I’ve often seen Craigslist scam victims blame the website for losing money in all of the usual ways: renting an apartment that didn’t exist, taking a non-existent job, trying to buy a too-good-to-be-true car, or any of the other countless scams that rip people off everyday.
The irony is that Craiglist itself posts scam warnings that tell you everything you need to know to avoid getting ripped off on the site. Not only are they on the website itself, but scam warnings appear on the actual ad pages and in Craigslist emails. If you read and follow the warnings, you stand a 99.99999 percent chance of avoiding a bad experience.
In case you’ve never read the warnings, here they are, along with my comments on why heeding them will help you stay safe:
- Deal locally, face-to-face —follow this one rule and avoid 99% of scam attempts. Amen! While a local person still might scam you, most criminals don’t want to be seen face to face. If you meet a person, you’ll see where they live or at least what car they drive if you meet in a public place (get the license plate number). If you really want to be careful, ask to see their drivers license. If they refuse, take it as a red flag. If they comply, take a photo of it so you can take legal action if they scam you. When you deal with someone online, you have know way of knowing who or where they are and absolutely no recourse if they scam you, especially if they turn out to be overseas.
- Do not extend payment to anyone you have not met in person. Why would you give money to someone you only “know” from the internet? It’s like tossing it out an upper story window for strangers to grab below, and you have just as much chance of getting something in return.
- Beware offers involving shipping – deal with locals you can meet in person. Why on earth would a person who supposedly lives on the other side of the United States or in another country want to buy your car, wedding dress, cell phone, puppy, or whatever else you’re selling and pay big shipping fees instead of buying the item locally. It makes no sense, but the scammer hopes you’ll be so excited to find a buyer that you
- Never wire funds (e.g. Western Union) – anyone who asks you to is a scammer. Send money via Western Union is the same as sending cash. Unlike a credit card company, Western Union won’t help you get the money back if it turns out to be a fraudulent transaction. Even if the scammer gives you a recipient name and address, anyone can pick up the money anywhere if they have the “secret question” and other information. You might think you’re sending money to someone in the U.S., but it’s likely going to be picked up by someone in Nigeria.
- Don’t accept cashier/certified checks or money orders – banks cash fakes, then hold you responsible. Just because a check is supposedly “certified” doesn’t mean it’s real. Technology makes it a breeze to make fake checks and money orders that your bank will cash initially before it discovered the fraud and comes after you for the money.
- Transactions are between users only, no third party provides a “guarantee.” Scammers love to create fake websites and email accounts claiming to be linked to PayPal, Ebay, Amazon, or other trusted names. None of those sites have anything to do private transactions, and they certainly don’t guarantee Craigslist deals.
- Never give out financial info (bank account, social security, paypal account, etc). This one is a no-brainer.
- Do not rent or purchase sight-unseen—that amazing “deal” may not exist. Scammers love greedy people. They make the best targets because setting a supposed “steal” makes them put away common sense.
- Refuse background/credit checks until you have met landlord/employer in person. The apartment/job doesn’t exist. The fake landlord/employer makes money via an affiliate link for every misguided victim who runs the credit check. Or worse, the recommended credit check site looks real but is actually an identity theft trap.
Don’t be afraid to use Craigslist. It’s a very helpful website when used with common sense. Just read…and most importantly, obey…the guidelines and you’ll avoid the vast majority of the Craigslist scammers.