Safety Tips for Avoiding the Most Common Craigslist Scams

Everyone knows about or has used Craigslist. It generates $1 billion per year in revenue, and is listed as the 15th most popular website in the world, beating out Netflix, Walmart, CNN  and about a zillion other sites. It serves 700 cities and over 70 countries, and continues to grow.

Whether you’re selling an iPhone or a car, you’ll find success on Craigslist. It’s replaced newspaper classified ads, which used to dominate the category. In 2000, for example, newspaper classified ads generated $20 billion in revenue. In 2012, that revenue fell to $4.4 billion, a 77% drop. Craigslist is credited with helping the decline of traditional newspapers. Yet, for all it does, they only have 50 employees. That’s because people who use the site do all the work.

Craigslist Scams are Abundant

The problem with Craigslist is that in addition to all the people it brings in, it also attracts cybercrooks. Now that people are aware of the many different scams that are perpetrated on Craigslist, cybercrooks are having to find new ways to cheat people out of goods and money. The more you know about how the scams operate, the safer your experience will be.

Before getting into the scams, here’s an important piece of advice: know who you’re dealing with. People like to hide behind the Internet, using phony names, email addresses and phone numbers. You wouldn’t expect the cybercrooks to be honest, would you? Use Nuwber, an online tool that will verify the true identity of an individual using their phone number, email address or name. If Nuwber comes back with information that doesn’t match up with who the person says they are, stop communicating.

Bounced Checks and “Overpayments”

This scam has been around for a long time, yet it still draws people in who end up getting scammed. You offer an item for sale, and the “buyer” sends you a certified check (or cashier’s check or money order) that is in an amount more than the item sold for. You deposit the check, and then the buyer contacts you to claim they overpaid and demands a refund on the difference. Since the deposit shows up on your bank statement, you send them the overpayment. Also, if a person insists on talking on the phone, use a service like Google Voice so that your number is never visible to the person you’re dealing with.

Here’s the scam: their “certified check” is bogus. It’ll bounce, but the bank won’t report it to you for more than a week. That’s just how long it takes. By that time the scammer has your money and is long gone. Or, you’ll buy something, but the “seller” insists you use PayPal because they don’t take checks. In fact, to make it easy for you, they even include a link to PayPal in their emails. Here’s the scam: the “email link” is bogus. It’s a spoofed site – they make it look real, but it’s not. All they want is your personal info and bank or credit card information, so they can commit identity theft on you. You’ll end up being out a lot more than the price of the item!

Rental Scams

Need an apartment? Head to Craigslist. But be careful, and here’s why: often, there is no apartment, just pretty pictures someone took off of the Internet and used in their ad. The scammers are pretending to be a landlord, and what they’re really looking for is a security deposit. Unless you’ve seen the apartment and signed a contract, you’re going to be out that money.

These scams are getting easier to spot; for example, if they tell you that you can’t see the apartment “right now” because people are living there, don’t put down any money. Ask for their ID; if they can’t produce one – walk away.

Ticket Scams

The pandemic has cut into this piece of the scam pie, because for months there haven’t been any plays or sporting events to go to. But now that teams are playing and Broadway is coming back to life in the fall, the scammers are at it again. You’ll respond to an ad for an event, and you’ll get an email with an official-looking link to a website to purchase the tickets. Yep – the site is a spoofed site – all they want is your credit card info to steal. In some cases, the scammer will simply offer the actual ticket – which is counterfeit.

To beat the scam, make sure you know the fair market value of the event. Ask to meet in person – in a public place, and bring a friend. Never complete the transaction online, or you’ll lose the money. Always purchase from a reputable broker, or directly from the venue itself.

Employment Scams

Sadly, people who are out of work will fall for these scams – so be alert and aware. A scammer posts a job that doesn’t exist, only to capture your personal information and Social Security number. Never give that information out – ask to meet in person at the proposed place of employment. If the scammer objects, walk away.

Another variation is you’ll be asked to pay for “specialized training” for the job you’re applying for. Don’t do it! And don’t fall for “work from home by assembling specialized items,” because there are no items and no jobs. Another version involves asking you to pay for a background check in order to secure the job application process. Sorry, but it’s just one more way that the scammer is trying to get your financial and personal information.

As you can see, there are so many different ways that scammers want to steal your money or your financial and personal information so they can steal your identity. By being aware of what’s happening on Craigslist, and only dealing locally, you’ll be able to avoid the scams and avoid getting ripped off in the process.