In 2013, a Pittsburgh man bilked 194 people out of $53,000 by advertising fake concert tickets on Craigslist.
In 2012, a Las Vegas Craigslist seller was nearly robbed of his luxury RV when he was contacted by a buyer wanting to pay in full using Paypal. It sounded good, until she said she was in a hurry and needed the RV ASAP. Luckily the man hesitated, narrowly missing becoming the woman’s next victim.
In January 2014, a Georgia man sold his Ipad on Craigslist, only to find out the cash he received was counterfeit. During January alone, he became the 3rd victim of Craiglist scams in the city of Augusta.
Craigslist, for the most part, is a convenient and inexpensive way to sell goods and services. But this convenience comes with a cost. As a buyer, how do you know if you are being set up by a con-artist? As a seller, how do you know if your buyer is legitimate, or has sinister intentions?
There are, of course, your basic common sense precautions, such as not inviting strangers into your home. But beyond that, how do you filter out the scoundrels?
Here are some tips from authorities on staying safe (things you may not know):
- Money orders and cashier’s checks are NOT safer than cash. They are easily forged. Scams are frequently conducted using fake money orders.
- Paypal is safe, right? Not always. Con-artists use phony Paypal accounts. Or, they use valid accounts but shrewdly conduct business in a way that nullifies Paypal’s security protection, ensuring you end up with no merchandise OR money.
- Ultimately, cash is the safest way to go. If it is a large sum of money, meet at a bank if at all possible. There is security there, and you can also have the teller check the cash with a counterfeit detection pen (or if you want to purchase one yourself, they are about $5.00 at office supply stores).
- Be wary of urgent sales. Scammers often use military leave, divorce, or relocating as an excuse to rush the transaction. Ask questions – don’t assume that is the case.
- Google the buyer/seller’s email address or Craigslist address. It will often show up on search engines if there are a lot of complaints about them.
- NEVER accept overpayments. This has become a classic Craigslist scam: The buyer “accidentally” sends you a check for more than the purchase price (say, $1,500 for a $150 item). You are then asked to immediately refund the overage. You later discover the buyer’s check was fake and you are out all that money.
- Be ultra-cautious about hiring services from Craigslist. Not only is it an open invitation for robbers, but it’s also an easy way for unregistered, unlicensed “professionals” to find work. While the Craigslist electrician may give you a bargain-deal on that re-wiring job, it’s not much consolation if your house burns down and you find out his only electrical experience is changing light bulbs.
- What if you need to sell a large item but don’t want strangers in your home? Obviously, it’s not practical to haul a sectional couch to Starbucks for the sake of meeting in public. In these cases, send several pictures of the item, from all different angles. Communicate with the buyer and ask questions. Give them your address ONLY once you are comfortable you have a serious buyer. Then (if at all possible) have the item ready in your driveway to avoid letting the buyer into your home.
- When taking pictures of any items (of any size), make sure only the item is visible. Displaying photos with your home interior in the background lets potential robbers know what other belongings you have.
Craigslist isn’t all bad. With a little common sense, most transactions go smoothly. It is a wonderful way to find or make deals – IF you are cautious.