Burn this into your memory:
“Cash this check, then wire money back to me” always equals scam.
I’ve said it a million times before when discussing secret shopper and lottery scams, but the actual context just does not matter. Anyone who gives you a check to cash so you can wire cash back to them is a con artist.
It’s pretty easy to remember that when you’re looking at a letter from a Nigerian Prince, or an email that says you won the “Microsoft Lottery” or something, but there are versions of the overpayment scam that target businesses, too.
Let’s say you’ve got a property for rent. You get a call from someone who seems really interested in the space. They agree to send you a deposit to hold the property for them. You tell them it’s $800 (I’ve never been in this business, so I don’t know if that’s a realistic number or not).
A couple days later you get a cashier’s check for $3,000. You call the renter about the overpayment, who tells you to just wire the difference back to him. The check will turn out to be counterfeit.
And there it is; you are about to fall for the same old scam, just in a new context.
The same thing happens on Craigslist and online classified sites. You’re selling an item. Somebody contacts you with the intent to buy, so you agree on a price of $500. You get a check for $3,000, with instructions to wire the excess back. Exact same story.
Think about this: would you send a extra couple thousand dollars to an online seller, and trust this stranger to give you back your change? Online classifieds are risky enough without handing over four times the cost of the item you’re hoping to receive. My online classified rule is: whether buying or selling, if you can’t meet in person, you’re not interested. The short version (and homage to the Surf Punks) is: Locals Only!
There are versions of this scam that target business owners, too. The details just do not matter—those checks are always going to turn out to be counterfeit, and you’re always going to end up losing money.