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5 Craigslist Scams and How to Avoid Them

January 20th, 2017 - 1:58 PM

Don’t be fooled by Craigslist scammers

According to Craigslist, more than 60 million Americans use their website to buy, sell and trade each month. Most of the time, transactions go smoothly, leaving both the buyer and seller satisfied. But, other times the experience goes wrong. Even though technology has made finding and purchasing products simple, it’s also made it easier for scammers to take advantage of unsuspecting and inexperienced users. So whether you’re new to Craigslist or have successfully used it many times, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with some common scams and learn how to avoid them.

report Craigslist scammers

5 Common Craigslist scams to be aware of

1. Being overpaid for a sale​

With this scam, the "buyer" offers to send you a check before they pick up the item, but the check you get will be for significantly more than the asking price. The buyer will probably say they wrote the wrong amount and will ask you to wire the difference after depositing the check. It may sound like a harmless mistake, but the check is likely counterfeit. When it bounces, you’ll not only be out the “difference” you paid the scammer, but you’ll also owe the bank. Under federal law, banks are required to give you access to the funds. So, if you choose to deposit the check, you assume responsibility for it. And, if the scammer picks up the item before the check bounces, you’ve lost that, too.

How to avoid this hoax: According to Craigslist, 99 percent of scams can be avoided if you deal with people locally and face-to-face. It’s also best to only accept cash.

2. Purchasing fake or canceled tickets​

There’s nothing more irritating (and embarrassing) than showing up to a concert, sporting event or airport only to be told your tickets are fake or have been canceled. With advances in digital imaging technology, scammers can easily produce exact replicas of tickets. Some will even include hologram or watermark features, which are used as extra security measures on real tickets. Or, maybe the scammer decides to cancel the actual tickets as soon as you pay, rendering them worthless. Either way, you’ve lost all that money and you won’t be allowed in.

How to avoid ticket fraud: It’s best to purchase all tickets from a venue or from legitimate sites like Ticketmaster®, HotwireTM or Travelocity®. However, if you want to get tickets from a Craigslist seller, ask them to prove that the tickets were purchased (with a receipt/invoice). You should then call the appropriate contact (ticket office or airline) and verify the tickets are paid for and that the seat numbers match.  

3. Renting or buying unavailable property

Because Craigslist has multiple listings for all types of housing, people can often find their dream property within minutes. But, some of these offers are too good to be true. In a renting or buying scam, the “homeowner” or “landlord” will list a very attractive price. Once you contact them, they may tell you they had to leave town for business, missionary work, a family death, etc. They’ll appear crunched for time with personal things so that you’ll wire them money for the first month’s rent and deposit quickly. Some will go as far as sending you keys (but they aren’t likely to work). By the time you arrive at your new place, you either realize it doesn’t exist or see that someone else occupies it. Not only do you have no place to live, but you’re also out the money you spent.  

How to avoid the property scam: Be aware of these three things: when the seller states that he or she has left town or the country; when the rent or mortgage cost is too low for the area; and when the seller wants the monthly payment quickly. As the buyer, you’re allowed to ask a lot of questions and take your time — back out of the deal if you hesitate or feel rushed.  

4.Selling a personal vehicle to someone with insufficient funds

With the increase of auto trade postings, car scams on Craigslist can happen to anyone. When you’re dealing with a car scammer, they can try to trick you in a variety of ways. Here are some of the most common to be aware of:

  • Fake funds. They’ll produce a fraudulent personal check, money order, cashier’s check or counterfeit money; you’ll hand over your vehicle and then be out the money and the car.
  • Over-payment. Just like we mentioned above, the buyer may try and overpay for the car, wanting you to wire the difference. Don’t fall for this — you’ll lose the money you paid them and will still have to pay the bank for the bounced check.
  • Third party deal. Be wary of accepting payment through services like PayPal® or Western UnionSM. These sites can often be used as ways of scamming people out of money. Be sure to verify payments through your account and check that emails you receive are legitimate. 

How to avoid car fraud: Always accept payment with cash in person. If the deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is. And if they’re being pushy about completing the transaction, cancel it. It’s best to wait for an honest deal rather than risk losing your money, your car or both.  

5. Paying via an online escrow service

This scam usually involves products that are more costly — like cars, boats or expensive electronics and tools. The seller will ask that you pay through an online escrow service for security measures. While it may sound reasonable, there are a lot of online escrow services that are fake. If you pay through one of these unsecured sites, you’re at risk for losing all of your money.

How to avoid online escrow deceptions: It’s best to avoid these types of trades. However, if you want to proceed, make sure the site is legitimate — compare it to reliable services like Escrow.comTM which is partnered with dependable companies like eBayTM and FedEx®, and research the domain name on Google. If you doubt anything, back out of the deal.  

How to spot a Craigslist scam

Recognizing a scam on Craigslist is simple if you know what to look for. You should think twice about your upcoming deal if:

  • The person says Craigslist is involved in the transaction (Craigslist is never involved with any trade deals)
  • The person only wants you to use their resources for payment
  • The person asks for personal information (Social Security Number or bank account number)
  • The person rushes the transaction, making you feel leery about it

How to avoid scams on Craigslist

If you want to know how to avoid being ripped-off, use these tips:

  • Only deal with people locally and in person
  • Trust your instincts
  • Always do your research
  • Make sure you’re really on Craigslist — craigslist.org (check that the domain name isn’t misspelled or taking you to a “.com” address)
  • Only accept cash as payment (and use a counterfeit detector pen)

How to report Craigslist scammers

If you’ve been scammed, contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and file a complaint online or call their toll-free hotline at 1-877-FTC-HELP (382-4357). Craigslist also recommends calling the local police for any scams that take place in person.

The next course of action is to email Craigslist at abuse@craigslist.org and detail the situation entirely. If possible, include emails and text messages and the URL for the ad. The more people you tell, the less likely these criminals will get away with their wrongdoing.  

What else should Craigslist customers be aware of?

Do you have other tips or any additional scams our readers should know about? Share them with us in the comment section below.