Sections on this page
- How to Identify Craigslist Scams
- Beating Craigslist Scams: The Do's and Don'ts
- What to Do If You’re a Victim of Craigslist Scams
- Common Craigslist Scams
- Frequently Asked Questions About Craigslist Scams
As one of the original online replacements for everything from personal ads to garage sales, Craigslist has become one of the most popular websites on the internet. Unfortunately, its popularity has resulted in a rise in Craigslist scams.
The site’s fast-and-loose format, allowing nearly anyone to post about almost anything, invites as many opportunities to score a great deal as it does to fall victim to a “deal” that’s genuinely too good to be true.
The next time you’re looking for something on the site—whether it be big-ticket items like cars, apartments, event tickets, or even something on a much smaller scale—remember to proceed with caution and keep an eye out for any red flags.
How to Identify Craigslist Scams
As the world continues to develop ways to buy and sell things and exchange money through online forums, the types of scams created to take advantage of these digital interactions have also evolved.
Indeed, scams are a bit like the fabled Hydra, the nine-headed monster of Greek mythology who would grow back two heads for everyone that got cut off. Every time one solution is created to identify or shut scams down, scammers come up with multiple other ways to work around them.
The Ad Itself
Before you even contact a job poster, there are a few tell-tale signs about the ad itself that point to a scam being in play, including:
- Poor spelling or grammar—one of the most consistent signs of a scam
- Requests for personal details, such as your Social Security number, PIN code, or password
- Asking for unusual forms of payment, including gift cards, Western Union, Money Gram, cashier’s checks, money orders, PayPal, Zelle, or an escrow service
- A lack of details, or vague ones at best (for example, no address listed for a rental listing)
- Generic stock photos used
- Same ad posted in several cities/areas
- Deals that seem too good to be true
- Mentions of a “Craigslist guarantee” or any type of “guarantee”
These are not the only signs of a scam but some of the most consistent red flags.
It’s always important to, above all, listen to your gut. If you feel like something in the ad or interaction is off—it probably is.
Craigslist fraud is so rampant partly because the site allows posters to post anonymously or otherwise easily create multiple or fraudulent accounts.
When dealing with someone you’ve contacted from Craigslist, some red flags to watch for include someone who is:
- Refusing or otherwise being unable to meet face to face
- Not local to you
- Eager to get things done quickly/puts a lot of pressure on you to close a deal
- Communicating a particularly heavy “sob story”
- Avoiding answering your questions or offering sufficient (or logical) details
Even if you’ve looked over the post and thought things seemed okay, these could be additional signs you’re about to be scammed.
Beating Craigslist Scams: The Do's and Don'ts
When using Craigslist—whether to buy or sell things—it’s essential to stay aware of the situation at hand and the types of people you’re dealing with.
When a seller on Craigslist is unable or refuses to meet you in person so you can see the item for yourself, it's safest to back out of the transaction. Refusing to show you the item in person is one of the biggest signs of a Craigslist scam.
To avoid falling for a Craigslist scam, you should never:
- Pay anyone you haven’t met in person
- Wire funds
- Accept a cashier’s/certified check or money order
- Give out any personal information, including your Social Security number, birthday, address, password, or any other potentially identifying details
- Give out any financial information, including bank account numbers, PIN, and credit card numbers
- Purchase something without seeing it first
- Submit to a background or credit check until you have met the landlord in person
But do take special precaution when considering deals that include:
- Escrow accounts
- Shipping items
You can also further protect yourself by:
- Only dealing locally
- Meeting in person/examine an object before purchasing it
- Accept cash for payments only
- Creating a disposable phone number on a service like Google Voice to deal with the person
- Research any person, company, or product they’re selling as much as you can before making a decision
What to Do If You’re a Victim of Craigslist Scams
Sometimes despite all our precautions, things happen, and we fall victim to a scam.
If this has happened to you, it’s okay. Though there’s no official count, thousands of people get scammed on Craigslist every year. And there are several avenues you can take to help correct the situation.
Flag the Post and Report it to Craigslist
First, you should flag the post, which is as easy as clicking on the flag icon on the top of the listing. This will alert Craigslist to look over the post for any potential problems. You can also notify the site directly through the Craigslist customer service page.
These actions are essential when encountering a scam because it helps the site identify and remove bad posts—saving others from falling victim to the same crime. It may also alert Craigslist to a fraudulent user and enable the company to cancel the bad account.
You should also report the scam to Craigslist and provide as much information as possible, including your conversations with the scammer.
Report Craigslist Scams to Authorities
Depending on the type of scam—and how far it went—you may also have some additional avenues for recourse.
If it involves a high-ticket item, you can report the case to your local police, which can help you pursue charges and possibly recover any stolen money or items.
Cancel the Payment
Depending on how you paid, you can try to stop the charge or have your money returned. (If you used Venmo, for example, there might be a small window of opportunity to put a stop to your payment—but you will have to contact that company directly.)
Common Craigslist Scams
Now that you know what to look out for, here are some examples of what these people and the types of scams they run might look like in action.
Many Craigslist scammers pose as “buyers,” that is, people who are responding to your ad, supposedly interested in purchasing whatever you’re selling.
Craigslist Cashier’s Check Scams
Most of the time, these scams involve someone claiming to be overseas—or at least far enough away to avoid making an in-person payment.
Instead, they’ll offer to send you a cashier’s check or money order. But either the check will bounce, or they’ll “realize” that the cashier’s check they sent you—which is a fake—was written out for “too much,” and they’ll ask you to wire-transfer the difference over.
A majority of Craigslist scams operate on the side of the seller. It’s simply much easier for scammers to pose as sellers, take your money or information, and then disappear without ever having made good on their side of the bargain.
Craigslist Rental Scams
One of the biggest Craigslist scams is the Craigslist rental scam.
This happens when you’re looking for a home, apartment, or room to rent and are essentially asked to pay for the security deposit—and possibly several months’ worth of rent—up-front, usually before getting a chance to check out the property.
Most of the time, these are perpetrated by “landlords” that claim to be out of town, usually because a sudden work or life-related circumstance had them leave unexpectedly for an extended period. They’ll ask you to “take good care” of their home and promise to FedEx you a key after you make your payment—and possibly also give out some personal information on a rental agreement form.
Selling Items Still Being Financed
This form of Craigslist fraud is most prevalent in cars, phones, or other expensive items that tend to make their way to the online garage sale.
It may be slightly easier to discover whether a car still has a lien (loan) taken out on it (and you should always ask for a vehicle’s vehicle identification number (VIN) to double-check this information). Still, it can be much trickier with cell phones. Typically, the phone’s original buyer will pay it off over months or years through additional payments added to their phone bill.
And if they stop making those payments, retribution can be swift—and brutal. They can switch off their cell phone service, and your number can get blacklisted just days after a missed payment. And when it comes to cars, the overdue loans are often put in the hands of debt collectors and less-than-friendly repo businesses.
Fake Escrow Accounts
It didn’t take long for scammers to realize that people were rightfully wary of sending money off to strangers from the internet. Another type of popular scam blossomed in the wake of that knowledge—utilizing the escrow, or “third party” account, for payments.
Escrows are essentially middlemen, a neutral business handling the money on behalf of both parties, making them an attractive option for many online sales—especially those on more expensive items like cars. And there are, indeed, many legitimate online escrow businesses out there.
But in the scam version of this scenario, the escrow company recommended by the seller is a fraud. These fake escrow sites can either be used to steal money from you directly, steal your personal information, or both.