FBI Portland
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June 19, 2018

FBI's Tech Tuesday: Building a Digital Defense Against Online Sale Frauds

Welcome to the Oregon FBI’s Tech Tuesday segment. This week: building a digital defense against online sale frauds.

Summer is upon us – and if you are like me, this is the best time to get rid of all that extra stuff sitting in your garage. Who couldn’t use a few extra bucks for that summer vacation, right?

You can do it the old fashioned way – sitting outside for hours on end, hoping someone drives up and offers you big money for your cast-offs. Or, you can sell on platforms like Craigslist and Facebook. Those are great options – if you are smart about how you do business.

I have some personal examples to share with you. Recently, I posted several items for sale… a bed, a barbecue, and a few other things. Usually within the first 24 hours of a new posting I received at least one suspicious inquiry, either by e-mail or text. In many cases, the seller said he or she needed to have a mover or shipper pick up the item. The seller proposed sending me a larger-than-requested payment by cashier’s check or electronic transfer, with the caveat that I would use those extra funds to pay the shipper when he arrives to pick up my item.

This is a version of an overpayment scam. Let’s say you get that check and cash it. The shipper takes the item, and eventually the bank figures out the cashier’s check is bogus. The bank is going to come after you for the missing funds and could even pursue criminal charges.

Electronic transfers are not necessarily safer. In a couple cases, the fraudster proposed making a payment via PayPal or a funds transfer. Had I pursued this option, the person would have likely ended up asking for personal information – including bank routing numbers – to push the payment through.

Here are some warning signs to watch for if you are trying to sell online this summer:

  • Look for out-of-area phone numbers. All of the suspicious inquiries I received came from area codes nowhere near Oregon. It is possible for scammers to spoof phone numbers, of course, so make sure to proceed cautiously even when you receive an inquiry from a local number.
  • Look for bad spelling, stilted language, random capitalizations, and chunks of text that are obviously cut-and-pasted from your post.
  • Look for those who try to justify why they can’t meet in person. In one case, I had a fraudster claim to be a cabin steward on a major cruise line… which, he said, required an electronic payment and a shipping service. Really? Why does someone who works on a cruise ship need a large barbecue?

Next week we will look at some other scams that pop up in virtual garage sales – complete with more tips on safe selling.

If you have been victimized by an online overpayment scam or any other cyber fraud, be sure to report it to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov or call your local FBI office.