By | April 25, 2014 2 Comments

Craigslist: Avoiding Scams and Crooks

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.


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Wendy – thank you so much for your excellent suggestions. Craigslist can be great, but people need to be aware of the potential dangers.


I have used CL a lot to buy and sell items. I have never had any problems, but there are several times someone tried to scam me using all of the techniques described above. It is easy to spot those as scams – the money order thing, the person who is out of town and needs it right away, wants me to courier it to them, etc. Usually they never even mention anything about the item. I once sold a broken down bike for $25 and some scam artist “needed it right away”. Who is in dire need of a broken bike?

I always deal in cash only. And I always have a decent phone conversation first to get a feel for the person. If they are not available by phone, deal over. There are certain things I would never sell on CL, like jewelry from my mom’s estate.

The last item I sold was an upscale sofa set I’d purchased several years earlier on CL. I spoke with the woman for a long time on the phone before inviting her to my home. She turned out to be a civil attorney who works for battered and defrauded women! We have since become friends. I have also made other friends and friendly contacts on CL. Like any online site, if you are careful and can recognize a con artist, it can be a huge benefit. I know there are those cases where you just don’t see it coming. Maybe it’s just the luck of the draw but I’ve never experienced any of those. If I have any doubt about someone coming into my home, I always have an intimidating looking male friend there. Same if I go to someone’s house to buy something. I usually don’t go alone. I bring a male friend with me.

Just like with any online sites, if you are careful and know what to look for, you can have positive experiences and avoid scammers.

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