This tale is a warning to anyone selling on Craigslist as well as other similar sites. It not only applies to selling motorcycles but also any high ticket items. The following image is a FAKE check sent to me by a scammer. When selling online, cash is king.
Note: The name I gave to the scammer was false and the address given was different from the location of the motorcycle to prevent possible theft. I do not suggest giving any info to those who show signs of being a scammer.
As many people who have sold on Craigslist before know, the majority of messages you will receive are less than legitimate. Unfortunately for those who are new to online selling, the red flags which are clear to many will go undetected to the less experienced. I received one such message and decided to enter the eye of the storm. I responded to one of these scammers and pretended to be someone interested in the offer made in the name of science.
The following messages are between me and a Craigslist scammer.
This is what I will call the first contact. In this message the scammer will ask if the bike is still available. It was at this point that something was off as MOTORCYCLE and SALE were capitalized which seemed a bit strange. I responded letting him know it was available and received a second message soon after. At this point I knew it was a scam as I had a very detailed Craigslist post with price and condition including all the service I had performed on it in the past year. The scammer clearly had not read the post and likely got my phone number from an automated bot. Because I knew what he was going to tell me next I gave him a price almost an order of magnitude over the listed price, a whopping $13,500.
He agrees. His next message is the meat of the scam and I will explain how it works. The scammer will send a fake check to you for a larger amount than the price you just gave. In my case I was sent a check for $16,550. The reasoning for the additional money is because you are responsible to pay the shippers in cash for your own bike to be stolen. Sometimes the scammer will also tell you that any money left over from the shipping costs is yours to keep. The result is you lose your bike and transport costs to the shippers which gets delivered right to the scammer.
Keep in mind that I said fake check. You will be mailed a check that looks very real and even passes the security features listed on the back of the check. The checks are often from real accounts so your bank will put the listed amount in your account and you will believe that you actually received the money. Reality sets in a week to a month later when the fraudulent check is discovered and the funds are removed and you find yourself in a possible lawsuit for passing a counterfeit check. Due to this very real possibility, I covered up the company name and all numbers on the check.
The conversation between the scammer and I went a bit longer and I gave him an address to send the check to. After a few days I saw an envelope addressed to the bogus name I gave him. After opening it up I saw the fairly well made fake.
Strangely enough, it was sent from California which is quite a distance from the scammers 404 area code of Atlanta, Georgia. This may mean there is a team who orchestrates this or the scammer is using an app for sending messages.
So where does this leave me? I still have my bike and when the scammer asks for the address for bike pickup, I will be giving the address of the local police department. Will this stop the scammer? Not a chance as even if I were to find this one and get him arrested on felony charges for sending counterfeit checks through the USPS, the vast quantity of similar internet cretins will just fill in the void. The lesson to take away from this is that dealing in person with buyers and only accepting cash are major factors in preventing a situation like this. There are more variations of this scam and other types entirely such as the VIN check scam or a potential buyer going for a test ride and stealing the bike right there. Be cautious, look for the red flags, and if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.