BoatUS Consumer Protection Bureau


Boat Buying And Selling Scams

If It Seems Too Good to Be True, It Probably Is

By Charles Fort
Published: June/July 2014

Learning to recognize the signs will help you protect yourself from boat buying and selling scams.

Photo of scam warning sign

A member selling a boat online contacted us recently after receiving this email: "Thanks for your swift response. Your asking price is okay by me. I would have love to come see this in person but am presently on job transfer to another state and when we make payment and you receive the funds, the mover and my representative will see them in person on my behalf and the only method of payment for now is by making by sending Bank Draft to you." The recipient wisely suspected the email was a scam, but wondered how it would work, as the "buyer" was going to send a bank draft. Keep reading to find out why the member's intuition was right, how these kinds of scams work, and what to look for so you won't be a victim.

Many of the scams we see today are variations on old tricks that have been around for decades. The three that follow are currently in wide use:

Counterfeit Cashier's Check/Money Order

A bogus buyer will contact you with an email like the one that our member received, offering to send a cashier's check or bank draft for the full asking price if you provide your contact information. At some point, the buyer will tell you that he/she must send you the check for significantly more than the purchase price and give you one of a number of bogus reasons why this is necessary. Most commonly, the buyer will claim to be out of the country and want to have the boat shipped to him/her. The buyer will ask you to deposit the funds and send some portion of the money to someone else, often a phony shipping company. Most people assume a cashier's check or money order is the same as cash, but in the days of Photoshop and color laser printers, that's no longer the case, and crooks can produce very convincing copies of the real thing, from seemingly legitimate U.S. banks. Once the bogus checks are deposited, they must be cleared like any other check. Checks may appear to clear your bank within a couple of days, and those funds may appear "available" in your account, but in reality it may take another month or more for the bank to establish that a check is bogus, return it to you, and debit your account for that amount. By then, the money you transferred out of your account for "shipping" is long gone.

PayPal Variation

Recently, PayPal has become a target for scammers. The phony buyer will ask for your PayPal ID in order to send you a payment, again for substantially more than the purchase price. Shortly after that, you will receive a fake confirmation from PayPal with your user ID for more than the agreed purchase price, and the buyer will contact you asking you to send the extra money to a shipper. To make the scam look more legit, if you refuse, you'll receive additional fake notices from PayPal threatening to close your account if you don't transfer the extra money as per your "agreement."

Escrow Scam

In this variation, a bogus seller advertises a boat on a website often at a low but not quite scam-worthy price. When you try to buy the boat, the seller will suggest using an escrow service and recommend something that sounds legitimate like or But the realistic-looking website is the center of the scam, and once you transfer your money you won't hear anything more about the boat, or the seller, ever again. Using an escrow service for a long-distance purchase makes good sense, but make sure to pick one like, eBay's recommended escrow provider. Be very cautious using escrow services you're not familiar with. Check the Better Business Bureau's (BBB) website to verify an internet escrow site's validity. Remember that hiring a qualified marine surveyor to inspect the boat should be done before negotiations and payment, and will protect you against most selling scams.

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