Fraudsters are still running the check scam on the Craig's List site, so consumers should be aware. A coworker, Peter, shared with me his experience which is instructive.
A person named "Phil" replied to Peter's ad about the furniture Peter was selling (for about $150). Peter came to me because Phil's e-mail reply seemed not quite right (typos and all):
"I really appreciate your response to my inquiry. Im interested in buying the Item from you. I would love to come and check it myself but I just got >married and im presently on my honeymoon trip to Hawaii with my wife.I would love a surprise change of furniture in our home on our return.Pls do withdraw the advert from Craigslist as i dont mind adding $20 for you to do that, so i can be rest assured that the item is held for me. I should believe it is in good condition as stated. I will be making the payment via a Check, which my secretary will mail to you. I'll be picking the item from you with the aid of my mover. My Mover will be coming to pick it from you once the Check has been cashed. Pls I will need both your full name and physical address along with your phone number to issue out the payment.
Is Phil a scammer? It's a little hard too tell at first, but the above e-mail had some clues. A person really interested in the furniture would come buy and look at the furniture before offering payment; and perhaps negotiate the final price (if the furniture had some dings or tears). Phil was operating without seeing the furniture.
Peter was understandably uncomfortable with giving Phil his address information, but he wanted to sell the furniture. Phil and Pete traded a couple more e-mail messages (Peter's attempt to determine Phil's true level of interest), and Phil ultimately sent a check via FedEx -- for $2,600 and made out by the American Math Society, a real organization.
Correctly, Peter started watching his credit reports for any irregularities, placed Fraud Alerts on his credit reports, and contacted both FedEx and the American Math Society (AMS). Both organizations know about the scam. So far, nobody can find Phil.
According to the About Scams page at the Craigslist site, the check scam works like this:
"Most scams involve one or more of the following: inquiry from someone far away, often in another country; Western Union, Money Gram, cashier's check, money order, shipping, escrow service, or a "guarantee"; inability or refusal to meet face-to-face before consummating transaction"
Here's the payoff part of the scam:
"A distant person offers a genuine-looking (but fake) cashier's check... value of cashier's check often far exceeds your item - scammer offers to "trust" you, and asks you to wire the balance via money transfer service; banks will often cash these fake checks AND THEN HOLD YOU RESPONSIBLE WHEN THE CHECK FAILS TO CLEAR, including criminal prosecution in some cases!"
Is the $2,600 check real? Of course not. At some point, Phil would have asked Peter via e-mail to wire him money covering the different between the bogus check amount and the price of Peter's furniture; and Phil would have quickly disappeared. Peter would have been stuck with a bogus $2,600 check, bounced-check fees by his bank, and out $2,400 (the money wired to Phil for the difference between the bogus check amount and the value of Peter's used furniture).
But, by being alert with some healthy skepticism, Peter avoided all of this and didn't get scammed. A word to the wise: fraudsters attempt this check scam with other organizations' names besides the AMS; on other online-ad sites besides Craig's List, and on job search sites; and fake parking ticket scams. So, be alert and warn your family, friends, and neighbors.