Seven Ways to Avoid Getting Scammed on Craigslist

The arrival of warm weather and the deep house cleaning it inspires means more people are selling their old furniture, devices, sports equipment, and clothing. That’s why the amount of items like these on sites like Craigslist swells considerably during this season. There are wonderful treasures to be found, if you have the time and patience to sift through the offerings.

Conversely, if your own cleaning unveils hordes of sellable stuff you don’t use anymore, you can make good money selling them online. Unfortunately, when there’s money to be made, the scammers are never far behind. Craigslist is riddled with scammers looking to make a quick buck off people’s naivety. Follow these eight tips to stay one step ahead of scammers and keep your money safe when using Craigslist.

1.) Be familiar with Craigslist and the services it offers
Lots of Craigslist scams can be avoided by knowing basic information about the site. Make sure you know the following before using Craigslist:

  • The Craigslist URL is http://www.craigslist.org. Scammers often use fake sites to lure buyers into paying for items that don’t exist. Always check the URL before finalizing a purchase.

  • Craigslist does not back any transaction on its site. You’re looking at a scam if you receive an email or text trying to sell you purchase protection.

  • There is no such thing as a Craigslist voicemail service. You’re dealing with a scammer if a contact asks you to access or check your “Craigslist voicemails.”

2.) Deal locally
The “barely used” couch that’s up for sale a couple of states over might be better-priced than the one being sold just a 10-minute drive away, but it’s always safer to deal with locals on Craigslist. According to the site’s advice on avoiding scams on their platform, you’ll avoid 99% of the scams on Craigslist by following this rule.

Keeping your transaction local will enable you to finalize a sale in person. Plus, there’s less of a chance for a blurred language barrier regarding the details of the deal.

3.) Examine the product(s) before finalizing a sale
Never rely solely on pictures to get the full scope of what you’re buying. Ask to look at the item in person. Ask to try out an item if you’re purchasing an electronic device or something else that needs to work in order to be valuable.

4.) Don’t accept or send a cashier’s check, certified check, or money order as payment
Fraudulent checks can be impossible to fight. Also, a bad check can seem to clear on sight, so you’ll agree to the sale and use the money that’s supposedly in your account. A few days later, though, you’ll realize the check bounced. By that time, the buyer has vanished with your goods, leaving you responsible for covering the funds you used while presuming it cleared.

 On the flip side, if you pay for an item with a money order or wire transfer, you’ll have no way of recouping your loss if the seller fails to come through with the goods.

5.) Use cash—safely
The most secure way to pay or collect funds for a Craigslist transaction is with cold cash. If the idea of handing over a large sum of money to a stranger scares you, you can make the exchange of money and goods in a safe place like your local police station.

6.) Never share your personal information with a buyer or seller
As always, when online, keep your personal information to yourself. There’s no reason a buyer or seller needs to know your checking account number, your date of birth, or even your mother’s maiden name. Back out of the deal if a contact is asking too many questions.

7.) Be wary of fake escrow service sites
Escrow services, in which a company holds onto a large sum of money for two parties in the middle of a transaction, can be super-convenient when buying and selling things online. However, they can also be a clever trap for unsuspecting victims. Scammers often create bogus escrow service sites to lure victims into dropping their money right into the scammers’ hands. The site will be a copycat of a reputable escrow service site, with some slight deviations you wouldn’t notice unless you looked for them.

It’s best to find the site yourself instead of following a pop-up ad or a link when using an escrow service site. Check the site carefully for spelling mistakes and poor syntax. Also, make sure the URL is secure and matches the site of the service you intend to use.

8.) Create a disposable number
You may need to share a working phone number when conducting business on Craigslist. You can create a cost-free, disposable number on Google Voice instead of giving out your real number. Your Google Voice number will be untraceable and will expire within 30 days of non-use.  

Getting scammed is a serious crime that can disrupt your finances. Click here to get more details on theft and how to protect your personal information.