Avoiding Internet Boat Buying Scams When Selling a Boat

Beware of internet check overpayment scams from overseas buyers that offer more than a boat’s online listed price in return for wired money

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With a tough boat selling market, boat sellers need to be more cautious then ever with potential buyers. Sellers anxious to sell a boat may be quicker to accept an unusual offer for their boat – but unfortunately the unusual offer is usually a scam.

Check overpayment scams from overseas contacts via the internet are the most prominent scams boaters face when they are trying to sell their boats online. The boating industry’s for-sale-by-owner market is very susceptible to what is known as a variation of the “Nigerian Money Offer” and boat sellers need to be careful to avoid this common boat buying scam.

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How does the Check Overpayment Scam Target Boats Sellers?

The popular internet scam known as the Nigerian Scam is listed with the Federal Trade Commission as “Nigerian Money Scam” (AKA 419 Scam) and typically involves receiving an email asking for money in exchange for a larger sum of money.

Boat sellers need to avoid overseas buyers
offering check overpayments for boats.

A check overpayment scam impacting boat sellers is a variation of the typical Nigerian Money Scam, and unscrupulous overseas scammers (many from Nigeria) are now conducting boat buying scams that target boat sellers with online listings. In fact, this scam has been going on for years… but has recently ramped up within the boating industry due to the tough boat selling market in this economy.

Boaters that list their boat for sale online as for-sale-by-owner (FSBO) are targeted by the oversea scammers who falsely present themselves as a potential buyer. And it is not isolated to one boat marketplace website – scammers are preying on used boat listings posted on large boat selling websites like Boattrader, iBoats and Boats.com as well as smaller regional boat selling sources like Salty Dog or even Craigslist.

Here are the typical steps in the check overpayment scam for boat buying:

  • “Buyer” contacts seller through email inquiring about the boat for sale
  • “Buyer” makes offer for the boat (without requesting to see the boat)
  • “Buyer” sends cashier’s check for more than the agreed amount
  • “Buyer” requests seller to wire money back for the difference

Unfortunately the victim of the boat buying scam is asked to wire money prior to the cashier’s check clearing at their local bank (overseas checks are slower to clear). The seller sends money to cover the “overage” and then finds out that the check is fraudulent. The check bounces and the wired money is lost from the seller.

Warning Signs Overseas Buyers are trying to Scam Boat Sellers

If you are selling your boat online, be on the lookout for these red flags that a potential boat buyer may actually be trying to scam you out of money.

  • Buyer places an offer on a boat unseen
  • Buyer claims to be a representative of the actual buyer, but offers no formal written agreement of sale
  • Buyer sends cashier’s check for more than the full asking price and requests that the seller wires money back to cover their “commission” on the sale
  • Buyer only communicates via email and has a generic email account (such as Yahoo or Gmail) with no valid company email signature
  • Buyer’s email address is an overseas abbreviation (such as .uk or .es)
  • Emails sent from the buyer use poor grammar and spelling
Beware of overseas offers on used boat listings, especially
if they are asking for money in return for a check overage.
Photo courtesy of motifake.com
If you find yourself in a situation with a check overpayment, do NOT ever send money until a check fully clears – or ask the buyer to only send the asking price amount. If you receive a check with an overpayment ask your bank to inspect the check and alert them that you suspect it may be a scam. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has a guide on Check Overpayment Scams with more advice on the issue.

Although there are certainly legitimate overseas buyers for boats, be extra cautious with any type of deal that just doesn’t seem right. Never send money in return for a check overpayment and never release your boat or boat title until all payments have cleared.

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If you suspect a boat buying scam, you should report it to the National Fraud Information Center/Internet Fraud Watch and to the Federal Trade Commission.

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Diane Seltzer

View posts by Diane Seltzer
Diane is the founder of MyBoatLife.com as well as the boating lifestyle site for kids BoaterKids.com. Active in the boating industry, Diane has also led the marketing for multiple recreational boating businesses and startups.

1 Comment

  1. Clair ValeroApril 26, 2018

    Hi Diane,

    Great job on outlining the pros and cons of selling with a dealer vs selling privately. My husband and I debated back and forth on which way to go and ultimately decided to sell our Cobalt ourselves. In the end we’re happy we chose this route, but it was a bit more work than using a dealer/broker. We listed our boat on boatdealers.ca after looking at similar boats to determine what the value of ours may be. We found it to be a good resource so hopefully it will help some of your readers too!

    Clair Valero

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