Classified advertisements targeted by scam artists

Grifters looking to make a quick buck have been turning to online classified ads placed in area newspapers as a way to line their pockets.

Vicki Jones, of Fallon, said Monday she almost fell victim to such a scammer when she placed an ad in the Lahontan Valley News selling schnauzer puppies. A buyer, who claimed to be from London, wanted to pay her $1,700 more than she was asking so she could send him the overpayment through Western Union.

"I knew something was up when they wanted to send me so much more money," she said. When she broke off communication with the caller and placed another ad the same individual called claiming to be someone else, she said.

"I told him the only way I will sell this puppy is if the buyer shows up at my door with cash."

According to the Federal Trade Commission, the overpayment scam has been widely wielded when it comes to online ads and auctions.

The scam begins when a con artist replies to the classified ad or auction posting and offers to purchase the item for sale with a check, then comes up with a reason for writing the check for more than the purchase price for the item.

The scammer asks the consumer to wire back the difference after the check is deposited. Later, the scammer's check bounces, leaving the consumer liable for the entire amount. The FTC says the scam is able to progress because, though the checks are counterfeit, they may look good enough to fool bank tellers.

In another version of the scam, a consumer is asked to pay taxes or fees on "foreign lottery winnings." When he or she goes to cash the "winnings" check, the sender claims to be trapped in a foreign country with no way to produce the cash.

The FTC offers the following advice for consumers: throw away any offer that asks you to pay for a prize or "free" gift; and do not enter foreign lotteries - most solicitations for them are fraudulent, and it is illegal to play a foreign lottery through the mail or by telephone.

Jones said she was surprised to find out her scam was fairly prevalent.

"I'd never heard of it before, so I'm sure others haven't," she said.


The Federal Trade Commission gives the following tips to avoid check overpayment scams:

• Know who you are dealing with - independently confirm your buyer's name, street address, and telephone number.

• Never accept a check for more than your selling price.

• Never agree to wire back funds to a buyer - a legitimate buyer will not pressure you to do so, and you have limited recourse if there is a problem with a wire transfer.

• Resist pressure to "act now." If the buyer's offer is good now, it should be good when the check clears.

• If you accept payment by check, ask for a check drawn on a local bank or a bank with a local branch. You can visit that bank branch to determine if the check is legitimate.

• Consider an alternative method of payment, such as an escrow service or online payment service. If the buyer wants to use a service you have not heard of, be sure to check it out to be sure it is reliable - check its Web site, call its customer-service hotline, and read its terms of agreement and privacy policy. If you don't feel comfortable with the service, do not use it.

On the Net

The FTC alert is available at:

Victims of check overpayment scams should file a complaint with the FTC at:

For information on buying or selling goods on Internet auction sites, visit:


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