Craigslist can be a very dangerous place. Whether you’re buying, selling, looking for a new job, hunting for an apartment to rent, or just giving away an old book shelf, scammers will always be thinking up new schemes to defraud you.
Scams on Craigslist may lead to robbery, vandalized property, identity theft, harassment, or even physical assaults. Always trust your instincts and never do business with someone if you don’t feel safe.
So the next time you buy or sell on Craigslist, follow the 10 tips outlined in this article to stay safe and avoid being scammed.
10 Tips to Avoid Being Scammed
1. STAY LOCAL. Craigslist is designed to be local, which is why the site is divided into regional and city-specific listings. Never do business with anyone in another state or country, or anyone who makes a lot of excuses about why they can’t meet you in person. Scammers frequently lie about being missionaries, being in the military, taking care of a sick elderly relative or working for a multinational corporation to “explain” why they’re abroad. Don’t believe their stories.
Craigslist states on their support page that if you only deal locally with people you can meet in person, you’ll avoid 99% of scams.
- For information about long-distance puppy breeder scams frequently conducted on Craigslist, watch our video Pet Scams Are A New Trend: How Thieves Use Cute Puppy Ads To Steal Your Money.
2. AVOID WIRE TRANSFERS, CASHIER’S CHECKS AND MONEY ORDERS. It’s a huge red flag if someone wants to send or receive payment through the mail. Anyone who suggests a wire transfer (like Western Union or MoneyGram), a cashier’s check or a money order is most likely trying to scam you.
When you conduct a transaction using one of these methods, you’re not protected if things go south. If you’re buying an item that proves to be defective (or even nonexistent), you won’t be able to get your money back after it’s sent.
Also, if you accept a cashier’s check or money order as payment for a sale and it doesn’t clear, you will be held liable to pay your bank the full amount — plus any bank fees. Even worse, you may even face legal problems.
Cash is the only secure currency for Craigslist transactions. If you’re dealing with a large amount of money and the buyer or seller isn’t comfortable handling so much cash in a public place, meet at a bank and make the transaction inside the building. The money can be withdrawn and then deposited right there in the bank.
3. BE CAUTIOUS WHEN USING ONLINE ESCROW. Be cautious when the buyer or seller wants to use an online escrow service. Many scammers use fake escrow sites that may look like the real thing. Watch out for red flags such as poor spelling and domain spoofing. Never send financial information online unless the website displays a secure “https://” URL.
4. DON’T COMMIT WITHOUT SEEING THE GOODS IN PERSON. You might end up with an item that’s broken, not as described, or doesn’t exist at all. If you’re selling, be very cautious of a buyer who is eager to purchase your items sight-unseen. This is a big flag, especially if you’re selling something really valuable.
One common Craigslist scam involves a “buyer” who sends you a money order or cashier’s check, which is much higher than the agreed-upon price because they “made a mistake.” The scammer asks you to deposit it and send them the price difference via Western Union. After you’ve wired the money, the bank discovers it’s a counterfeit check and you’re responsible for paying it. By then, your own money is long gone.
5. DON’T FALL FOR JOB SCAMS. If you’re looking for a job on Craigslist, you should be very careful about anyone who’s willing to hire you without an interview. Even if you’re applying for jobs that involve telecommuting, research the company just to be safe. Make sure they have a physical location near you and visit their offices before you provide any private information for a credit/background check.
Never accept a job on Craigslist for secret shopping, international shipping management, foreign financial transfers, survey-taking, anything that requires you to pay money, or anything that simply involves “working from home” without going into greater detail. These types of “jobs” are almost always a scam.
- For more about job scams on Craigslist, check out our video How to Avoid Fake Jobs on Craigslist, LinkedIn, and Careerbuilder.
6. USE A COUNTERFEIT DETECTION PEN. A counterfeit detection pen will allow you to find out if someone is trying to pay you in phony bills. These pens use a special iodine ink that changes color when applied to wood-based paper (real money is printed on fiber-based paper used exclusively by the government). You can find counterfeit detection pens at most office supply stores, or online, for around $5.
7. REMEMBER, CRAIGSLIST DOESN’T CERTIFY LISTINGS. Craigslist has no verification or screening process for transactions. If anyone claims to be “certified” or “guaranteed” by Craigslist, they’re almost certainly trying to scam you. Scammers frequently lie to get you to trust them.
There is no such thing as “Craigslist buyer protection,” “Craigslist seller certification” or “Craigslist payment services.” Avoid anyone who uses these phrases or similar language.
8. RESEARCH THE BUYER/SELLER. Use Scambook and Google. Search for their name, email address, business or any other personal information they’ve provided. If this person has ever scammed anyone (or attempted to scam anyone) using the same information, it’s probably been reported online.
Just remember that scammers often use many different aliases. Even if your search comes up clean, you should still keep an eye out for any red flags and follow Scambook’s other 9 Tips.
- For some extra safety tips just for selling, watch our video How to Sell on Craigslist and Not Get Scammed: 4 Great Tips You Need to Know.
9. DON’T GIVE OUT MORE PERSONAL INFORMATION THAN NECESSARY. When you sell on Craigslist, don’t include any personal information (name, address, phone number) in your public listing. No one needs to know anything about you unless they’re buying whatever you’re selling.
Then, even after you’ve agreed to the transaction, it’s unlikely that you’ll need to share more than your phone number. For extra protection, create a free disposable phone number using Google Voice: https://voice.google.com
Never invite the buyer to your home unless it’s absolutely necessary. If they need to come to your home to pick up a large piece of furniture, for example, move the furniture to your front lawn or open garage and don’t let them inside. Make sure you’re not home alone and tell your neighbors you’re expecting a buyer.
10. TRUST YOUR GUT. As we’ve said before, always follow your instincts. If something seems like it isn’t right, or someone makes you uncomfortable for any reason, just walk away.
What Are Your Experiences on Craigslist?
Have you bought, sold or traded items on Craigslist? Tell us about your experience in the comments and share any safety tips of your own!