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.
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:
Unfortunately, none of these fabulous items, homes, or opportunities actually exist, and you won't find that out until it's too late.
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.
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:
Unfortunately, on most classified websites, you can be scammed as either a buyer or a seller.
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.
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:
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:
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.
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.
If you think you've been scammed, there are still some actions you can take.
First, you can—and should:
If you gave away anything other than money—especially personal or financial information—you should immediately:
Depending on the type and severity of the scam, you may even consider contacting your local authorities.
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