Craigslist is a great service but if you deal with people you aren’t meeting face to face you risk getting scammed.
Craigslist is a great resource for selling things, finding apartments, locating services and meeting people. Most of the time transactions go smoothly and both seller and buyer are satisfied with the Craigslist experience.
Danger awaits the unwary buyer or seller on Craigslist. Most these scams follow the same pattern you see on eBay and other online auction sites. Try posting that you have a piece of jewelry or some other easily-mailed valuable item for sale and the first response you get will probably be someone trying scam you.
Craigslist Nigerian Scams and More
Emails from Nigeria offering you more than your selling price if you accept their check or money order are typical. The fact that this is a scam may seem obvious but there are lots of variations on this theme that fool people every day. Don’t add your name to the growing list of Craigslist fraud victims. Be smart, be aware and if in doubt ask your friends or someone with internet savvy what they think if things sound fishy.
This page details a few common Craigslist scams but no list is ever complete because new versions of old scams appear all the time. Once you know the common themes these criminals use you can usually spot them a mile away and they become little more than a subject of amusement.
To help keep yourself safe from scams, Craigslist advises that any business dealings be done with people in your own local area. Don’t do business with folks who live far away. As with any online financial transactions, prudence and common sense are paramount. I once received an offer for a purchase where the person said they lived in California but requested that I email the item to somewhere in Oregon. Now what’s wrong with this picture?
Beware of anyone offering more than what you asked for. This is too weird. Who would do that? Especially since Craigslist is known as the place to go for good deals. Other clues include poor grammar and misspelled words. In the offer I mentioned earlier both Oregon and California were misspelled and English was obviously not their native language. That doesn’t necessarily mean the inquiry is coming from abroad but it’s certainly a red flag.
Craigslist provides the following advice on avoiding scams to anyone using their service:
- Trust your instincts
- Deal only with local buyers and sellers
- NEVER wire funds to a distant buyer, via Western Union or any other carrier
- Be wary if the other party wants to use an escrow service such as BidPay, Squaretrade, or even PayPal
- NEVER give out personal financial information (eBay or PayPal info, checking account number, SSN, etc.)
- always remember the most important rule — BUYER BEWARE
This advice isn’t specific to Craigslist. It’s just all-around good advice. Below are the top three Craigslist scams.
- The buyer or seller doesn’t live near you.
- The buyer or seller wants to pay by cashier’s check, US Postal Service money order, Western Union, or escrow service (BidPay, Squaretrade, etc.).
- The buyer or seller won’t agree to meet with you in person.
If you happen to see something on Craigslist that looks scammy, you should send an email to “email@example.com” and give them as much detail as you can about the listing. Make sure you include URL (or 8 digit post ID number) in your email. If you’re selling something and you think a con artist has expressed interest, forward it to “firstname.lastname@example.org”
Make sure you are really on Craigslist!
There some sites out there that attempt to capitalize on Craigslist’s success. Some have similar domain names and the owner’s hope that you will make mistake while typing in the URL and end up on their site instead of the one you intended. Sometimes you will find nothing more than advertising but a couple of these imposters are phishing scams with layouts that duplicate the real Craigslist to fool you. The real web address for Craigslist is www.craigslist.org although the www in the URL can usually be replaced with the name of the city you whose listings you wish to explore (chicago.craigslist.org, newyork.craigslist.org, or losangeles.craigslist.org). If you go to the main address I just listed you will be able to find the local listings you’re interested. Just make sure that you haven’t ended up at www.craigslist.com or www.craiglist.org or some other common misspelling of the Craigslist domain. You’d be surprised at how many people type in the wrong address and end up somewhere they didn’t mean to. People often fail to realize their mistake so pay attention to any clues telling you that something is “phishy” about the site. If there’s any doubt, go back and re-type the URL or do a search for “Craigslist” to be sure.
Craigslist’s New York apartment classifieds are a con artist favorite
Fraud in New York City’s Craigslist classifieds has become so pervasive that Craigslist has considered charging a fee for its ads. Their hope is that by putting a charge in place, they will discourage phony listings. Most of these fraudulent postings are common bait and switch schemes. However, some of the cases reported involved more elaborate schemes run by professional criminals. These scam artists have managed to bilk apartment seekers for thousands of dollars. Everyone knows how competitive the New York apartment market is, with too many people looking for far too few apartments. Some bold con artists have capitalized on this situation and used it to their advantage.
Read more about Online Rental Scams
Craigslist Car Scams
Buying and selling cars on Craigslist cab be a huge money-saver for both parties. Both can expect to make or save more than if they had gone to a dealership. This makes the Auto category in Craigslist’s For Sale section very active, especially in urban areas. With so many people exchanging so many cars for so much cash, it was only a matter of time before the criminal element took notice. Fraudulent postings are now a common occurrence.
Craigslist Ticket Scams
Craigslist provides an excellent means to sell unneeded tickets to sporting events, shows, concerts, festivals, fairs or even airline tickets. All you need to do is make a post and wait for the emails and/or phone calls to start coming in. Finding deals or tickets to hot shows or “sold out” events has made it one of the first places to turn to when you want to purchase tickets, especially when they’re for premiere events. Many of these tickets are sold for top dollar, but considering the considerable cost of tickets, even face value can mean a lot of money is going to change hands.
Read more about online ticket scams
Phony Escrow Service Site Scams on Craigslist
Purchasing something expensive over the internet presents a problem. How do you pay for it when you know nothing about the seller and vice versa when you’re the one selling something? The solution for many is to use a third party escrow service. Escrow services are preferred because they protect buyers and sellers making transactions. Unfortunetely, scammers have devised a way to take advantage of the trust people place in escrow services and rob them blind.
Read more about craigslist escrow scams
Phony Money Orders and Bad Check Scams on Craigslist
There are some things that should immediately raise red flags for anyone buying or selling on Craigslist. A few of these are:
- Buyers wanting to pay by money order
- The buyer is from another country or continent such as Nigeria in Africa
- The inclusion of “business partners” in what should be a relatively simple sale
- Over-complicated payment and shipping processes which try to trick you into shipping the item for sale first and them paying later.
There are many variations on this theme and many will involve official looking packing slips and money orders or checks from institutions you trust such as Western Union. Many times the wording of the emails sent to you will seem odd and the grammar poor. That’s because they are little more than form letters with terms and language designed to excite you, confuse you or put you at ease with what is nothing more than an old fashioned Nigerian 419 scam.
Sometimes you will receive a money order first. If you decide to take the risk and accept payment by money order, make sure it clears at the bank before you send them your goods! These money orders will often bounce or be counterfeits and if you ship your goods to the buyer right after you drop the payment you received off at the bank you may be in for a rude surprise. If someone wants what you are selling so badly that they want it shipped halfway around the world then they can probably wait a few more days for it to be shipped. Don’t be swayed by threats if the buyer starts using them on you. Insuring that someone’s payment is valid is quite fair.
Read more about Counterfeit Money Order and Check Scams
Craigslist Purchase Protection Program
Some Craigslist users have reported something called the Craigslist Purchase Protection scam. What happens is that after you email someone about an item you get an email that has text to the effect of:
Craigslist Transaction Confirmed! Purchase Protection Granted!
Per your request, we have verified all the details of this transaction. We concluded that they are accurate. Please follow our instructions to complete the transaction safely.
Craigslist Transaction Confirmed!
Current status: Payment pending
Here would be some details about the Craigslist purchase you supposedly made
Complete your Craigslist transaction in 5 easy steps:
* Craigslist accepts the transaction and offers purchase protection to the buyer
Next you’ll receive a document that may appear to be an invoice. Relax, it’s a phony. There is no official Craigslist buyer or purchase protection program. Craigslist doesn’t officially back any transaction. Taking care of business is your job.
Pay attention to those alert boxes at the top of Craigslist postings because they are there for your benefit and warn about these and many other scams on Craigslist.