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The overpayment scam enters the world of online shopping fraud

Scammers are rolling out a new wrinkle to feast on the rise in personal online shops

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Photo (c) Virojt Changyencham - Getty Images
With the rise of online shopping, consumers are buying and selling items at a higher pace than ever before. Between eBay, Shopify, Facebook Marketplace, WooCommerce, Amazon Handmade, Etsy, and others, there are literally millions of people who have built millions of little online shops from the comfort of their kitchen table, generating billions in sales.

Digital crooks love all that’s going on and have created the “overpayment scam” to get in on all the action. Sadly, the scam is proving to be a winner for them but a loser for online shop owners. 

Enter the scammers

The scam is pretty simple: the crooks offer to pay you more than the listed price -- sometimes claiming they want to cover shipping or other fees for you “because you’ve been so helpful.” They’ll often ask to overpay through a digital wallet, such as PayPal Venmo, claiming it’s a matter of policy. The Better Business Bureau (BBB) reports that they may mail a check for more than the asking price in some cases.

Step two is that the scammer will claim the overpayment was an honest mistake and ask the seller for the difference back. However, once the seller returns the money, they’ll quickly find out that the initial payment was bogus when the check bounces or the buyer’s online payment is denied. Not only does the seller lose the money they “returned,” but on top of that, they’ve also lost the item they sold. 

“Once the money is sent back to the scammer, it’s gone,” said Roseann Freitas, the Better Business Bureau Hawaii’s Marketplace Manager. “There is nothing they can do to get that money back once they send it. That person now disappears and the other scary part though, is they actually have some of your personal information.”

How to avoid online selling scams

The BBB says anyone selling anything online needs to stay vigilant and burn three important warning signs into their conscience. 

  • Don’t ship an item before you receive payment. Put forth the effort to make sure any payments you receive are legitimate before you ship your item to the seller. Why? It’s simple -- if you ship before they pay, you have no chance at all of getting your item back.

  • Don’t believe offers that are too good to be true. The BBB says that unless you’re selling something like a rare or highly desirable item that several people are bidding on, it’s ludicrous to think you can expect anyone to offer to pay more than what you are asking. If someone tries to overpay you, then consider it a red flag.

  • Look out for counterfeit emails. Remember, scammers are relentless and come in many forms. They’ll try to imitate any legitimate business -- from tech giants like Microsoft to payment systems like Venmo or PayPal. Take a hard, careful look at all emails. If it comes from a domain that isn’t official or contains obvious typos and grammatical errors, it’s probably a scam.

ConsumerAffairs suggests that anyone selling on Facebook Marketplace take a look at its guidelines. Boning up on the BBB’s tips about selling used items online could also prevent getting scammed.

While owning up to being victimized by a scam is embarrassing, it’s important. While it probably won’t get you your money or the item you sold back, reporting scams to the online marketplace where it occurred, as well as to the BBB’s Scam Tracker, could stop the scammers from ripping off others.

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