In a former life, I worked for a large multi-national bank and dealt with complicated fraud cases on a daily basis. I thought I had seen everything, which is why I became slightly disconcerted when I almost allowed myself to be tricked during a recent attempt to sell my old HTC EVO 4G on Craigslist after upgrading to the EVO 3D.
The scenario went like this: I posted my ad on Craigslist on a Wednesday. On Thursday I got an email from someone who was very interested in buying my phone. He said he was in northern Georgia and was buying this as a gift for his cousin overseas. First alert: you should only deal with local buyers on Craigslist.
After asking to see pictures of the phone, which I gladly sent, he offered to pay me a full $60 more than my asking price, in order to cover international shipping charges. Second alert: buyers on Craigslist will generally not offer you more money than what you are asking; indeed, most will actually try to talk you down in price.
Still, I didn't question his explanation and thought I would just pocket the extra money. He told me he would send me the money through PayPal first thing in the morning, and to take down the Craigslist ad immediately. I wrote back and simply stated, "I'll remove the ad once the funds are showing up in my PayPal account."
The next morning came and went with no new money in my account. That afternoon, I received another email from him. He was more forceful, demanding that I "just take the ad down consider it sold to me." Third alert: A Craigslist buyer should never become forceful with you, intimidate you, or make strong demands that you follow his or her orders.
He then tried to tell me that the payment was already sent but would not show up in my account until he received it due to new PayPal security measures. Fourth alert: Never ship your item until the funds have fully cleared your PayPal account. PayPal already has security measures in place to protect buyers, and payments to you will always show up in your transaction history within minutes of being sent.
At this point, I knew that something was fishy and stopped communicating with this person. Funny enough, the next day I received a similar email from another prospective buyer who was "out of state for business." After a few more exchanges I discovered that he wanted the phone shipped to Nigeria. I quickly Googled the address he provided, and I found a forum in which many others shared similar stories of being scammed.
Apparently, it is now quite common for scammers to peruse electronics listings on Craigslist, collect old equipment without paying, and sell it for profit. According to some of the stories I read, this can even be bundled with the more traditional Western Union/wire fraud scams. In these scenarios, individuals are tricked into believing that they have been overpaid, only to send the "extra" money back and find out later that the original payment was bogus.
I ended up selling my EVO 4G to a very grateful young man who had left his previous phone in a Wal-Mart bathroom. I met him in a parking lot and brought along a friend who discreetly got his license plate number, in case anything went wrong. I held onto the phone while he counted out the money in front of me, and then we made the exchange. Overall, I felt safe throughout the entire process and was happy with the transaction.
Remember: when selling on Craigslist, always deal locally. If possible, meet your potential buyer in a public area, and bring a friend. Stop the transaction if you ever feel even slightly uncomfortable. If you accept a payment through PayPal, make sure the money has cleared your account before releasing your item. If meeting in person, accept cash only.
And while most of these tips should go without saying, it never hurts to have a little reminder every now and then. After all, millions of dollars are defrauded out of Americans' pocketbooks every year. Don't let yourself become a victim, and happy selling!