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eBay Sellers: Beware of the Advance Fee Scam

written by: •edited by: Bill Bunter•updated: 11/17/2011

Wouldn't you be suspicious if someone offered you more money than the actual sale price of an item, then expected you to wire transfer them back the difference? People fall for this trick all the time, and most of the money is never recovered.

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    Advance Fee Scam

    For a brief time in the middle of my Information Technology career, I worked in bank fraud. It’s not nearly as cool as it sounds, because I mainly just sorted through hundreds of checks every day and looked for counterfeits or bogus signatures. However, I did learn a lot about the kind of scams people pull using checks and the Internet, and I personally helped stop quite a few of them. This is the first article is what will be a short series on how to spot potential fraud and prevent it from happening to you.

    One of the more common frauds on eBay is the ‘advance fee scam’. You would not believe how many people fall for this one. The fraud works simply by someone sending more money to the seller than what the final sale prices is, then they want the seller to send them whatever they bought, plus the difference. They usually ask for the difference to be sent via wire transfer or cashier’s check because those type payments can’t easily be cancelled. It’s a fraud because the check the buyer sends usually turns out to be counterfeit, and the seller is left without whatever they were selling, plus however much cash they sent.

    The advance fee scam is usually tried on big ticket items like cars, computers, or jewelry. In fact, a young lady I used to work with was selling some jewelry on eBay and got an email from somebody with a zero feedback rating where they tried to pull the scam. I forget the exact price she was asking for a diamond ring, but it was a little over $1,000. This would-be scammer offered my friend $2,000 and wanted her to send the ring, plus the difference in a cashier’s check, to someplace overseas.

    What these criminals take advantage of is the processing time it takes to clear checks between two banks. This is why banks employ fraud departments to catch these type checks since the customers may not even realize they are being scammed. What often happens is that the seller is in such good standing with their bank that the bank does not bother to hold the deposited funds. It isn’t until the check fails to clear that they realize there is a problem, and by then the scammer has gotten their money. I’ve personally seen this happen a couple of times.

    If you are selling something on eBay and you get an email trying to set you up for something like the advance fee scam, the best thing you can do is ignore their request. Don’t even email them back. You definitely don’t want to get involved with them or try to lead them on in hopes of some kind of criminal catching glory. If anything, notify your bank of the person’s behavior so that they can tell their teller’s to be extra careful. It’s a shame that so many people try to take advantage of others, especially on the Internet, but the best defense is to arm yourself with the knowledge of what to look for and how not to become a victim.

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