Overpayment scams

Overpayment scams work by getting you to ‘refund’ a scammer who has sent you too much money for an item you are selling.

How this scam works

If you are selling something online, as a business or through classifieds ads, you may be targeted by an overpayment scam.

The scammer will contact you, make you an offer—often quite generous—then make payment through credit card or cheque. They will be for an amount that is greater than the agreed price.

The scammer will contact you with an apology for the overpayment, offering a fake excuse. The scammer might tell you that the extra money was included to cover agent's fees or extra shipping costs. Or they may just say they simply made a mistake when writing the cheque.

The scammer will then ask you to refund the excess amount or they will ask for you to forward the amount through to a third party. They will ask for this to  through an online banking transfer, pre-loaded money card, or a wire transfer such as Western Union. You then discover that their cheque has bounced or the credit card had been a stolen or fake card.

A newer variation on this scam involves online sales, usually through classified sites, where the scammer pretends to have made a payment for a larger than agreed amount through services such as PayPal by sending a fake receipt of payment. The scammer will claim that the money is being held until you forward on the extra money.

If you send any money, you will not get it back. If you have already sent the 'sold' item you will lose this as well. At the very least, the scammer will have wasted your time and prevented you from accepting any legitimate offers on your sale.

Warning signs

  • Somebody makes an offer to buy something you have for sale and pays you more than the agreed price with a cheque or credit card.
  • You receive an email from the scammer claiming that they have made payment but the amount is being held until you have forwarded on the extra amount.

  • You are asked to refund or forward on the overpaid amount to a specific bank account or through a wire transfer. Often this is to pay for transport or importation fees.

Protect yourself

  • Never send money on for a customer. This might be money laundering, which is a crime.

  • Use secure payment methods you are familiar with only. Avoid any arrangement with a stranger that asks for up-front payment via money order, wire transfer, international funds transfer, pre-loaded card or electronic currency, like Bitcoin. It is rare to recover money sent this way.
  • If you receive a receipt for payment that is being held, check with the company – it is rare for a financial service to withhold payments until another action is carried out.

  • If you have been sent a cheque for more money than the agreed price, send it back and ask for another cheque with the correct amount. Do not agree to repay the difference until you are certain that the cheque has cleared.
  • Do not send the items to the buyer until their payment has cleared in your bank account.
  • If you receive too much money from a credit card payment only agree to refund it back onto the card.

Have you been scammed?

We encourage you to report scams to the ACCC via the report a scam page. This helps us to warn people about current scams, monitor trends and disrupt scams where possible. Please include details of the scam contact you received, for example, email or screenshot.

We also provide guidance on protecting yourself from scams and where to get help.

Spread the word to your friends and family to protect them.

More information

Classified scams

Classified scams trick online shoppers on classified websites into thinking they are dealing with a legitimate contact but it is actually a scammer.

Online shopping scams

Online shopping scams involve scammers pretending to be legitimate online sellers, either with a fake website or a fake ad on a genuine retailer site.

From the web