Are you searching for a job? A used car? A new apartment? A Blu-Ray copy of Air Bud 2: Golden Receiver? You can find it all on Craigslist. But as with online dating and unsolicited emails promising riches, internet classified ads can come with an unseen price if you’re not careful. Here’s how to avoid Craigslist scams in 4 easy steps
Craiglist: The Good, the Bad & the Deadly
For millions of Americans, Craigslist is the prefered way to buy, sell or trade with others. Most transactions go something like this:
- Person A clicks on Person B’s classified ad offering goods or services
- Person A contacts Person B via email or phone
- Person B sets up a time and place to meet
- Person A meets with Person B, goods or services are delivered, and both go home happy
While the overwhelming majority of Craigslist deals go off without a hitch, the site is home to a small but very real cadre of scam artists looking to take advantage of your goodwill and cash. The results can be costly, or in a few extreme cases, even deadly.
That said, the rules for avoiding scams on Craigslist are simple and easy to remember.
Internet scammers are a crafty bunch, but you can neutralize almost all of them by remembering one simple rule: always deal locally and meet face-to-face in a public place.
According to Craigslist, “most scams attempts involve one or more of the following:
- Email or text from someone that is not local to your area.
- Vague initial inquiry, e.g. asking about “the item.” Poor grammar/spelling
- Western Union, MoneyGram, cashier check, money order, PayPal, shipping, escrow service, or a “guarantee.”
- Inability or refusal to meet face-to-face to complete the transaction.”
Con-artists want to conceal their identity at all costs, and that means they’d like to avoid meeting you in person. Many scammers aren’t even operating in the U.S., much less your local area.
If you don’t recognize their area code or you find something suspicious about their ad, feel free to reverse search their phone number or email address using a people search engine to find out more about who they really are, including their full name, address/location, criminal records and more.
Don’t Send Money
Since you want to only deal with people you can meet face-to-face, don’t agree to wire payment or provide a stranger with financial information.
Scammers like wired payments because it not only gives them the option of hiding their true identity, it provides a way to get paid before giving anything in return. Most will disappear the moment your money hits their account. Always meet in person and exchange cash or check.
Don’t Buy Sight Unseen
It’s all well and good to create a Craigslist ad saying you have a state-of-the-art 4K television for sale, but how about a little photographic proof?
Always ask for pictures of the item you are purchasing so you can verify its condition and…existence. Be on your guard for stock photos that look generic.
This goes for housing as well. Craigslist is home to phony rental postings that lure unsuspecting people in with photos of beautiful furnishings and tantalizingly low prices. Legitimate landlords will give you a chance to inspect the property in person. If that 3 bedroom apartment with bay windows and a walk-in closet looks too good to be true, it probably is.
Trust Your Instincts
As stated on their dedicated user safety page, “the overwhelming majority of Craigslist users are trustworthy and well-meaning.” Transactions that result in theft (or worse) are, in the grand scheme of things, exceptionally rare.
With that in mind, all it takes is a little preparation and common sense to avoid 99% of Craigslist scams. If you’re not feeling right about a buyer or seller, trust your instincts and step away.
As long as you follow the steps above and remember to deal and meet locally, however, you’ll be just fine.
Happy buying and selling! Let us know if you find anything good.