Perhaps you’re selling something on Craigslist, like a car or an expensive piece of furniture. A buyer contacts you and asks to pay by check. When you receive it (often by FedEx to make it faster and more believable), it turns out to be for more than the agreed-upon price. The buyer apologizes and asks you to please return the extra amount by bank transfer, Western Union, a payment app, or even cryptocurrency. And voila! The check fails to clear, and you’re scammed. Plus you’ve probably already given them whatever you were selling too. This scam is described in a published PayPal consumer warning.
Or maybe you’re the buyer. You’ve found on Craigslist exactly what you’re looking for, whether it’s a big-ticket item like a car or house, or something more mundane like a nice piece of furniture. In any case, the price is shockingly low, the deal of a lifetime. Too good to be true, you might say. In fact, ridiculously underpriced items are a classic sign of fake Craigslist listings. Two of the most typical are used car buyer scams and vacation rental scams.
Two Hallmarks of Almost Every Craigslist Scam
There are two hallmarks of almost every Craigslist scam: an excuse not to meet in person, and a requirement for an unusual or anonymous payment method, such as wire transfer, gift cards, or something even more exotic.
As for the first problem, Craigslist’s own scam warning page says that dealing locally and face-to-face, as Craigslist intended, will help you avoid 99% of the scams on their site. If, despite their warning, you’re going to order something to be shipped to you from far away, it is highly recommended to use both a shopping site and a payment method that are secure and that offer robust consumer protections. Examples of the former include eBay and Amazon.
As for secure payment options, credit cards offer far better protection than bank wire transfers. At the other extreme, no legitimate seller will ever ask to be paid with gift cards or any other anonymous payment method. Anyone who does is a guaranteed scammer.
Additional Warning Signs of Craigslist Scams
Other warning signs to look out for when shopping on Craigslist include phony promises of purchase protection (a service that doesn’t exist on Craigslist) and ads containing numeros spelling and grammar errors, as well as using special characters (such as !, #, *, etc.) in place of numbers or letters.
Check out the following real-life example of a used car scam ad provided by Craigslist itself, and see how many of the above red flags you can spot:
I am selling this car because my platoon has been sent back to Afganistan and don’t want it get old in my backyard. The price is low because I need to sell it before November 16th. It has no damage, no scratches or dents, no hidden defects. It is in immaculate condition, meticulously maintained and hasn’t been involved in any accident…I do have the title , clear, under my name. The Denali has 35,000 miles VIN# 1GKEK63U16J138428 .
It is still available for sale if interested, price as stated in the ad $4,300. The car is in Baltimore, MD, in case it gets sold I will take care of shipping. Let me know if you are interested, email back.
If you think you’ve been the victim of a Craigslist scam, contact the fund recovery experts at MyChargeBack.