SPOKANE, Wash. - Garage sale season is winding down and more people are turning to places like Craigslist to unload their unwanted items, but beware. Scammers are following listings just as closely as you are.
Just ask Karen Owens. She is a self-professed garage sale fanatic. Since you don't typically sell cars at a garage sale, she decided to give Craigslist a try.
Within hours of posting her beloved Pontiac Grand-Am, she received her first offer.
“They said we'll take the car for asking price and i was like OK, great,” said Owens.
The buyer sent her a cashier's check, which seemed fine. They then sent her a text asking if the buyer could meet her in a local Wal-Mart parking lot to pick up the vehicle. That didn't bother her either.
Then asked her to wire money. Owens said she began to worry.
“I was like, wire money? Why would I wire money to somebody?” she explained.
When she tried to call the buyer, she found out it was a text-only number. Red flags were flying everywhere so at the urging of a co-worker she headed to her credit union to get answers. She said the teller at her branch of Numerica Credit Union noticed a few things that were off upon inspecting the check, but that it was a pretty good fake.
“She picked it up and she felt it and she said 'well this kind of feels like a check, but you can buy this paper anywhere!'” Owens said.
The teller made a copy of the check and saw it didn't have void lines throughout, only right through the middle, a major indicator it was fraudulent.
Numerica Credit Union says people are getting good at creating fake checks. Their employees are trained at detecting fraud and it usually comes down to hearing background details about how their client acquired the check.
“When they gave you the check for the item, the key thing to look for is, did they ask to pay over the asking price?” said Kelly Hawkins of Numerica Credit Union.
In Karen's case, her car was listed for $1800. The check she received was for $2500. Part of the money was to be wired to the mover, the scammer said, and she could keep the extra for her troubles.
Hawkins says a lot of people don't realize the process that checks go through to be cashed. Once you deposit the check at your financial institution, it has to go to the federal reserve. There, funds are verified with the issuing financial institution and then your financial institution is informed as to whether the check is real or fake.
Its a process that can take up to sixty days. Karen found out if she had cashed the check, she might not have found out it was fake until it was too late. By that time she could have given the car to the scammer and wired the money – only to then find out she owed it all back to the bank.
“One thing to help safeguard yourself especially if you're getting checks from someone you don't know, is to put that money aside," said Hawkins.
Make sure it clears before you go out and spend it.
The incident has not kept Karen from selling the car on Craigslist. She's taken what she learned from Numerica, re-listed it, and hopes it goes to a real home this time.