amazing resource, especially since the the average U.S. home as more than 50 unused items worth $3,000 just lying around.  I mean who couldn’t use a little extra money and it’s also good for the environment.  So why not?

Well, like anything else, where there are people exchanging money there are criminals looking to take advantage.  The anonymity, lack of security, and sometimes the policies themselves make it ripe for scams of all kinds.

Our last post involved tips on how to make money and stay safe using exchange sites, but we wanted to dive a little deeper into the methods these scammers set up to separate you form your hard-earned cash.

This is by no means an exhaustive list.  You’ll see these thieves are creative if nothing else.  

So as a general rule: If it feels off walk away and look for another deal.

Let’s dive in.

The Fake Rental Scam

Finding a great place to rent or a tenant for your unit can take time and be a major headache.  Online exchanges are a cost-effective way for both landlords and renters to find each other and cut out the middleman.  However, if you are going to go it alone you want to be aware of the following scams. 

1. The Perfect Place

The Setup:

You took your dream job in a new city and found the perfect place.  You have a huge list of things to get done and checking this off is a load off.  The place looks amazing, location is great, amenities are top notch, and the price is reasonable.  You contact the “landlord” and he tells you know this place has received a lot of attention.  You’re not surprised, but you really want to lock it in.  The “landlord” says your timing is perfect and he’ll secure it for you.  You will need to send the deposit (first and last month’s rent) and a processing fee.  You are relieved.

The Take:

You wasted no time wiring over the deposit and everything looks good.  The “landlord says he will meet you on your move-in date to do a walk-through and give you the keys.  When you show up though the “landlord” is no where to be found.  You frantically make calls, send emails, and quickly discover that place is not owned by the “landlord” and you have been taken.  

2. The "Friend" Listing

The Setup:

You found a great place and respond to the listing.  At some point in the communication you learn that the person listing the property claims to be a “friend” of the owner.  The owner is unable to list the property themselves because they are (sick/out of the country/on a meditation retreat/any number of excuses).  You never meet the actual owner, but you don’t want to miss out on the place so you send a deposit.

The Take:

As soon as you pay the deposit and fees the “friend” disappears.  You are frustrated but still don’t think you have been scammed.  Until you make further attempts to contact the owner to resolve the problem and discover the “friend” was a con artist.  They used pictures they found on Zillow or and listed someone’s place.

3. The Excited Renter

The Setup:

You decided to rent your place instead of selling.  You figure you can find a tenant to help cover the mortgage payment and keep your investment.  You are contacted by a potential “renter” who contacts you to discuss terms and price.  Everything seems on the up and up after multiple communications.  The “renter” sends you a check to cover the background check and deposit.

The Take:

You receive the check, money order, or cashier’s check and realize that the amount is for more than discussed.  Now the “renter” is calling and telling you they made a mistake.  They ask you to send the excess amount back RIGHT AWAY!  The overpayment has put them in a tight spot.  You’re a nice person so you agree and send them the money from your account while you wait for the check to clear. After a couple days you get a notice that the check has bounced, and the “renter” is gone.

The Fix

Any of these situations can be devastating and cost you time and money.  Especially, if you hauled your stuff halfway across the country and are stuck with no place to go.  Let’s look at some ways to protect yourself.

  • Make sure the landlord actually owns the property.  If it’s an apartment or condo, call the association and confirm the person you are dealing with owns the property.  If it’s a home, do a search on Zillow or look at the government property records to see if the name matches.
  • Get a copy of the landlords or renters ID, and call authorities to make sure it’s legit.
  • Do a search of the landlord’s name or the property address.  You may find they have used the same information in previous scams, and it’s been reported. 
  • If they ask for deposits (first and last month) before conducting a background check you should be wary.  Many don’t ask for a background check which can be a sign as well.
  • Never allow anyone to overpay you.  At a minimum, wait for any checks to clear prior to sending money back no matter how sad the story is.  If they are pressuring you that is a sign of a scam.

The Counterfeit Check Scam

It turns out some of these guys have mad Adobe skills and own printers.  That makes making fake checks a fairly easy task. 

There are a host of scams involving fraudulent checks, money orders, and cashier’s checks.  These often revolve around high dollar items, like cars.  

The Setup:

You are finally selling your 2009 Nissan Altima for $4000.  A buyer contacts you and asks a handful of legitimate questions.  You agree on a final price os $3750.  The buyer shows up with a cashier’s check and you hand them the keys.  They drive off and you head to the bank with a grin.

The Take:

After a few days the check bounces and now you are out the money and your car.  You file a police report, but you probably won’t get your car or money back.  You may also have to pay your bank fees for the bounced check.

The Fix
  • Cash is king!  If you are handing over a high value item to someone make sure they pay you in cash.  This may seem a little antiquated in the days of Venmo and Paypal, but it’s still the safest way to make sure you aren’t ripped off.
  • Use an escrow service, but make sure you choose the service and set it up.  More on that later.

The Overpayment Scam

A popular scam that shows up quite often is the overpayment scam mentioned earlier.  This ALWAYS involves pressure tactics and a mountain of excuses.  It is also a tactic used often by overseas perpetrators.  

1. I Need a Refund Now

The Setup:

The buyer will send you a check for your item (or deposit mentioned above) that will exceed the amount discussed.  As soon as you get the check the buyer will contact you and let you know they made a mistake, and a big one.  They are now in a financial bind and can’t wait the three to five days for the check to clear.  They need you to refund the excess funds NOW.

The Take:

After you send the funds back, because you are a good person.  The check bounces and you are left holding the bag.  Now you are out whatever money you wired for the excess funds and you were not paid for the item.

2. The Third-Party Explanation

The Setup:

You just negotiated the sale of your item.  The buyer tells you that they are going to have a third-party (i.e. shipping company) pick up the item on their behalf.  They are going to send you the money for the item and some additional amount that you will need to wire to the third-party on their behalf.  They would do it but they can’t because of some excuse. So you wire the money for them because you want this deal to go through.  

The Take:

Like the scenario above, they send you a check and pressure you to wire the money to the third-party before some fake deadline.  You want the deal to go through so you wire the money, but then the check bounces and they are gone.  Doh.

The Fix

You’re probably starting to see a trend by now.  These guys use high pressure tactics to keep you moving quickly.  Here are some tips to avoid the overpayment scam.

  • Most obvious, don’t accept overpayment for any item.  That doesn’t really happen.  It’s a scam.
  • As soon as someone even mentions a service like Western Union and a third-party you should run for the hills.  There should never be a reason you are paying anyone on a buyer’s behalf.   You don’t work for them.
  • If you do accept an overpayment (just don’t) please make sure you let the check clear before sending any money back.

The Fake Escrow Scam

You are no dummy and you’re not going to just send money to someone.  Especially not a lot of money without using a third-party to hold the cash.  Smart, just make sure it’s your idea and you set up the escrow service yourself, because they have that covered too.

The Setup:

You are hesitant about sending someone thousands of dollars and the other party senses that.  They recommend you use an escrow account, like, to protect both parties.  They will tell you to send the funds via Western Union to the escrow account which will be held until the exchange is complete.  No issues here, right?

The Take:

You wire the funds to the account provided from the Escrow service and receive a confirmation email showing the funds are secure.  It’s likely you don’t notice that this is a spoofed email.  That is, they send a fake email that looks like one from the actual site.  The funds you sent were actually routed to an account they set up and not to the escrow service.  The seller then disappears with your money.

The Fix
  • First, if a deal sounds too good to be true it probably is.  This is a technique used to get people to take risks they normally would avoid.
  • If you can’t meet the seller in person because of some elaborate excuse proceed with caution.
  • Don’t use an escrow site that someone chooses for you.  Be in the driver’s seat when your cash is at stake.  If you mutually agree on a service, make sure you can verify the account with the service before you wire funds.
  • If they pressure you to get this done quick you may be getting scammed.

The Shipping Scams Abound

Shipping your stuff might seem like a safe and convenient alternative to meeting strangers in person.  Apps like Offerup are even making shipping a major portion of their business.  That convenience comes at some risk.  The truth is that shipping makes it incredibly easy for unsophisticated thieves to rip you off.

1. Read the Fine Print

The Setup:

You come across the perfect item, it has great pictures, and the price is right.  You read the description, but you don’t read it super closely.  After all, a picture is worth a thousand words.  You send payment and wait for your item.

The Take:

Somewhere in the description the scammer will mention that what you are getting may not be exactly what is pictured.  You might see something like; “box only”, “replica”, etc indicating you may not be getting what is pictured.  When you get the box it’s empty.  You assume it must be a mistake but the seller has now blocked you when you try to contact them.  When you try to take action you are informed the description states you were only buying the box.

2. The Empty Box

The Setup:

Simple, you find the item you want, pay for it, and have it shipped.

The Take:

No fine print, no warning, you just get an empty box.  It may even be weighted with something to appear legit.  Why go to the trouble though?  Well, if you want to keep up appearances you follow through with the online services purchase of shipping label and notifying you the item is on the way.  When you contact the service to complain they can claim nothing is wrong and keep their account in good standing.  It’s your word against theirs. 

3. Reverse Payment

The Setup:

You are selling your stuff online and found a buyer.  You box it up and ship it out after receiving payment.  No worries.

The Take:

You notice after a few days your account was debited for the amount of the purchase.  You come to find out the buyer claims YOU shipped an empty box.  Maybe you were paid through Paypal, and Paypal has reversed the charge for them.

4. Payment After Inspection

The Setup:

The buyer contacts you and is eager to buy your phone.  They want to make sure it’s working and they can connect it before paying.  You think it sounds reasonable and they seem honest.  You ship the phone to them to inspect.

The Take:

After the item is received they stop communicating with you.  If possible, they will likely block you on the service you are using.  They now have your phone and you have nothing.

The Fix
  • Carefully read the full description before you buy.  Read all the fine print to make sure you are paying for what’s actually pictured.
  • If the price seems too good to be true it probably is.
  • Do your best to document (with photos or video) your unboxing and packaging of items you exchange online.  Paypal has terms that require proof of delivery that most sellers overlook.  Thieves are well aware of this requirement and exploit it to their advantage.  If you have proof to back up your claim, you at least have a fighting chance.
  • Never ship your item to someone without first receiving payment and ensuring that payment has been processed.

The Stolen or Broken Goods Scam

1. Defective Gear

The Setup:

You just found the perfect vintage game console for a steal.  You contact the seller and send the money.  It shows up in a few days and you are ready to pop in Metroid and relive your childhood.

The Take:

You plug in the game console and fire it up.  You immediately notice that half the screen is black.  You check all the connections, blow into the device, try putting a piece of rolled up paper under the game cartridge, but nothing works.  You finally come the conclusion you were ripped off.  Now the seller, your money, and your nostalgia are gone.

2. Stolen Goods

The Setup:

You just discovered an iPhone XR for sale and everything looks good.  The seller appears to be legitimate and you make the deal.

The Take:

One get the phone and you call to set it up.  Your service provider asks where you bought the phone, you tell them you bought it used from the previous owner, and they let you know the phone was reported lost or stolen.  They are sorry but you are not going to be able to register the phone.  The seller has blocked you and you now are the proud owner of a $500 paperweight.

The Fix
  • Before buying any electronic item online ask for a video of the item working and ask for the serial number (or other identifying info) to be passed.  That way you can verify you received the same item displayed and can take recourse if a switch-a-roo takes place.
  • Don’t buy a phone online before checking to see if it’s been reported lost or stolen.  You can check the IMEI at sites like IMEI Detective.  

The Ticket Scam

Finding tickets for highly sought after events is another popular use for online peer markets.  It can be a great way to find tickets for hard-to-find events or save on travel.  Just be careful!

1. Fake Event Tickets

The Setup:

You just found those impossible to get front row tickets to that upcoming Ariana Grande concert.  You contact your girlfriends and decide to make it a night.  You front the money for the tickets and make the deal.

The Take:

You pick out your killer outfit, pick up your girlfriends, and head to the concert.  You get the entrance and that is where you discover you were conned.  The tickets look similar but were just printed off and are fake.  Now you are embarrassed, your friends are pissed, and your whole evening is ruined.

2. Fake Airline Tickets

The Setup:

The seller is listing non-refundable airline tickets for a trip to Hawaii.  However, they had to cancel on short notice.  Now they just want to recoup some of the money for the tickets.  Their loss is your gain, right? 

The Take:

The seller is really buying the airline tickets with a credit card and listing them for sale.  Immediately after you purchase the tickets from them they cancel the sale rendering the tickets useless.  You take off time from work, don your best floral print shirt, and show up at the airport.  When you attempt to check in you are informed the tickets were cancelled and you will not be beaching it for the week.  

The Fix
  • Know what you are buying.  Before purchasing event tickets online do a quick Google search to see what the real tickets look like.  Some replicas are difficult to spot, but other con artists use the same ticket format and just change events.  If they don’t have pictures, ask for high resolution photos.
  • Take a look at the seating plan for the venue and make sure your seats match the numbers and letters.
  • Ask for the receipt from the original purchase.  No receipt no deal.  If you are buying multiple tickets at once (i.e. season’s tickets for a sports team) make sure the receipt is for all the tickets and not just one or two games.
  • Verify the seller for season tickets.  Season ticket holders have to register their account.  Call the vendor (team or ticket agent) to confirm you are dealing with the actual owner of the seats.  If the seller balks it is likely the tickets are fake.

So Stay Safe Out There

As always if it feels off don’t do it.  If it looks too good to be true don’t do it.  Be smart and don’t let your emotion drive your decision.  

If you feel we missed an important tip or overlooked a popular scam let us know!