It usually starts when a seller posts a big-ticket item on Craigslist.
Then comes a text message from an eager buyer.
Next comes the cashier's check, which looks real enough. But the check is written out for more than the item's listed price, so the buyer asks the seller to wire the difference to a shipping company.
Often, the deal seems too good to be true. And more often than not, if a situation seems too good to be true, it probably is.
This type of scam, involving online sales, fake cashier's checks, overpayments and requests to wire funds to far-away shipping companies, is playing out on susceptible victims in Sonoma County and beyond.
Scams of all kinds are on the rise as more people shop online, and the Better Business Bureau has been warning consumers to be on the lookout.
"The scammers are getting good," said Rex Albright, spokesman for the bureau. "They're getting better and more sophisticated, and the tools that they use are getting better."
In May, the Internet Crime Complaint Center, a partnership between the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center, issued warnings about popular counterfeit check scams targeting real estate agents and attorneys.
"That doesn't happen just on Craigslist, that happens a lot," Albright said. "It's unfortunate that people see that, and they get a little bit excited, and they don't do the due diligence to follow through on the funds."
Bart Edson, 49, of Santa Rosa said he fell victim to such a ruse when he tried to sell his upright Victorian piano on Craigslist. He had been advertising the piano for weeks, and his first attempt to get $750 for the instrument failed. So he dropped the price to $500, but still the phone didn't ring.