Classified Ad Scams: taking the AG’s advice to a logical extreme.

The Indiana Attorney General’s Office sent out a new message on Friday with some advice concerning criminals running scams on people who sell things in classified advertisements (I’m going to assume this happens mostly via Craigslist, although the alert didn’t mention the site specifically).

It is, as usual, fine advice, but I almost feel like their tips don’t go far enough. I’m not usually much of an extremist in most regards, but there comes a time when you need to go the extra mile to protect yourself, and selling things via online classifieds is one of those times.

So, here are the AG’s tips, along with the ways I would recommend taking them to a logical extreme:

  • When posting an ad, be leery of anyone offering to pay more for your item than the listed price. This is often the first sign of a fake check scam.

The FPU Says: Absolutely refuse to accept more than the asking price, and never under any circumstance agree to wire funds back to a buyer. On a related note, basically refuse to sell to anyone who isn’t local and willing to meet in person. Why would someone in Oregon choose to buy your cruddy old kitchen table in Indiana? Surely they could have found one closer to home.

  • Never accept or transfer money from a Cashiers Check or Money Order. Let the buyer know that you will be waiting for the bank to finalize the funds, which may take up to four weeks.

The FPU Says: Really, if you’re selling something for less than a few hundred dollars, refuse to accept any form of check. Cash only. You’re meeting the buying in person to show the item and make the sale anyway, right? In cases where the item is large enough to warrant a check, make sure to wait until your financial institution clears the check to release the merchandise. Actually, if you’re selling something that good, maybe you should consider other selling channels.

  • Investigate your buyer and talk by phone or meet in a public place to discuss important details of the transaction, such as payment and condition of the item.

The FPU Says: Yes. Local buyers only. Do your homework.

  • DO NOT ship or release interest in your merchandise until you are confident that the funds have cleared or you have the money in cash. 

The FPU Says: Just do not ship your merchandise in the first place. Shipping = trouble. Locals only!

  • Be cautious of offers to buy an item sight-unseen.

The FPU Says: Absolutely refuse to sell sight-unseen. Why would a buyer be willing to take on the risk of you running a scam? Only if they’ve got nothing to lose, I think.

The FPU Adds: Also, if you’re selling or buying an item with cash from a local person who you are going to meet in person, there is no reason to reveal any personal information to them, including your full name. Bringing a friend along is also highly recommended. You don’t want to get rolled.

Of course, you might read this and ask, “Don’t you lose the whole worldwide reach of online classifieds when you refuse to sell anywhere but locally?”

Maybe. You might as well just use the old newspaper classifieds, right?

Well, have you priced those lately? Online wins. Just be careful out there.

Indiana AG Scam Alert: Scam Artists Posing as Federal Agencies

Here’s the latest scam alert from the Indiana AG’s office:

Attorney General Greg Zoeller warns of phishing scams circulating in the form of requests for personal information from federal agencies including the IRS, Social Security Administration, Medicare, Medicaid and the Census Bureau. Scam artists are calling, emailing and sending letters that sound and look official requesting your social security numbers, birthdates and account numbers. These are phishing scams and they are designed to steal your identity.

You should also be cautioned of requests from “federal authorities” stating that money needs to be returned due to an over-payment as this is also a scam.

Anyone with concerns or doubts should verify the legitimacy of a request by calling a trusted phone number – not one provided in the email, letter or call.

It just never stops with the “posing as a government agent,” does it?

Usually this is the part where I reiterate that you should never give personal information to anyone unless you can verify who they are and why they need it, and I’m going to do that (actually, I just did), but there’s another bit of knowledge that’s easy to forget, but obvious when you think about it:

The government, whether federal, state or local, already knows your name, date of birth, Social Security number and other information.

If you just remember that fact, you’ll see through every one of these scams.

When you pay your taxes or get your license renewed, they’re not asking for your information because they don’t know it. They’re asking for it to help verify that you are who you claim to be. If something doesn’t match up, that means you’re either a victim of identity theft or are possibly committing a crime yourself. Unless there’s just an error, which does occasionally happen.

The difference in these situations is that you are initiating the transaction; you show up at the license branch to renew, you submit your tax returns, you apply for Medicare benefits, and so on.

No government agency is going to send you letters, email you, call you or show up at your door asking to verify your personal information. They have it. They only ask for it when you contact them first, asking for something in return.

By the way, sign up for these alerts from the Indiana Attorney General, if you haven’t already done so.

U.S. Postal Service Job Scam

Finally, an employment scam post that isn’t about mystery shopping!

I signed up for the Indiana Attorney General’s Office consumer alert messages a while back. I strongly suggest you do the same. I’ll just print the full text of today’s alert, since it’s short:

Attorney General Greg Zoeller and the U.S. Postal Service caution Hoosiers about a scam that offers a study guide to help pass a postal exam with the promise of a full-time job. There is no truth to this offer. The U.S. Postal Service is not currently hiring any full-time workers. Furthermore, the information found in the study guide priced at $129.95, is actually offered free of charge at libraries around the state.

This is a classic scam: charging money for information that’s available free of charge. Throwing in the promise of a full-time position is just a tactic to get people who might be looking for work to act quickly.

I’m guessing there’s a reason the Post Office isn’t hiring at the moment: anybody who already has a full-time P.O. job is going to hold onto it for dear life until the economy straightens out, even if they were considering quitting or retiring before.

I don’t blame ’em, do you?