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Media > Newsletters > Consumer Advocate > December 2022 > Tips to avoid scams when selling online

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Tips to avoid scams when selling online

Typically, the Consumer Protection Section helps Ohioans as they buy products and services. But what about consumers who want to sell their stuff? As you can imagine, scammers have found several ways to defraud consumers, especially when conducting business through online stores and auction sites, including social media or popular local buying and selling websites.
First, watch out for phony buyers who insist on paying through a mobile payment app. Scammers design clever look-alike payment notifications and hope you will send your merchandise before discovering it is a fake notification. Scammers may also claim there is a problem or issue with a payment they sent to you, such as they accidentally paid you twice for the item. They hope you, as the seller, will refund their “overpayment.” In reality though, they never paid you the first time, so you may be out of your product and money.
Another typical overpayment scam involves a phony buyer issuing you a counterfeit check for more than you are selling the item. The scammer has you deposit the check and refund the difference (or send the difference to a phony “shipping agent” who is really part of the scam). Since banks often credit your account within hours of you presenting them with check, you may falsely assume that the check has cleared. The scammer takes your money that you sent back, but days later the check comes back to your bank as fake. At that point, the bank takes the money right back out of your account, possibly assessing you a returned check fee as well. If you’ve shipped your item to the scammer, that’s gone too.
Another slightly more complicated scam hitting unsuspecting online sellers involves a phony buyer pretending to verify you’re a legitimate seller, saying they are concerned about fake online listings. They send you a text message that includes a Google Voice verification code that they ask you to recite to them. If you give them the code, they will proceed to create a new Google Voice phone number linked to your real phone number. Then, they can scam sellers using a phone number linked to you, not them.
Consider the following tips to help avoid scams targeting sellers:
  • Be prepared for potential scams by finding out what, if any, resources or protections are in place to sellers through the online site you are using.
  • Be cautious when accepting mobile payments from strangers.
  • Don’t accept payments by check for more than your selling price, even if they appear to be a cashier’s check or official money order. If you do, make sure the check has cleared prior to issuing any sort of refund.
  • Never share verification codes with strangers.
  • Report scams targeting sellers to the Ohio Attorney General’s Office as well as to the online site you are using to sell your item.
Consumers who suspect a scam or an unfair business practice should contact the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at or 800-282-0515.