How NOT to Get Scammed on Craigslist

Category: Shopping

Craigslist, the free online classified ads service, is a popular way to buy, sell, and trade goods or services locally. It's also used as a dating service, a job-hunting and recruiting tool, and much more. Lots of people use it every day for legitimate transactions, but if you're not careful, you could end up scammed by someone you meet through one of these online marketplaces. Here are some traps to avoid...

Be Aware of Common Craigslist Scams

Craigslist itself warns users that they're entirely on their own when it comes to vetting their trading partners. Craigslist makes no attempt to screen advertisers. Instead, it relies on "flagging" of unsavory listings by the user community. If a listing receives too many flags from other users, it is taken down automatically. But this self-policing does not catch many scams. And of course it can't catch the creeps and crooks who respond to the ads.

The number one thing you can do to protect yourself is "deal locally with people you can meet in person," advises the Craigslist FAQ about scams. If you send money or goods to someone far away, there is very little you can do if you get nothing in return. By dealing only face to face, you will avoid 99% of scam attempts.

Unlike eBay, Craigslist offers no verification of sellers' and buyers' identities; no "buyer protection" in case the goods are not delivered; no escrow service; and no guarantees of any transaction. It's 100% buyer beware. Craigslist advertisers who ask you to send money in advance via Western Union or bank wire transfer should be avoided, and flagged. There is no way to get your money back when you pay via these methods, and in most cases you will not get anything in return.

Craigslist Scams

If you're selling on Craigslist, it may seem safe to accept cashier's checks or money orders through the mail. But counterfeit cashier's checks and money orders can come back to bite you weeks after your bank told you the funds had cleared. Sometimes it can cost you a lot more than the face amount of the check.

My Personal Craiglist Scam Story

I posted several items for sale on Craigslist. And within minutes, I started getting emails from people with strange sounding names, asking if the item was still available. One person's name was (I kid you not) "Schmeckpeper Ayuso". I responded to one person, and got this in reply:

"i would have love to come and see it, but my scheduled is very tight. I will mail out yor payment once you provide your full name, phone number and addresse. I can only pay via money order as am on a business trip now, pls let me know where to send your payment to because i wouldn't want to lose it to some else. I don't mind adding ($50) dollars so you can keep it in my favor. i will appreciate if you can get the ad off craigslist so i can be sure you are keeping it in my favor. Please let me know as soon as you receive it so i can start making arrangement for the pick-up."

Turns out the wording of this reply is almost identical to other messages commonly sent by overseas scammers. Here's how the scam often plays out:

One Craigslist seller received a check for $2,500 from a foreign buyer, instead of the $250 they had agreed upon. The buyer said there had been a "terrible mistake" made by her bookkeeper, and asked the seller to wire back the excess funds. She even told the seller to keep an extra $100 for the trouble. The check, of course, was counterfeit, and the seller would have been scammed out of $2150 if they had wired funds to the crook. I'm sure the same would have happened to me.

Beware of any seller who requests personal financial information such as a bank account number, credit card number, or Paypal email address. Identity theft is often one of the objects of Craigslist scams.

Likewise, if you are applying for a job listed on Craigslist, do not cooperate in any background or credit check until you have had a face-to-face interview and verified that the employer is legitimate. The information you provide to enable a background check may be used to steal your identity.

Housing rentals are another favorite Craigslist scam. It's amazing how many people hand over hundreds or thousands of dollars in deposits and rent without ever seeing the inside of a rental property. A lot of people have rented homes from scammers who didn't even have the right to rent the properties! They show up and find the home or apartment is already occupied, and the scammer is long gone.

A friend of mine warned about a Craiglist scam where the "buyer" emails the seller a link to view a web page or watch a video "to make sure it's the item I want to buy." Don't click... or you'll wind up a victim of some nasty virus that will wreak havoc on your computer.

If a buyer offers to pay MORE than the asking price, run away fast. But likewise, if a seller is offering a price that's way too LOW, that's another big red flag. I've seen scams on Craisglist, Facebook Marketplace, and Nextdoor in which a car is offered for sale at a price that's just ridiculously low. The seller may claim they're being deployed for military service, or the car belonged to their ex-husband and they just want to get rid of it. THey'll make up some reason why you can't see the car in person, and try to persuade you to send a money order. But these cars do not exist.

Poor spelling, confused grammar, and long rambling replies are a hallmark of Craigslist scammers. Beware of anyone who wants to pay with a money order or a check, even a certified check, as they can be easily forged. And if you're buying or selling something that costs a significant amount of money, always have a friend with you when meeting the other party, and do it in a public place where video cameras are present. Some police stations encourage people to use their facilities for this purpose. See SafeTrade Stations to find a safe trading location near you.

Have you been scammed on Craigslist, or another local online marketplace? Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "How NOT to Get Scammed on Craigslist"

Posted by:

17 Feb 2020

easy stay away from craiglist

Posted by:

bob Jaskolka
17 Feb 2020

My craigs ads begin with, "If you don't include your phone number, you will not be contacted" I seldom get the "still have" and other goofy questions

Posted by:

17 Feb 2020

Maybe I misread your comment about one of eBay's advantages over Craigslist being their "escrow service", I am pretty sure that is also a scam. eBay, to the best of my knowledge do not offer their own escrow service.

However, an eBay buyer or seller may offer their own "escrow". IMO never use an escrow service recommended by the other party, buyer or seller. Never ever! If a seller ever tells you to use a particular escrow service, run away. All sorts of red flags there.

Good information here, especially about exchanging cash for goods at a safe place. Our Police Station encourages people to use their facility, which is under camera.

Posted by:

17 Feb 2020

One of the scams in the UK to watch out for is the car for sale on Ebay. When a couple went over with their cash to pay for & collect the car they met some "heavies" who relieved them of their money. The moral is be very careful and meet in a very public place.

Posted by:

17 Feb 2020

Recently just listed some tv parts for sale. Got a call from a buyer who said he was interested but that he wanted to verify I was real by using "Google verification". Said I would receive a verification code from Google and to tell him the verification code to prove I am real.

I am sure he just tried to log in to my email and clicked forgot password. So Google of course sent a verification code for a password reset to me and he needed that to reset my password and steal my email account. Of course I would not give it and he became very irate. I hung up and he actually called back and asked for the code again as he said he really wanted to buy my item. I hung up that time and blocked his number.

Always be very careful with any Craigslist responder and vet them thoroughly.

Posted by:

17 Feb 2020

Clyde: Most people on Craig's list are legit. The big advantage is that it is local so you can see the item and get it without shipping.

Posted by:

top squirrel
17 Feb 2020

Has anybody ever thought of just returning the counterfeit check and saying, "OK, let's start over, but if someone beats you to it and buys the item before you get back to me, well, that's the way it goes sometimes."
Isn't there a rule that says a bank has X days to assure that a deposited check is good or not and its considering a given check collected funds is your assurance it's OK and any problem after that is the bank's problem? There is something very wrong about a bank getting back to you after a few weeks and saying, 'oops, the check was phony after all, your account has been debited the amount of the check plus an uncollected funds fee, so sorry.'
Any private sale I have participated in (e.g. used cars from the owner) has always been in-person. Easier that way and I can say for sure I've never been scammed. I have run into suspicious sellers. One wanted $2800 cashcash for a used car title when I presented a cashier's check from a large local bank, even after I suggested the seller come along with me to the bank.

Posted by:

17 Feb 2020

When installing MediaCreationTool1909.exe over Win 7
should i remove Firefox first.

Posted by:

17 Feb 2020

I posted a printer for sale and quickly got 3 texts from different phone numbers with similar wording. They said most Craigslist posts are fake, so they wanted to send me a Google verification code that they wanted me to enter. Instead, I did some Googling and discovered that it's a scam. The scammer is attempting to set up a Google Voice number, using your personal number as the forwarding number for their account. They'll use that number to try to scam other people. For details, see

Posted by:

Bob L
17 Feb 2020

Years ago I went on Craigslist and found a tractor with a brand new bush hog for a price lower than the bush hog listed for. It was located in the town next to where I lived so I contacted the seller who gave me a FL. phone number to call, which I did, but got no response. I contacted the seller again and he gave me a N.J. phone number, same story. The third time I said I wanted to meet and see the tractor in person, I got no response. That was my cue and the end of story.

Posted by:

P Siler
17 Feb 2020

For years I've bought and sold stuff on CL - always local, always cash, never had a problem. But recently I've noticed when posting something for sale I get a response within minutes. The response (text or email) just asked if the "item" is still for sale. This seems to be a dead give-away that it's a scam. Probably a bot determining if you will respond. Normally if I get a real person the question will be much more detailed (is the 50 gallon water heater still for sale?). These I respond to, the others I ignore.

Posted by:

18 Feb 2020

I noticed the same pattern described by P Siler. There are other give-aways, besides getting a response much too soon after you placed your ad (especially if you're selling something ordinary and not a high-demand item.) The response may come in the form of a text that states the person wants to buy and pick up right away, sight-unseen and with no questions whatsoever. Other times, the message may ask merely if the item is still available. In that case, they either make no reference to the specific item (except to call it the "item") or they will use the complete and exact wording that I had used in the title of my listing. Apparently a robot is copying and pasting the title from my ad, without any human involved to notice how awkward their text message may look as a result.

If you reply to their response, it leads to persistent requests to accept a call and do things described in stevemillburg's post (and the google page he links to). The followups do seem to be carried on by a real person, though, and no longer a robot from that point on. When I first encountered this, I was unaware of the scam nature and engaged in a lot of back & forth texts with the "buyer" about why we couldn't simply communicate in a normal direct way. I never did what he was asking me to do and I finally cut off any further discussion once I concluded something was up. The same thing has happened since then with other items I posted for sale and I ignored any responses that show these telltale signs right from the start. But until reading this topic here, I did not know exactly what the scam was all about.

Posted by:

18 Feb 2020

I have had some good luck on CL but also had many scammers. I always ask for American cash in a bag. No other form of payment is accepted. But one crook still sent a ck and then had a girl call and insist that it is good. I told them that the ck was going to the Attorney General. They finally stopped pestering me. Oh and they also wanted to send a person to pick it up and for me to pay the difference to the driver. We need bigger prisons now or out source them to Turkey prisons.

Posted by:

19 Feb 2020

I forgot to mention: Craigslist uses an email forwarding system to keep addresses of their users invisible to each other. But their system has become screwy the last few years. A message you send to someone who responded to your ad can go undelivered to that person and without any notification about it. Neither sender nor recipient is informed of the zapping, or even that there was any "issue". Meanwhile, more responses to your ad may continue to get through to you, and your answers to their inquiries, too, seem to get sent out to them. But in reality, those replies may similarly be eliminated for no reason. I concluded this was happening after sending myself a test response to my own ad (using a different email and IP address), then replying to my own response and finding it never got delivered, not even to the spam folder or as an "undeliverable" rejection message. This experiment was repeated more than once by me and other Craigslist users who have tried reporting it but never got Craigslist to even respond to the complaint.

The user may never realize this is going on because a random few reply messages do get through sometimes. So I think most users affected by this will mistakenly conclude that Craigslist people are simply flakey people who rarely follow up on emails you send them. I have always composed my replies carefully, to steer clear of possibly over-agressive spam filters, but it makes no difference (except I believe Craigslist does happen to discriminate against certain email domains that they apparently consider spammy.)

At the link below, there is a contentious discussion about all this at Craigslist's own forum:

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