Online selling scams: Avoid getting duped when selling things online

Mary* listed her boat for sale online. A man on the internet, who introduced himself as “Jim*,” reached out to Mary expressing interest in her boat. Jim came to Mary’s home and inspected it. He advised Mary he liked the boat “very much” and would pay Mary her asking price of $10,000. Mary agreed and Jim came back the next day with a bank draft for $10,000, gave it to Mary, and took the boat. 

The next day, Mary went to her bank to cash Jim’s bank draft, only for the bank to tell her the cheque was not valid. A bewildered Mary called Jim’s phone number to ask about his payment; however, she received a recording indicating the phone number was no longer in service. Mary attempted to contact Jim through the online service she placed her ad on, only to find his online profile deleted. It appears Mary was scammed and has become a victim of cheque fraud.

Unfortunately, we have had reports of good intentioned individuals, like Mary, who have sold items through social media or other selling platforms, receiving fake bank drafts or certified cheques as payment from scammers when selling online.

What is the online selling scam?

Scammers create fake accounts on social media or other online selling platforms to pose as prospective buyers and contact sellers online. Often-times, the “buyer” will provide false information to the seller, such as a fake name and phone number. The “buyer” will agree to purchase items and “pay” by means of a falsified certified cheque or bank draft. When the seller attempts to deposit the bank draft or certified cheque at the bank, he/she is advised that the cheque is not valid and the money transfer cannot proceed. When the seller attempts to follow up with the buyer, the buyer cannot be found. Unfortunately, at this point, the seller is unable to contact the “buyer,” is denied the money at the bank, and no longer has the items he/she had for sale.  

How can you protect yourself from online scammers?

Often these bank drafts or certified cheques that scammers use are extremely compelling in authenticity  and appear completely legitimate -- it is only the bank who will be able to tell that the cheque is fake.

Tips for protecting yourself when selling things online

While this money order scam is extremely troublesome, there are ways in which you can help protect yourself  from becoming a victim:

  • Arrange to meet the buyer at a high traffic, well-lit area. Meeting at a police station parking lot is ideal and will also have surveillance. 
  • Do not release the items until confirmation that the bank draft or certified cheque is legitimate – prior to releasing any of your items to the buyer, have the buyer accompany you to the bank to cash the cheque. Alternatively, consider money e-transfer as a payment option.
  • Confirm with the social media or online selling platform that the buyer is legitimate.

* Character names and story details are fictitious and were created for illustrative purposes only.

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