Selling Online? Never Go Off-Platform

If you’ve got stuff to sell, there are plenty of online options. eBay and Facebook Marketplace are probably the most well-known, but there are plenty of others. And it’s possible to bring in some decent money while decluttering your own living space.

However, there are also plenty of people who will attempt to steal money from online sellers, and one of their most-used strategies is to convince you to accept payment off-platform.

Don’t fall for it.

If you’re selling something on eBay, for example, when someone purchases your item, make sure you do everything through eBay’s platform, including accepting payment and entering tracking information when you ship it. Do not allow a buyer to either mail you a check or pay through Venmo, Cashapp or PayPal Friends & Family, because you’re setting yourself up for a fake check scam.

The classic version of the fake check scheme uses a counterfeit cashier’s check, made out for a vastly higher amount than the agreed-upon price. When you ask the buyer why the check is so large, they will claim to have made an error—but hey, no big deal, just wire the difference back to them after you cash it! Of course, a few days later the check is returned as counterfeit, and if you wired money to this stranger, there’s no recourse. And if you already shipped the item, you’ve lost that, too.

However, there is a new version of this scam becoming increasingly popular. The buyer will offer to pay with one of the popular peer-to-peer apps (Venmo, CashApp, PayPal Friends & Family). The seller then receives a fake payment confirmation and sends the item, having not received any actual funds. In other cases, money will show up, but the buyer will have used stolen credit card information to make this payment. Once the credit card issuer discovers the fraud, the money disappears from the seller’s—your—account.

One of the first signs of a scam is a buyer wanting to communicate off-platform. Marketplaces such as eBay have their own messaging and payment systems in place to provide a digital “paper trail.” By keeping a record of every interaction between buyer and seller, the company can provide protections to both parties and help resolve disputes. As soon as you move your communications to text message or another platform, you have no record of anything the buyer said. You’re also violating the seller terms of service in a lot of cases, and you could lose some or all of your seller protections for doing so.