Craigslist is great. Really, I love it for buying and selling, finding services, and even posting jobs. But for the 99% of ads that are completely legit, you’ll find postings designed to con you. That’s a sad reality of life, and of Craigslist, but if you know what to look out for you can avoid the pitfalls of an otherwise awesome service. (See also: How Safe Is Craigslist?)
1. Lured to a Mugging
This is a really nasty scam, and we could all fall for it quite easily. It’s also known as “robbery by appointment.”
As a Craigslist seller, you will know that cash is the only way to go. You don’t want to deal with bounced checks. Of course, as a buyer you have to abide by those same rules. Craigslist scammers will place an ad for something like a car, high-end electronics, or anoter product of significant value. You’ll arrange to meet the seller (with a nice wad of cash in your pocket), and that’s when you’ll be jumped and the money taken from you. Some people have even been killed in the robbery attempt.
This “lure” scenario has happened many times over the years, and as always Craigslist advises you to meet in a safe, secure location, go with a friend (or two), and if in doubt, back out.
2. Receiving an Overpayment on ANYTHING
Another common scam is that your prospective buyer will send you a check (regular check, money order, or a cashier’s check) that is for much more than the agreed price. There will usually be an excuse, like “oh, I sent a down payment for two months rent instead of one, can you wire me the difference?” Of course, the check they have sent you is fake, but the bank will often cash it and then discover the fraud later. By that time, you’re out of pocket, and the scammer’s pockets are full of your money.
Never wire funds, always deal with people locally, and beware of anything other than cash. Even then, cash can be counterfeit. It doesn’t hurt to have a counterfeit detector pen on hand (they’re less than $10) for larger transactions. And be wary of bills bigger than $20; you can easily be handed a fake $100 bill, give the buyer the item and change, and be out of pocket twice.
3. The Rental Robbery
Back in 2009 I wrote a detailed post on this scam, and it appears it is still going on. In fact, it’s more widespread than ever, and the reason is that it is very easy to pull off, and almost impossible to track down the scammer.
The basic premise is this. You scour the Craigslist ads for a rental home and find one that is both beautiful and very, very affordable. Almost too affordable. You contact the address in the ad and are told that the owner had to leave the country (usually forsomething like missionary work) and needs money to cover the mortgage. You then are told to fill out a background check (which gives ID thieves a ton of personal info) and wire them money for one month’s rent and deposit. Most of us would drop out at that point.
However, if you think “well, I’d never send money to someone I’d never met” you should also know there is a variant of the scam that involves people actually showing homes to you and collecting the money there and then. They’ll even give you a set of keys (not that they’ll work) and a signed agreement. They gain access to the home through various means, including getting the keys legitimately from a home that’s on the market, and then renting it out to dozens of people in a single day. Watch out for this one, and if you receive an email that references leaving the country and low rent because money is needed fast, add it to your spam filter.
4. Fake or Canceled Tickets
It’s bad enough that scalpers use Craigslist, buying tickets for $50 and when the concert is sold out, selling them to you for $200. But there are also scams involving tickets. These scams won’t just leave you paying a steep markup, but also without the tickets you thought you were buying.
Sophisticated scammers have found ways to replicate tickets to major events that look and feel legit. They even have holograms and watermarks. But these tickets are worthless, and when you buy them, you’ll lose out twice. First with the money, and second when you get turned away from the event.
A similar scam involves genuine tickets that get canceled after you buy them. A common scam involves airline tickets. You purchase the tickets for less than face value, thinking you have a bargain. The scammer will tell you they bought the tickets but cannot use them due to a family emergency. However, the tickets have been canceled and cost the scammer nothing. They will cost you dearly.
To avoid this, purchase tickets direct from the venue, from a legitimate site like Ticketmaster, or from trusted resources like Hotwire, Travelocity and so on. It’s just not worth the risk to buy tickets off Craigslist.
5. The Online Escrow Service
You see an ad on Craigslist for something like a car, boat, expensive electronics, that kind of thing. When you contact the seller, they will reply that they want to use an escrow service for their protection and yours, and send you to a site.
However, unlike escrow.com, which is a legitimate site endorsed by eBay, they will recommend one that sounds just as plausible. Perhaps something like EscrowProtectionPlan.org or EscrowPaymentGuardian.net, and ask you to set up an account. But this is a fraudulent site set up by the seller, and as soon as you deposit the money, you’ve lost it. Be wary of any seller that recommends an escrow service to you, and if one does, take steps to verify its legitimacy.
6. The Cell Phone Swindle
This one can take a bite out of your monthly income, and if you’re not monitoring your finances closely, you may not even notice it.
In this scam, someone will respond to your for sale ad saying they are interested, but cannot talk right then. Usually they’re at work or otherwise indisposed. However, instead of giving an email address or phone number, they’ll ask you to put your cell phone number into a website that “stores” information for them. In reality, it’s a site that is signing you up for a monthly charge of $10 or more per month, and there is no way to cancel the service. The only way out, when you spot it, is to cancel your credit card. And forget about getting a refund.
Another cell phone swindle is to provide you with a call back number that appears to be an answering service, but is in fact a pay-per-call number. Although you won’t be out thousands of dollars like some warnings of these numbers claim (specifically the 809 code scam), you could be charged $25-$30 to make the call. And if enough people do it, that’s a tidy sum for the scammer.
7. The Job Bait
With unemployment as high as it is, people out there are desperate for work. And when jobs are in such high demand, scammers come out of the woodwork.
Here’s the scam. You will see a job offer that sounds wonderful, with great salary and benefits. But when you apply, you could face any number of potential cons. They include: fake background check services and credit report sites that steal your information, being reimbursed to sign up for “free” offers, fee-based training for the potential job, and bogus focus group and survey sites.
Your best bet is to thoroughly research any company offering a job. Use the BBB, make sure they have a phone number you can call for information, and run from any posting asking for fees up front.
8. Revenge of the Free Stuff
Sometimes you will see ads in the free section that advertise a massive house clearance. Basically, the renter or homeowner is moving out the next day (perhaps even leaving the country) and needs everything to be gone. Seems legit, right? But often, this is a scammer who is setting up an innocent victim to be burglarized.
There have been news reports of people returning home to discover that their home is being stripped bare by dozens of people. The scammer is often one of these, who will be helping himself to bigger items and blending in with the crowd. The people who take the stuff, who are usually innocent themselves, can be prosecuted. The victim will rarely be able to get back any of the missing items. And the scammer gets away free and clear.
99.9% of the time, free stuff will be put out on the curb for you to take, or somewhere else outside of the home. If it’s inviting you to just walk into the home and take whatever you like, it’s bogus.
Have you encountered another Craigslist scam not covered here?