Top 5 Craigslist Scams to Avoid

Posted in Personal Finance, Spending by Smarter Spend

If you are looking to buy an item online, Craigslist is a great place to start your search. You can find a wide variety of items for sale at discounted prices, such as tools, small electronics, furniture, and large appliances. You can also find apartments for rent and automobiles for sale – maybe even a job!

However, the site is frequented by predators, folks who have developed rather ingenious scams to take your money. Unlike eBay and Amazon, you do not have the option to review seller feedback ratings. As it says on the home page of Craigslist: buyer beware.

If something seems suspicious, it’s best to pass it by. Here are five scams to keep an eye out for:

1. Cars
Craigslist auto scams typically involve a listing for a rare or classic automobile. The car is listed well below market value, and the scammer claims he needs to close the deal fast because he’s moving overseas (or some other false claim). The “seller” is usually reluctant to release much personal information.

To complete the transaction, they’ll ask you to transfer your funds into a so-called escrow account which they tell you is legit and 100% secure. Your money will be held there until the car is delivered. Once you deposit the funds, you never hear from them again.

2. Tickets
Ticket scams can be tough to spot. If you pay in advance for tickets, you may never receive them, while if you the seller agrees to meet you in person to complete the transaction, you may still later discover when you try to enter the event that the tickets are forged or stolen. You’re better off simply using StubHub or another online ticketing agency.

3. Jobs
One of the most creative attempts to take advantage of unsuspecting folks doesn’t involve money. Ads occasionally pop up in search of freelance writers – if you reply, you’ll be asked to provide writing samples of varying lengths. Once you submit them, you’ll never hear from the prospective “employer” again. Such scammers are typically paid for content generation, and work in the SEO industry.

You should beware of any job that asks you to pay an upfront fee for a start-up kit, administrative costs, or anything else. And always be cautious regarding how much personal information you divulge on a resume when responding to a job. You could leave yourself vulnerable to identity theft.

4. Apartments
Apartment rental scams on Craigslist are especially prevalent in large cities, such as New York. First, the criminal lists an ad for an apartment for rent at a terrific price. After several people inquire, the scammer collects security deposits, plus first and last month’s rent, and vanishes. It is only after the fact that the “renters” come to discover that the apartment was never the criminal’s to begin with. Be especially cautious of rental agencies or landlords who do not ask you to fill out an application or check your credit.

5. Excess Funds Scam
One thing I always do when listing a high-end item for sale on Craigslist is check the “hide your email address” option, and include my contact information in the listing itself. That way, I eliminate having to deal with the excess funds scam.

If you encounter this scam, the buyer will typically live overseas and offer to pay you an amount much higher than your asking price. The payment typically comes in the form of a check (fraudulent), along with instructions to cash the check and return the excess via Western Union or Money Gram. If you fall for this scam, several days later you will discover that the check was bad and you’ll be responsible for the transferred funds.

Final Thoughts

When using Craigslist, as a rule, you should only agree to complete a transaction with someone who will agree to meet you in person and, if you are the seller, pay you in cash. But even this carries certain risks. You should meet in a well-lit public place. Make the transaction short and sweet, and any attempts by the other party to delay the transaction should be an immediate red flag. Bringing along a friend adds an extra element of security and comfort.

I have used Craigslist for many years now, both to sell my no longer needed items and to buy goods and services at significant discounts. If you practice good common sense techniques and always remain cautious, you should do just fine.

Are there any Craigslist scams you know of to avoid?

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