ONLINE BUYING SCAMS: Part 1- The Paypal Scam

We’ve all tried to sell, buy or rent items online through sites such as Craigslist, Ebay, and now, Letgo. Because these sites are so common and used by friends and family, we often get comfortable using them and forget that we are interacting with anonymous strangers. Just this week, I signed up for Letgo and attempted to sell my husband’s motorcycle. We’ve been procrastinating on selling his bike for a few months, so when within 5 minutes of me listing the bike I got a response to purchase it, I was really excited! This excitement; however, almost got me in some trouble.

The Set-Up: Lies Comprise a Buyer Too Good to Be True

The motorcycle was placed on Letgo for $4,500. The buyer, an alleged Sergeant in the Army, started the conversation requesting my personal phone number as he wanted to see more pictures of the vehicle.

In my excitement and not knowing Letgo, I gave my personal number to him, thinking It was . Apparently one of the main rules of Letgo is never take the chat out of their application. I didn’t know this at the time! After I sent him the pictures, he confirmed the price was $4500 and agreed to pay this amount. I questioned when he would like to come and pick up the vehicle. (I was doing the happy dance to have this money coming in and the bike gone!) This is where things got a little weird.


The Red Flags: Multiple Phone Numbers and Asking For Personal Information

The buyer told me he is stationed in North Carolina. (He even sent me a picture of a soldier in Army fatigues standing on base.) He stated he would like to pay via PayPal if I had an account. I got a little nervous (working for a private investigator I’m a little more skeptical of people these days), so I questioned how he planned on picking up the bike. He then texted me from a different number. (Hello, Red Flag!) When I questioned why he changed numbers, he advised the second number was his “secured military line.”

Again, I questioned how he planned on picking up the motorcycle, to which he advised he would send a transport agent to come pick it up once r I get the cash out of PayPal, and then he asked for my PayPal account information again. I told him I didn’t have PayPal and I need cash upon purchase. He stopped responding and I never heard him again. Go figure.


In my sheer excitement of making some extra money and my blinded trust for anyone who wears a United States military uniform, I was a vulnerable target for these kinds of scams. Luckily, my experience working for Lauth Investigations has given me a certain skepticism towards online interactions, a wariness that pushed me to ask more questions and thankfully helped me refrain from giving my Paypal information to this man. It is essential that everyone approaches online interactions with the premise that the person on the other side of the screen has no motivation to be honest with you.


The Paypal Scam: How it Works

I’d like to take a minute and conjecture what this man was attempting to accomplish by contacting me. At Lauth Investigations we have seen cases where fraudsters create a fake e-mail from PayPal they send to “customers” stating the money has been deposited and transferred. The e-mail looks identical to what PayPal sends their customers. This man probably would have sent me a fake confirmation email and then came to pick up the bike before I realized that he never actually paid me. Does anyone check to make sure the e-mail is legitimate? No, which is why I feel the need to write this post. When we get a confirmation that such a large amount of money has been transferred we should always call PayPal directly, from a number on their site not the invoice we receive, to ensure the funds are received and legitimate.

Why, you ask, should we call PayPal directly? Because oftentimes the scammer sets up a fake call center, so when you call the number on the fake e-mail you receive from “PayPal” there are fake Paypal employees waiting to answer your call and confirm the money has been transferred.

Just like anything we do today in this online world, we must enter with extreme caution. Hold your excitement until actual cash is in hand. As much as we  trust our military and veterans, do not let the fact that somebody claims to be a member of the military make you let your guard down. . If someone cannot meet you in person, with cash, question their motives and move on to the next buyer.

In my next article, I will focus on another online scam to look for and ways to protect yourself.