7 On Your Side: Watch out for clever buyers' scam while spring cleaning

BERGEN COUNTY, New Jersey (WABC) -- While spring cleaning is in full force, beware of people who troll websites and newspapers all day long to make phony offers on items they see for sale.

The goal is not to buy your item but to get you, the seller, to send them money.

This is a variation on the upfront fee scam. The same one where someone contacts you and says you won the lottery, just pay the taxes, or sends you a check for a job, and tells you to keep some for your pay and wire the rest back.

This swindle targets sellers into paying, but one savvy seller caught onto the scam quick.

Bergen County dad Richard La Terra and his family had loads of fun down the Jersey Shore on their boat, but his sons are outgrowing the 17-and-a-half-foot Bayliner.

So LaTerra listed the vessel for sale on several websites and got a bite within hours.

"I got a text he's coming for it sight unseen, all he saw was a picture and hes coming to get it," said La Terra.

Not checking out the boat in person was the first red flag for the retired West New York Battalion Chief.

The second alarm? The buyer didn't really negotiate the asking price -- more than $19,000.

"He's like 'What's the best you can do?' I said, 'I'll knock 500 off the price,' he said 'Great I'll take it, this is the way I do business, I'll send you a certified check, deposit it and I'll have my guy pick it up,'" La Terra said.

Two days later, a certified check arrived via UPS but the check came for $24,500. So La Terra texted the buyer back that his check was made out for too much.

"'Oh it was a mistake' the buyer texted back, 'Oh well take 100 for your troubles and mail me back the rest. Send me back the difference in cash,'" La Terra says the buyer said. "I was like I'm not sending you back cash."

But many sellers aren't as savvy.

7 On Your Side warned viewers about this very same scam when a couple selling a motorcycle wound up wiring money to a swindler posing as buyer, who also mailed them a check for more than the amount agreed upon. The check eventually bounced but they had already paid the price.

The final red flag: The phony buyers are persistent and the fake boat buyer wouldn't give up.

"What's going on Rich, did you send my money back? You have MY money," he texted.

"Your check bounced goodbye," La Terra wrote back.

He had never deposited the check, but the bank and Norwood Police Department confirmed it was a phony cashiers check.

The big takeaway: If you're selling online -- only deal with sellers face to face in a safe public place. Also, try to deal in cash, we've seen plenty of rubber checks, fake postal money orders and even dummied up cashier checks.

If a buyer asks for your banking information, say no, they can empty your bank account in seconds. Just remember if someone wants you to wire money -- it's usually a scam.

The golden rule: If it's too good to be true, it's not true applies here. Never pay money to sell something and remember, a check can appear to clear, but days or weeks later when the check bounces, the bank will debit your account.

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