5 Red Flags When Using Craigslist

As you are probably aware, Craigslist is an online classified advertisement arena where anyone can post items or services that are for sale. However, the site is also a haven for scammers, who prey on unsuspecting buyers and sellers. The following situations described will help you distinguish between a valid post and a swindler.

1. The Buyer or Seller is located outside the United States

Always deal in person when either buying or selling something on Craigslist. Several scams originate from an entity outside of the United States; therefore, use caution to avoid any transactions involving a party from a foreign country. Be especially cautious about opposing parties claiming to be from the United Kingdom, Africa, and Romania. Last year, for example, Romanian and U.S. authorities arrested more than 100 people involved in either eBay or Craiglist scams by pretending to be U.S. citizens, which ended up costing Americans over $100 million.

A good indication that a person is operating outside of the country is bad grammar usage in correspondence with you. While bad grammar alone may not be a deal breaker, if it is accompanied by any of the following red flags, you should investigate more thoroughly before providing any further information or taking any action.

2. Asks for Payment in Something Other than Cash

Never ever wire money to the other party. Craigslist itself warns that anyone who requests that you pay through Western Union or a similar service is generally a scammer. Fake checks and money orders are also common in Craigslist transactions. If a fake check or money order is deposited, the bank will hold you responsible for any resulting fees. Further, by the time it is determined the payment accepted was fraudulent, the item purchased has likely already been exchanged.

Another red flag is when the opposing party offers overpayment, with a request that you return a portion of the funds. No matter what story the person gives you, if they offer to pay more than the purchase price, even it is allegedly for shipping, be very leery. A common scam is for a person to offer a fake bank or cashier’s check in excess of the requested amount, and tell you to cash it and then send them a portion of check back. However, as stated above, the bank will release the funds immediately with a bank or cashier’s check. By the time it is discovered that the check is a fake, the opposing party has already been paid a portion of the check and likely taken the item that was for sale, and the bank will come after you for the total amount.

3. Asks for Personal Information

Never provide anyone with personal information, especially any financial information such as bank accounts, social security numbers, or eBay/Paypal account information. Along with this, do not post your resume on Craigslist, as it has personal information that can be seen and used by the public.

Also, be wary of anyone telling or asking you to go click on a link to a website in any email correspondence. Generally, this particular scam will require you to download software to view a picture or video. The software can consist of malware, which can be used to take over your computer and access sensitive personal information.

4. Claims the Transaction or Item is “Craigslist Certified” or “Craigslist Guaranteed”

A seller may claim the goods are “Craigslist Certified” or “Craigslist Guaranteed,” or you may get an email about a “Craigslist Purchase Protection Program.” However, Craigslist does not have any involvement with transactions occurring on Craigslist, there is no official Craigslist buyer or purchase protection program, and Craigslist does not officially guarantee any transaction. If a buyer or seller on Craigslist tries to tell you anything different, they are trying to deceive you.

Some scammers will even send an official-looking email that appears to come from Craigslist, indicating the site will somehow guarantee the transaction. This is a red flag that the person you are dealing with is a crook.

5. Avoids Phone or Personal Contact

A scammer will generally avoid speaking with you over the phone and meeting with you in person. They may make up some excuse about being out of the country temporarily, or even that they are hearing impaired. If you run into someone who appears to be avoiding telephone contact and is willing to purchase the items without seeing them first, it is most likely a scam.

Attorney Lisa N. Nelson