5 Popular Craigslist Scams to Watch Out For

by Sean Bryant on April 23, 2013

Craigslist ScamsOver the past decade, Craigslist has quickly become the go-to place for buying, selling or getting connected for anything you can imagine. You can purchase event tickets, sell an old piece of furniture or you can even hunt for your next job. Gone are the days that we search the local newspaper for these items, we now go online. Unfortunately, with all good things come the bad.  No matter how savvy you might be, there is always a scammer waiting to trick you out of your money.

Does all of this worry mean you need to stay away from Craigslist? Of course not. You just need to be careful and be on the lookout for anything that might not seem right. Common sense and street smarts will go a long ways when trying to pick out potential Craigslist scams.

To help keep you safe and successful when dealing with Craigslist, I have put together five of the most common Craigslist scams.  Two of these have actually happened to members in my family, including my wife and I. Luckily, we were all able to detect that something wasn’t right from the very beginning.

The Overpayment Scam

The overpayment scam happens when you are trying to sell a particular item. Instead of making the transaction in person, the buyer will ask to send you a check or money order instead. Once you receive the check, you will notice that it has been made out for a significant amount higher that what you had asked. The buyer will say they made a mistake and ask you to send them back the difference. The problem is that the check will bounce or the money order will be discovered to be a fake and you will have already wired back the difference.

This particular scam happened to my parents when they were trying to sell a couch. The buyer was from out of town and told them that he didn’t need to see it and that he liked it from the pictures. He ended up sending a money order for over $3,000 when the couch was only being sold for $300. After getting a little suspicious, my parents mailed the money order back and called their local police. They told her that the money order was most likely a fake.

The Ticket Scam

Most online ticket brokers offer the ability to print your tickets at home after you purchase them. This is great for tickets that you might purchase right before an event. Unfortunately, scam artists have become very good at making exact replicates of this print on home tickets. This is a Craigslist scam that is extremely popular and even more so around big events like the Super Bowl or World Series. My advice is never buy a ticket that isn’t printed originally at the box office.

The Home Rental Scam

Rental scams happen when you are looking to rent a house or apartment. The con artist will use a house that they find off the realtor’s website and will pose to be the owner. They will tell you that they are currently out of town, but if you like the property you can fax the lease and mail them the deposit. You most likely won’t find out you were duped until you go to move in and find out that someone else is living there.

This particular scam happened to my wife and I when we moved to Colorado. Lucky for us, we were able to realize things were a little too good to be true. We found a listing for a house to rent and emailed immediately to learn more. The “owner” responded that she was currently out of town on business, but we could just go over to the house and look around the exterior to see if we liked it. After we did that, we told her that we were interested and wanted to actually see the home’s interior. She said that we could just mail her the deposit check and she’d send us the keys. That is when we said thanks, but no thanks.

Car Buying/Selling Scam

The overpayment scam I mentioned above plays a part in the car buying scam. An individual will be wanting to buy your car and will end up sending you a check for more than the asking price. You will send the difference back before you realize his check was a fake.

Other ways that scammers will try and get you is when you are the buyer. They will tell you that they are out of town and then can just ship you the car.  All you need to do is wire them the money and they will then send the car.  Well guess what?  You won’t get the car and you’ll also be out quite a bit of money.

This particular scam happened to my brother-in-law a couple of years ago. He was looking for a new car and ended up finding one out of state for a really good price. The seller said that he was being deployed overseas and needed to get rid of it quickly before he left. Luckily, instead of sending him the money, my brother-in-law quit the negotiations.

Escrow Fraud

One of the biggest worries when people buy items online is that they won’t actually receive the item that they paid for. When I buy things I will have the seller hold the money in an escrow account.  That way I don’t have to release the money to them until I actually receive the item I bought.

How the criminals will get you here is they will tell you that they have an escrow company that they frequently use and it has low fees. You will go ahead and agree only to find out later that is was a fake website set up for the sole purpose of phishing your information.

Final Thought

Craigslist scams are always going to be around. New ones will pop up as technology advances. As consumers, it is our job to do our research and ask ourselves, “does this sound too good to be true?” Craigslist is a valuable resource to have, you just need to make sure that you are extra cautious so you don’t end up becoming a victim.

Have you ever bought or sold anything on Craigslist?

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Sean Bryant

Sean Bryant created OneSmartDollar.com in 2011 to help pass along his knowledge of finance and economics to others. After graduating from the University of Iowa with a degree in economics he worked as a construction superintendent before jumping into the world of finance. Sean has worked on the trade desk for a commodities brokerage firm, he was a project manager for an investment research company and was a CDO analyst at a big bank. That being said he brings a good understanding of the finance field to the One Smart Dollar community. When not working Sean and his wife are avid world travelers. He enjoys spending time with his two kids and dog Charlie.

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