Overpayment scams might be here to stay – but you can protect yourself.
By now, many people have heard about this common scam. In a nutshell, it works like this: someone sends you too much money and asks you to return the extra amount and keep what you were supposed to. Maybe they bought an antique vase from you off eBay or a car off Craigslist. The story is always the same. You get a check that is far over the amount of the item. You are then asked to return the overpayment. You return the extra amount. Your money goes to them – their check doesn’t go through. You have been scammed.
Not Just Online Purchases
Most people associate this scam with items purchased online, but you can be scammed just as easily in other ways. For example, a local service you provide to others, such as a housecleaning, painting or even landscaping business.
Do you provide local services?
If so, then you know that making your business successful means listing your services on different platforms, such as eBay or Craigslist. This is how potential clients can find you and enlist your services.
However, this can leave you open to overpayment scammers.
Here is a typical example of an overpayment scam targeting housekeepers:
One day you receive a call from a man inquiring about your services. As you discuss your prices and services, you learn that the man and his wife are getting ready to move into a house on a particular date. He would like a cleaning company to prepare the house prior to the move-in date.
Sounds reasonable and harmless, right?
You tell him the price will be $250, and he agrees to use your services.
In a few days, you receive a check in the mail from the person, but instead of being for $250, it is for $1,250.
That same day, you also get an email from the man inquiring about whether you received a check for the higher amount. You tell him that you did. He quickly shoots another email back to let you know he’s made a mistake.
To resolve the problem, he asks you politely to deposit the entire amount so you won’t have to wait for your payment, and then just send him back the overpayment of $1,000. He asks you to send a money order (always a huge red flag!!) since he’s in the process of moving, it will make things easier. You are relieved to know you won’t have to wait another week to receive your money. You take down the address he gives you then send out the money right away.
Several days later, you receive a notification from your bank stating that the check you just deposited was fraudulent.
It slowly dawns on you that you just gave a total stranger $1,000!
This is the ultimate overpayment scam.
You send an email but the account has been closed. You call the phone number you had from your earlier conversations but the number is disconnected. The man has disappeared without a trace, and you have no way of regaining your money.
Awareness is key here – stay aware and stay safe.
Never return an overpayment in this way until your own payment is confirmed.
If someone pays you too much money, send the check back, and you’ll find the scam dies right then and there.
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This information is provided for general consumer educational purposes only and is not intended to provide legal, tax or investment advice.