Consumer Alert: Online auction scams are easy to spot, hard to avoid

Posted at: 02/26/2013 6:24 PM
Updated at: 02/26/2013 7:37 PM

We know a lot of you have either tried to buy something or sell something on one of those on-line auction sites like Craig's list. But if you're in that market -- we have a warning tonight about a common problem where the only person who gets in trouble is you.

Inspectors from the US Postal Service say con artists are constantly going after their next victim on those online auction sites. We want to alert you to one scheme that is easy to spot as long as you don't get mesmerized by the amount of money.

The item in was an elliptical machine. A seller posted a picture of it on Craig's list. The price was $1,500. An offer came for $2,500.
"Basically $1,00 more than the asking price," Tom Ouelette, US Postal Inspector said.

And that's the problem.

The money order was counterfeit. The buyer wanted the seller to wire back the overpayment from her bank account before the bank realized the money order was worthless.
"The entire transaction was bogus," Ouelette said. "The intent was to get the seller to wire transfer the money."

That's what happened to Veronica Weber in Bushnells Basin. She posted spare doors from an old jeep on Craig's list and wanted $250. The next day she got an offer.

"He sent a check through. It came in about $2,000," she said.

Eight times the asking price.

"Then almost immediately you got suspicious?" I asked.
"Yeah," Weber said.

The routing number on the check was wrong and there were more red flags.

"He wanted me to send the difference of the money to him via western union and he needed it sent tomorrow," Weber said.

Weber didn't bite. She knew it was bad from the start.

"It was so extreme for that it just, I wanted no part of it after that," Weber said.

"Consumers need to be aware that whenever you are selling something on an online auction site and you get a payment for more than what you asked for - it's probably a scam," Ouelette said.

Weber didn't cash the check and she eventually sold the doors to someone. It was a cash deal. She did say she kept the bogus check just as a reminder that these kinds of things can happen.

The problem is -- if you cash that bogus check or money order, you're probably on the hook for it. Good luck finding the person who scammed you.

The best advice -- just take the money you asked for.

If you find yourself in this situation, call you bank and then call the US Postal Inspector's office in New York City at (877) 876-2455