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Just how easy is it to fall for an online scam? NewsChannel 5's Rhori Johnston found out when he tried to sell a couch

Rhori's Facebook Marketplace ad
Rhori's Facebook Marketplace ad with couch
Rhori's Facebook Marketplace buyer
Posted at 2:29 PM, Jul 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-12 19:17:47-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Lots of folks are selling their old stuff online these days and making some good money doing it. But you know who else is trying to make money through online sales? Scammers!

These scammers are posing as buyers and using old tricks to steal money from unsuspecting sellers. Just about anyone can fall victim to these scams.

These days a lot of people are turning to sites like Facebook Marketplace to get rid of used items that are still in good condition.

NewsChannel 5's own Rhori Johnston recently tried to sell an old brown leather couch after buying a new one. He soon discovered there are scammers here who don't want your old stuff, but they'll use it to steal your money.

"I have been watching your stories for years about these scams and I always shake my head and say, 'Why do people keep falling for this stuff?'" Johnston told NewsChannel 5 Investigates.

Now he realizes how easy someone can become a victim.

"I got a message from Barbara..." he said.

This Barbara contacted him shortly after he posted his ad.

"The gist of it was, I want the sofa, can’t pick it up right away, we are planning our daughter's wedding. We are busy but I will give you an extra hundred dollars if you hold onto it for a few weeks," Johnston recalled.

He said the message seemed plausible.

Then she sent another email, asking for his home address so she could send a cashier's check, which should have been a red flag. Then he got a check in the mail.

"And it is for a large amount of money!" Johnston said with some surprise after opening the envelope and finding the check.

It supposedly was from a church in Houston, Texas. The signature said simply, "Christopher." It was for $1,950, a lot more than Johnston had been asking for his couch. All of those should have been red flags.

The buyer, Barbara, told Johnston she wanted him to cash the check and send the difference back immediately, supposedly to pay the movers who she said would be there soon to get the couch.

Barbara told Johnston to send the money using a money order or through a cash app, a favorite of scammers because once you send it, the money's gone and there's no way to get it back or easily trace it.

"Really the first email, if I had read it through fully should have been a warning, but again, I was just busy and I was thinking I need to sell this sofa and I need to move it and I just wasn’t really focused on it," Johnston said now in hindsight.

Fortunately, he realized what was going on before ever trying to cash the check or sending any money.

"The last email I replied and I said, 'I’m sorry, I take cash or Venmo only.' Haven’t heard from Barbara since," Johnston said.

If you are going to sell online, Facebook Marketplace recommends you use a safe form of payment like Paypal or there's always cash or Venmo.

That check Johnston received that supposedly was from a church in Texas?

NewsChannel 5 Investigates called the church and they said they'd gotten calls from across the country, people in almost every state who had received checks just like Johnston's from buyers on Facebook Marketplace and Craig's List. At one point a couple of weeks ago, the church receptionist said she was getting as many as ten calls a day. She said the checks look just like the church's, and they do have an account with Bank of America, but they are not from the church and they have no one there by the name of Christopher. She said the Federal Trade Commission is now looking into this.

As for the couch? After all of that, instead of selling it, he decided to donate it to charity.