When you’re browsing for a product or service on Craiglist, there’s probably a few things you’re looking for: quality, price, how far away the item is...just to name a few. But a scam? No, thank you!
Gone are the days where you could just find something online and trust the person behind the listing (Did those days ever even exist!?).
Today, there are key tips and useful recommendations to keep in mind when you’re browsing Craigslist posts or buying something from another online reseller (like Facebook Marketplace).
Read along so you can stay smart and stay safe from scammers by understanding their typical tactics and what to do if something happens.
Let’s cover the basics upfront: what exactly is Craigslist (www.craigslist.org) and how does it work?
Here’s how it’s defined today: Craigslist is a free, digital version of the “classifieds” section of a newspaper. It’s a website used for posting and viewing local advertisements — known as Craigslist ads — that can include anything from available/wanted jobs, apartments for rent, furniture for sale, items for free, used cars, personal ads, and so much more. It was first founded in 1995 and has gone on to connect millions of sellers with potential buyers and vice versa.
As a website and as an online community, Craigslist is far more expansive than other local listing sites. It’s got a little bit of everything and is searchable by nearly any city you can think of. It differs from Facebook Marketplace (founded in 2016) because Craigslist posts are anonymous; you can’t see any details about the poster who is trying to sell a product, service, or deal. Craigslist encourages its potential buyers to keep their email addresses private. You can use a private Craigslist email address when responding to ads, so you don’t have to share your Gmail account details (or anything else too specific) when communicating with Craigslist ad posters.
The Craigslist of today is far different from the one our founder used to purchase her first car (a 1999 Ford Taurus) or find her first digital freelancing gig (social media for a wearable camera). While job hunting used to be popular on the site, we recommend being more weary (especially for online work!) as Craigslist is mean to be a local listing site. The site used to have a personals section (which was frequently used by sex workers) but was shut down after the passing of SESTA/FOSTA in 2018.
Today, most people use Craigslist to buy/sell items or look for apartments/homes for rent. There are different types of scams for different sections of Craigslist (job scams are different than car-buying scams, for example). And while there’s great benefits and value to an online website that connects users to just about anything, there’s also inherent risk. Let’s dive into some of the top types of scams seen on Craigslist.
Over the years, there have been very negative experiences and interactions (and consequently bad press) involving Craigslist scams. Now more than ever, it’s important to use your best judgement when communicating with sellers online — especially those you don’t know anything about. While Craigslist can be a great resource for finding local treasures and opportunities, it’s all about being smart and knowing what to look out for!
Ok, so let’s start from the top. Craigslist users are most likely to come across the following six types of Craigslist scams:
Physical item scams involve the “sale” of a physical item, object, or product. If something is advertised as rare, if the photos look especially blurry or fake, or if there aren’t any photos at all... buyer beware.
Service scams can include details about would-be services for a low cost. The cost isn’t as much of the factor here as is what the seller is promising they’ll deliver.
Car scams can feature new or used vehicles that a con artist is claiming to sell or buy. Pro tip: scams go both ways: someone can claim to send you funds by wire transfer, bank account, or another method. Or, they can be offering an automobile for sale and insist on getting paid before you ever see or drive the vehicle — often claiming a huge demand for the vehicle.
Apartment or home scams are more common than you’d think. Craigslist posters claim to be landlords or building owners who will scam to get your Personal Identifiable Information (PII) like social security numbers, address history, bank statements, etc... for rental approval purposes only to steal your information. The other scam is that you send payment as they will only provide you entry to a space after you’ve paid the deposit (or first month’s rent, etc.) and they take the money and run! Would-be renters beware as we’ve seen this scam increasing in 2022.
Event ticket scams take all the fun out of live events, concerts, sports games, shows, and everything in between. Be on the lookout for these types of scams appearing around the time a show supposedly sells out through other sites like Live Nation, Eventbrite, etc.
Job scams are specifically designed to trick someone who’s earnestly looking for work. These types of Craigslist scammers prey on people looking for work or in need of labor. Job scams are especially dangerous because they can extract a lot of Personally Identifiable Information (PII) from candidates in the process — and cause a lot of harm.
We’ve just scratched the surface here — that’s not all. The more complex our digital world gets, the smarter scammers (con artists, trolls, and bots) seem to become.
Follow these tips provided by Craigslist themselves to avoid digital scams on the rise, to protect yourself, and to safeguard your family. Remember, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Read on to see how the top scams play out in real life!
Alright - now that you know the main types of scams, these are the actual tactics a scammer will use to either extract payment or Personal Identifiable Information (PII) from you.
Pre-payment for an item: If someone asks you to put a deposit down because they have a lot of interest, be careful. This is likely a scam. And if they all of a sudden say you’ll have to pre-pay because the item isn’t in their possession, needs to be shipped, or must be picked up — back out. It’s a scam. (And this goes without saying, but never, ever give out your credit card details to a stranger online.)
Verification code: This scam is relatively new, and it’s extra dangerous. The buyer or seller says they’re a bit nervous about going through with the deal, and they ask to send you a verification code by text message (which ends up being a type of two-factor authentication text). Turns out, all they’re really doing is trying to get your private info. Divulging it can lead to one of your accounts — whether Craigslist, Facebook, or Instagram — being hacked. Read more about this particular type of scam and stay cautious out there of all types of phishing attempts.
The item (or apartment) doesn’t exist: Dream home? Keep dreaming. Fake apartment listings have been heating up over the last few years. The same is true for higher end, boutique products and job ads, too. We suggest using a site like Zillow to confirm its existence, driving by the location, and talking directly to management (if at an apartment building) to ensure the apartment exists and the ad is real.
The item isn’t local (must be shipped): As we’ve already mentioned, if the item isn’t local, then it’s likely a scam. Craigslist is all about connecting with your local and greater community and the items or opportunities they have readily available.
The buyer or seller isn’t local: Red flags include saying they’re out of town, just moved to town, are helping a relative or friend, or are just visiting. What are they doing selling (or buying) something on a local Craigslist site if they’re not even a local?!
Third party verification and protection: A newer scam involves the processing of payments through a third-party system (like Venmo, PayPal, Zelle, Cash app, etc.) that supposedly insures the transaction. These other services, while usually trusted, aren’t great in a Craigslist scenario, because transactions can easily be reversed. Pro tip: cash is best when it comes to Craigslist. There’s no sort of purchase protection guarantee when you’re buying and selling on their site. If you’re the one selling an item, it’s best to have a counterfeit pen on you to check the cash.
Non-traditional payment: If someone tries to give you (or wants you to pay with) a cashier’s check or money order, wire funds to your bank, pay in cryptocurrency, or use some other non-traditional form of payment like an escrow site, it’s almost certainly a scam. Western Union has no business in your business when cash is king. Think about how you’d do business with a seller through eBay or Amazon — would you go through hoops to send or receive a strange type of payment?
Next, we’ll cover bogus listings and red flags to spot when selling on Craigslist. Here are the top Craigslist scams to avoid:
There’s more where those came from — here are other tips for spotting a scam on Craigslist.
While the above red flags are pretty good general advice for avoiding Craigslist scams, it can be a little tricky to determine if a scam is occurring or if it’s something else. For example, if you live in a community with a lot of immigrants, their English grammar might not be spot on! Or, if they’ve never sold something on Craigslist, they might not know the safer ways to engage (so might accept or suggest Venmo without the intention of scamming but because it’s easy).
That’s why it’s important to be weary but also follow these safety tips if you do choose to meet in-person!
No matter how cautious you are, there could always be a scammer on the other end of the screen, ready to take advantage of you online. But, if you use our proactive safety tips coupled with your intuition, you can still make the most out of Craigslist as there can be some really unique items and opportunities available only on Craigslist. Just be careful, bring a friend, and keep your private information private!