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 cheque. 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 apologises and asks you to please return the extra amount by bank transfer, Western Union, a payment app, or even cryptocurrency. And voila! The cheque 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 scams and fake vacation and holiday reservations.
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.
Craigslist scams can also target the seller. A growing trend among Craigslist scammers is to offer to pay a seller with a cashier’s cheque. To sweeten the offer the purchaser often volunteers to pay more than the listed price. When the cheque arrives the seller deposits it and ships off the merchandise. And then a week or two later the bank calls with the bad news: The cashier’s cheque was forged. New technology enables scammers to mass produce them to look like the real thing. So the seller now owes the bank the full amount of the phony cashier’s cheque, and has lost the merchandise that was up for sale as well.
Consumers can report Craigslist scams by completing a form on the Craigslist site.
Craigslist Email 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 numerous 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.
Craigslist Apartment Scams
Of course, not every Craigslist scam is advertised with spelling and grammar mistakes. Many are so convincing that they attract a veritable torrent of interest.
In January 2021, for example, a couple on Canada’s Prince Edward Island received multiple inquiries from people who saw that a residence they owned was for rent. Except that it wasn’t. The address was right as was the photo that was posted. (The owners were actually trying to sell the property and the scammer simply swiped the photo they used in their own ad.) But that’s exactly what made the fake ad convincing, since most Craigslist scams are not accompanied by photos.
According to the fake Craigslist ad the owners were asking for $1,200 a month, including utilities, plus a $1,000 deposit. It was a bargain. One woman even showed up with her belongings ready to move in. The moral of the story is check before you pack.
If you think you’ve been the victim of a Craigslist scam, contact the fund recovery experts at MyChargeBack.