Looking to buy or sell something?  Print classifieds are so 20th century.  Online classifieds are free, instantaneous, and at your fingertips.  But buyer beware.  And seller too.

Classified ads are a handy way to carry out the always popular overpayment scam.  For example, Missouri farmers using the state’s Department of Agriculture web site to advertise and sell their hay were cheated by thieves claiming to be buyers.  The sellers received phony checks for more than the cost of the hay and were asked to refund the balance via wire transfer.  The original checks were returned unpaid and the farmers were out thousands of dollars.

Rental properties are a useful device for con artists.  A couple listed their apartment in an online ad and received a response from someone claiming to be moving to the U.S.  The renter said that his employer would pay for all his moving expenses, including rent.  The landlords received a check in the mail for $15,000, far more than the rental amount.  The would-be tenant told the couple to deposit the check, deduct rent money, and return the balance via wire.  The landlords followed instructions, only to find out days later that the check was fake and that they had been cheated out of more than $10,000.

In another scam making the rounds, criminals put up ads offering to sell or give away puppies, again using photos and information found on legitimate sites.  In many cases, the buyer is told that the seller is a missionary in Africa who needs to find a good home for the puppy.  The victim is asked to send money via Western Union.  Then there is often a glitch that requires a second shipment of money.  When the victim’s good faith is exhausted, the perpetrator moves on, leaving the victim without a dog and several hundred dollars poorer.

In addition to wire services, any suggestion of using an online escrow service or paying by cashier’s check are red flags.  Escrow services supposedly act as the middlemen, accepting your payment and then forwarding it on to the seller once your goods have been received.  However, many online escrow sites are phony, set up by the scammers to receive your payments directly.

“The secret of life is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake that, you’ve got it made.”


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