Classified Websites In Depth

Sections on this page
  1. What Are Classified Ad Scams?
  2. How to Beat Classified Ad Scams
  3. Seller and Buyer Scams
  4. Job Offer Scams
  5. Real Estate Scams
  6. Fallen Victim to a Classified Ad Scam?

One of the internet's most significant and earliest claims to fame was offering a digital replacement to the "Classifieds" section of the newspaper. While this has led to the rise of plenty of popular websites where users can find everything from jobs to antiques without leaving the house, it's unfortunately led to a twin rise in classified ad scams.

What Are Classified Ad Scams?

The internet may be the most powerful technological tool man has constructed—above all else, it's become a place to find things, whether that's information, jobs, friends, love, items, or anything in between.

As such, online yard sale websites like eBay and Facebook Marketplace and all-around classifieds site Craigslist account for some of the most heavily trafficked sites today. Craigslist alone boasts more than 50 billion views a month—eBay had more than 187 million registered users as of 2021, and Facebook Marketplace is a viable option for most of the site's more than 1 billion users.

With so many eyeballs—and wallets—in play, it should come as no surprise that these sites are also huge targets for scammers. In fact, in 2021 alone, there were more than 6,200 reports of classified scams responsible for more than $4.5 million in losses.

Generally, these deceptions involve someone posing as a:

  • Buyer
  • Seller
  • Real estate agent
  • Company offering a job

Unfortunately, none of these fabulous items, homes, or opportunities actually exist, and you won't find that out until it's too late.

Example of Craigslist scam.
Some scammers on Craigslist try to send you fake checks.

Scammers will often be after your money, but sometimes the schemes can be more insidious, with scammers also mining for personal information they could use to steal your identity.

So whether it comes to a job offer or a hot deal online, the old adage applies more than ever: Let the buyer beware.

The classifieds have always been a catch-all area, and the types of scams involving these types of websites are similarly diverse. Still, there are some types of classified scams that are more widespread than others.

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How to Beat Classified Ad Scams

What makes classified ad scams so potent is the combination of the anonymity provided by the internet, the built-in interest of anyone searching through one of these sites, and the relatively regulation-free atmosphere these businesses operate in.

But it's possible to keep an eye out for these scams if you know what to look for. General red flags include:

  • Poor or strange grammar
  • Lack of pictures or professional pictures only
  • The same post listed in different cities
  • Vague or missing details
  • Someone who's pushy, impatient, or uses pressure tactics to seal a deal
  • Someone who's a poor or unreliable communicator
  • Someone who refuses to use a payment method you prefer that is traceable or protected 

eBay Motors scam.
Always look for red flags of a scam in the listing before completing the transaction.

Seller and Buyer Scams

Unfortunately, on most classified websites, you can be scammed as either a buyer or a seller.

Seller Scams

This class of classified scams involves fraudulent posts on yard sale websites or other online stores.

You'll find something that seems too good to be true: A pristine example of what you're looking for at a price you never imagined was possible. But that's because it isn't possible. 

Scammers may be selling fake merchandise, broken merchandise, or possibly nothing at all, preferring just to take your money and run. More expensive items like cars, phones, or furniture may be sold online before they're fully paid off, saddling you with the leftover debt. And more elaborate deceptions may direct you to fake escrow accounts, where scammers steal your money and information.

Facebook Marketplace scam.
Scams are also found on Facebook Marketplace, such as this one involving a counterfeit designer handbag.

Buyer Scams

These classified ad scams may be a bit trickier to spot since people don't typically expect a "paying customer" to rip them off.

Yet, even an honest-seeming buyer can be in on the deception, often through the use of fake invoices or tricky payment methods. Favorite devices of these types of scammers include:

  • Money wiring services
  • Cashier's checks (which will bounce after you send out the item)
  • Incorrect addresses that allow them to get refunded through the website
  • Faked credit card statements "proving" they paid for something

Craigslist overpayment scam.
Overpayment scams are very common on classified websites.

Red Flags of Buyer/Seller Scams

  • Too-good-to-be-true prices or offers
  • Any mention of a "guarantee," whether provided by the website or seller
  • Using or asking you to use unorthodox payment methods, including money wires, Western Union, gift cards, cashier's checks, or escrow accounts
  • Offers to buy something for more than you're selling it for
  • Suggesting unusual ways for shipping or picking up an item

Tips to Beat These Classified Scams

  • Don't accept strange forms of payment.
  • Make all payments within the website or app, if possible. 
    • This typically comes with additional protection offered by the website.
  • Only deal with local people.
  • Meet in person/examine an object before purchasing it. Make sure to do this SAFELY by:
    • Bringing someone else with you, if possible.
    • Letting a close friend know where you are and what you're doing.
    • Choosing a well-lit, heavily-trafficked area, like the parking lot for a grocery store that's open at the time.
  • Research any sellers to see if they have previous complaints lodged against them.

Job Offer Scams

Classified sites can be great places to find odd jobs, but many of these postings may also be suspect.

Job offer scams may end with a scammer stealing your money and personal information through a fake application process. But they could also involve scammers pulling you into their deceptions, including pyramid schemes.

Other common scams that get advertised as jobs include:

  • Reshipping job scams, where you're asked to receive packages at your home, replace the box, then send it off somewhere else
  • Job placement service scams, where you'll be asked to pay a fee for a fake company to find you a job
  • Any type of online work, where you could be jilted when it comes time for payment

Red Flags of Job Offer Scams

  • A job provider who won't meet you in person or through video chat.
  • Unverifiable company information.
  • An immediate job offer.
  • An immediate request for sensitive personal information.
  • Get-rich-quick promises or little-to-no work involved.
  • Any type of up-front payments.

Tips to Beat Job Offer Scams

  • NEVER give out personal information, like your Social Security number, bank account or financial information, passwords, or PIN codes.
  • Research any company or person thoroughly before following through.

Real Estate Scams

One of the most popular types of classified scams is the real estate scam.

These involve posts advertising rooms, apartments, and houses for sale or rent. The homes are typically all affordable and beautiful—and not actually available.

Craigslist rental scam.

Scammers typically pose as landlords or friends of the homeowner and try to "justify" their too-good-to-be-true posting with claims of being out of town or dramatic sob stories. They might steal any information you fill out on a housing application and charge you for everything from that same application to months of advanced rent, possibly all without ever meeting you in person or letting you into the house for a tour.

Red Flags of Real Estate Classified Scams

  • A seller or landlord that's out of town/won't meet you in person.
  • Over-the-top sob stories/dramatic reasons to explain the great offer.
  • Asking for money before you see the property. 
  • Asking for advanced rent payments.
  • Telling you that you need to act fast or using other pressure tactics.

Tips to Beat Real Estate Scams on Classified Sites

  • Insist on visiting the property with the landlord before signing anything.
  • NEVER give out personal details like your Social Security number, bank account, or financial information.
  • Confirm through a third party that the property is actually for rent/sale.

Fallen Victim to a Classified Ad Scam?

If you think you've been scammed, there are still some actions you can take.

First, you can—and should:

  • Report the scam to the website or app the fraud took place on.
  • Block or flag the scammer through the website or app.
  • Figure out how to get your money back.

If you gave away anything other than money—especially personal or financial information—you should immediately:

  • Freeze any accounts connected to the website in question.
  • Contact your bank and credit card companies about the incident.
  • Cancel your current credit and debit cards and open new ones.
  • Change your passwords and PINs.
  • Report the incident to:
    • The Federal Trade Commission.
    • The Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).
  • Possibly create an IRS Identity Protection PIN.
  • Go through the steps to recover from identity theft.

Depending on the type and severity of the scam, you may even consider contacting your local authorities.

Scams Relating to Classified Websites

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Beware of Fake Cashier's Checks in Craigslist Transactions

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Guides Relating to Classified Websites

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How to Report Craigslist Scams and Protect Your Money
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How to Report Craigslist Scams and Protect Your Money

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Beat Craigslist Scams and Stay Safe When Buying or Selling

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Avoiding Craigslist scams is sometimes as easy as not clicking on any links or only accepting cash payments, however, scammers are finding new ways to trick and defraud you.

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