Person agrees to purchase an expensive item advertised online such as a boat and trailer. The buyer advises the seller that he will be including an extra amount over and above the agreed price that he wishes the seller to wire to a third party to cover shipping costs.
The supposed buyer is actually a scammer whose intention is to trick the would-be seller into sending him money via an electronic transfer service thereby effectively laundering the proceeds of crime.
Internet criminals regularly use variations of the scam described below as a means of laundering funds stolen from hijacked bank accounts. Typically, the scammer will pretend to be interested in purchasing an item advertised online. After some negotiation, the scammer will “agree” on a final price. He will then proceed to launch his trap on his unsuspecting victim. He will ask the seller to do him a favour by wiring an extra amount of money to a third party, ostensibly to cover shipping or other expenses. He will include the extra money on top of the agreed asking price and transfer it to the victim’s bank account with the proviso that the victim sends the extra money to the “shipping agent” via a money wire service such as Western Union. Of course, the extra funds actually go directly back to the scammer in the form of untraceable cash.
Why would a scammer use such a convoluted method of getting at the hijacked money? Simply as a means of covering his tracks. Let’s say that the scammer has managed to hijack a person’s bank account via a phishing scam. He cannot simply transfer money in the account to his own bank account because the electronic trail will quickly lead police to his door. Thus, he needs to “launder” the money in the hijacked account in some way before it is usable for him.
An overpayment scam is therefore an effective way for him to get his hands on at least part of the money in the hijacked account without leading police to his door. If all goes to plan, the scammer will transfer the agreed amount – along with the extra funds – directly from the hijacked account to the victim’s account. The victim will then unknowingly wire the extra amount straight back to the scammer who can then disappear with the cash. Meanwhile, the electronic trail will point directly to the hapless victim.
A specific example should help to further illustrate how such scammers operate. A reader contacted me to relate his experience with one such overpayment scammer. The reader had placed an online advertisement for a boat and trailer that he wished to sell. The scammer, posing as an interested buyer, contacted the seller and began a discussion about the purchase of the boat and trailer. After some negotiation, the scammer sent the following email with a final offer of £5,350 for the boat and trailer along with a request that the seller electronically wire an extra amount of £950 to the “shipping agent” via Western Union . The scammer asks the seller for his bank account details so that he could transfer the £5,350 for the purchase and the £950 for “shipping” directly to the seller’s account:
Thanks for the mail,
Am very much okay with the present condition of the boat and trailer and trailer,i will be offering you £5,350 for the boat and trailer.
i have a private pick up agent that we come to your location and pick up the boat and trailer after i have made payment to you via wire transfer but he insist that i should send him the shipping fee by western union money transfer but have told him that i will adding the shipping fee to your money and after you receive the payment by wire transfer then you then forward the money to the shipping agent to come for the pick up of the boat and trailer in your location.
I will be adding an extra of £950.00 for shipping fee to the boat and trailer price £5,350.
Kindly send me the requested information below so that i can transfer the funds to your account.
i will transfer the money to your account, thereafter my bank will automatically send a payment confirmation notice the moment i transfer funds to your account.
I will really appreciates your assistance.
Thankfully, this particular seller was too astute to be caught out by the scammer and terminated the dialogue as soon as he received the above email. Had he fallen for the ruse and proceeded however, the scammer would have received the £950 payment and absconded effectively leaving his victim “holding the bundle”.
People selling items online should be very cautious of any deal in which a potential buyer offers to pay an extra amount that he asks to be sent on to a third party. Any such request should be treated with the utmost suspicion. Other versions of the same overpayment scam use fake or stolen cheques or money orders rather than direct transfers.
The following Hoax-Slayer articles provide more information about overpayment scams: