If you have sold things on websites like craiglist, then you probably have had somebody offer a deal that is too good to be true. Typically, you will see something like a smart phone, laptop, car, etc. for sale … basically something worth a few hundred US and somebody will contact you offering more than what you are asking for. They will suggest mailing you a money order or check. I recently received one that was pretty legit looking as shown here.
Story typically goes that you provide an address and they start following up on when you have received it a few days later. They typically pay for tracking so they know when it arrives. Timing is critical for this scam as you will see.
Once you receive the check, they tell you they have overpaid and want the difference wired back. For example, if you are selling something for 700 dollars, they will write a check for 1200-1400 dollars … possibly more. They will come up with a story why its more and ask you to paypal, wire or somehow get them the balance quickly. The reason they want it to happen quickly is there is a delay, which can be a few weeks between you depositing the check and the bank figuring out that the check is not real. During this window, the funds will show in your account making you “the victim” believe you actually have the cash. Unfortunately, you really don’t.
If you fall for this scam, you will be obligated to pay back the balance of the check regardless if you sent money to the scammer. Here is an example of Citibank’s policy on this https://online.citi.com/US/JRS/pands/detail.do?ID=CheckScam. It is up to you to not deposit fake checks and sometimes its hard to determine if a check is real or not. I called Citibank to find out how I can validate this check and was provided a number to call via 866.678.0088. This is a automated system that asks for the check number and amount. The result is a very broad answer, which was “I’m sorry, I’m unable to match the information you provided “ To me, this is not very clear. Does this mean the check is not real or is there a problem with the verification system? Maybe they should consider improving the language?
I tried calling a human at Citibank and was told this automated line is the only path. They told me they don’t validate balances of other accounts and I would have to track down a local branch manager to dig deeper into this. Honestly, my personal opinion is they should provide more support to people trying to prevent bogus checks verses a generic automated line with no human support.
You can find other examples on this scam on this blog (HERE and HERE). For example, somebody reached out when I was selling a car on craiglist a few years back and offered more than my asking price. They claimed to be in Canada and sent me a check from some US based bank. They asked for me to wire money needed to “ship the car” meaning that was the money they were looking to take from me. Why would they pay more for a car they can get locally? Obvious red flag but somebody very greedy may over look it.
Search Google for craiglist scam and you will find hundreds of these. Be careful and don’t be afraid to question anything that seems too good to be true.