8 Vile Craigslist Scams to Watch Out For

by Paul Michael on 25 March 2013 32 comments
Photo: Rooftop Mind

Craigslist is great. Really, I love it for buying and selling, finding services, and even posting jobs. But for the 99% of ads that are completely legit, you'll find postings designed to con you. That's a sad reality of life, and of Craigslist, but if you know what to look out for you can avoid the pitfalls of an otherwise awesome service. (See also: How Safe Is Craigslist?)

1. Lured to a Mugging

This is a really nasty scam, and we could all fall for it quite easily. It's also known as "robbery by appointment."

As a Craigslist seller, you will know that cash is the only way to go. You don't want to deal with bounced checks. Of course, as a buyer you have to abide by those same rules. Craigslist scammers will place an ad for something like a car, high-end electronics, or anoter product of significant value. You'll arrange to meet the seller (with a nice wad of cash in your pocket), and that's when you'll be jumped and the money taken from you. Some people have even been killed in the robbery attempt.

This "lure" scenario has happened many times over the years, and as always Craigslist advises you to meet in a safe, secure location, go with a friend (or two), and if in doubt, back out.

2. Receiving an Overpayment on ANYTHING

Another common scam is that your prospective buyer will send you a check (regular check, money order, or a cashier's check) that is for much more than the agreed price. There will usually be an excuse, like "oh, I sent a down payment for two months rent instead of one, can you wire me the difference?" Of course, the check they have sent you is fake, but the bank will often cash it and then discover the fraud later. By that time, you're out of pocket, and the scammer's pockets are full of your money.

Never wire funds, always deal with people locally, and beware of anything other than cash. Even then, cash can be counterfeit. It doesn't hurt to have a counterfeit detector pen on hand (they're less than $10) for larger transactions. And be wary of bills bigger than $20; you can easily be handed a fake $100 bill, give the buyer the item and change, and be out of pocket twice.

3. The Rental Robbery

Back in 2009 I wrote a detailed post on this scam, and it appears it is still going on. In fact, it's more widespread than ever, and the reason is that it is very easy to pull off, and almost impossible to track down the scammer.

The basic premise is this. You scour the Craigslist ads for a rental home and find one that is both beautiful and very, very affordable. Almost too affordable. You contact the address in the ad and are told that the owner had to leave the country (usually for something like missionary work) and needs money to cover the mortgage. You then are told to fill out a background check (which gives ID thieves a ton of personal info) and wire them money for one month's rent and deposit. Most of us would drop out at that point.

However, if you think "well, I'd never send money to someone I'd never met" you should also know there is a variant of the scam that involves people actually showing homes to you and collecting the money there and then. They'll even give you a set of keys (not that they'll work) and a signed agreement. They gain access to the home through various means, including getting the keys legitimately from a home that's on the market, and then renting it out to dozens of people in a single day. Watch out for this one, and if you receive an email that references leaving the country and low rent because money is needed fast, add it to your spam filter.

4. Fake or Canceled Tickets

It's bad enough that scalpers use Craigslist, buying tickets for $50 and when the concert is sold out, selling them to you for $200. But there are also scams involving tickets. These scams won't just leave you paying a steep markup, but also without the tickets you thought you were buying.

Sophisticated scammers have found ways to replicate tickets to major events that look and feel legit. They even have holograms and watermarks. But these tickets are worthless, and when you buy them, you'll lose out twice. First with the money, and second when you get turned away from the event.

A similar scam involves genuine tickets that get canceled after you buy them. A common scam involves airline tickets. You purchase the tickets for less than face value, thinking you have a bargain. The scammer will tell you they bought the tickets but cannot use them due to a family emergency. However, the tickets have been canceled and cost the scammer nothing. They will cost you dearly.

To avoid this, purchase tickets direct from the venue, from a legitimate site like Ticketmaster, or from trusted resources like Hotwire, Travelocity and so on. It's just not worth the risk to buy tickets off Craigslist.

5. The Online Escrow Service

You see an ad on Craigslist for something like a car, boat, expensive electronics, that kind of thing. When you contact the seller, they will reply that they want to use an escrow service for their protection and yours, and send you to a site.

However, unlike escrow.com, which is a legitimate site endorsed by eBay, they will recommend one that sounds just as plausible. Perhaps something like EscrowProtectionPlan.org or EscrowPaymentGuardian.net, and ask you to set up an account. But this is a fraudulent site set up by the seller, and as soon as you deposit the money, you've lost it. Be wary of any seller that recommends an escrow service to you, and if one does, take steps to verify its legitimacy.

6. The Cell Phone Swindle

This one can take a bite out of your monthly income, and if you're not monitoring your finances closely, you may not even notice it.

In this scam, someone will respond to your for sale ad saying they are interested, but cannot talk right then. Usually they're at work or otherwise indisposed. However, instead of giving an email address or phone number, they'll ask you to put your cell phone number into a website that "stores" information for them. In reality, it's a site that is signing you up for a monthly charge of $10 or more per month, and there is no way to cancel the service. The only way out, when you spot it, is to cancel your credit card. And forget about getting a refund.

Another cell phone swindle is to provide you with a call back number that appears to be an answering service, but is in fact a pay-per-call number. Although you won't be out thousands of dollars like some warnings of these numbers claim (specifically the 809 code scam), you could be charged $25-$30 to make the call. And if enough people do it, that's a tidy sum for the scammer.

7. The Job Bait

With unemployment as high as it is, people out there are desperate for work. And when jobs are in such high demand, scammers come out of the woodwork.

Here's the scam. You will see a job offer that sounds wonderful, with great salary and benefits. But when you apply, you could face any number of potential cons. They include: fake background check services and credit report sites that steal your information, being reimbursed to sign up for "free" offers, fee-based training for the potential job, and bogus focus group and survey sites.

Your best bet is to thoroughly research any company offering a job. Use the BBB, make sure they have a phone number you can call for information, and run from any posting asking for fees up front.

8. Revenge of the Free Stuff

Sometimes you will see ads in the free section that advertise a massive house clearance. Basically, the renter or homeowner is moving out the next day (perhaps even leaving the country) and needs everything to be gone. Seems legit, right? But often, this is a scammer who is setting up an innocent victim to be burglarized.

There have been news reports of people returning home to discover that their home is being stripped bare by dozens of people. The scammer is often one of these, who will be helping himself to bigger items and blending in with the crowd. The people who take the stuff, who are usually innocent themselves, can be prosecuted. The victim will rarely be able to get back any of the missing items. And the scammer gets away free and clear.

99.9% of the time, free stuff will be put out on the curb for you to take, or somewhere else outside of the home. If it's inviting you to just walk into the home and take whatever you like, it's bogus.

Have you encountered another Craigslist scam not covered here? Let us know in comments. 

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Guest's picture
Linda

I have been looking at used cars lately and am finding a lot of bogus ads. For example a Lexus for $1200. or other deals that are far too good to be true. I've always wondered they are attempting to gain by posting such ads. They are frequently flagged and removed within hours, but they are overtaking the legitimate ads. What's the deal?

Guest's picture
Guest

When trying to get a car for our son, we looked into a car with a price which seemed to be a bit too good. When we inquired about having the car looked at by a mechanic, we were told it was on a military base and the owner was about to be shipped to Iraq. We were told the car would be shipped to us once we sent money to one of those escrow sites mentioned above and the money would be refunded if we were not happy with the car. Yeah, right, and what would the dude do about the car now that he was in Iraq?

Guest's picture

I've used Craigslist extensively for 8 years and have definitely seen my fair share of scams.
I avoid #1 by meeting in public, well-lit places.
Most of the other online scams are fairly easy to spot. The emails seem fake and out of place.

Guest's picture

I completely agree. I've used Craigslist for everything from apartment hunting to car shopping (I actually just got bought a car last weekend through Craigslist) — and overall I've had awesome experiences. BUT I think that's mainly because I'm incredibly wary of any possible scam someone could be trying to pull. I've definitely run into multiple scammers who "are moving out of the country tomorrow" - which is why I've learned to trust my gut. If it seems out of place, or if it just doesn't feel right, it's not worth pursuing.

I also make sure to speak with the person prior to meeting, which may not sound fool-proof, but you'd be surprised how much you can glean from a simple conversation beyond the computer screen.

Guest's picture
Jill C

The local police where I live have said they are fine with people meeting up with the buyer/seller at one of their precincts or roll call locations for the purpose of buying or selling something off of craigslist. Chances are, if the person who is either selling you something or buying something from you has other illegal ideas in mind, they won't agree to meet at a police station! I will take advantage of this offer next time I am using craigslist!

Guest's picture
Guest

If you're going to meet with cash, meet in a bank lobby. Lots of cameras and security.

Guest's picture

Because of these scams, I've largely decided to stay away from Craigslist. I know people personally who have been scammed and almost lost a lot of money.

If you are going to use Craigslist, follow the writer's advice and bring your friends for backup.

Thanks for the article!

Guest's picture

Wow, these things are absolutely crazy. I'm such a paranoid person I've never actually used Craigslist. I use eBay because it seems much more secure, but i have bought stuff that just isn't up to standard. I recently bought a call-phone that had a 14- day return policy. Of course it took like a month for the phone to start acting up.

Guest's picture
Guest

The scammer will call you about your item for sale and question if you really have the item. Then they will send you a 5 digit code and tell you to send it back to them. They use another phone number to send the code from. Once you send the code back to them you just signed up for a subscription. You can have a limit put on your cellphone for monthly subscriptions to protect yourself.

Guest's picture
MarkW

OK, folks, tell me if you think someone is trying to scam me. I'm trying to sell a snow thrower on Craig's List and got the following rather befuddling email yesterday after confirming that the item was still for sale. This message seems suspicious to me, but I can't figure out what the scam might be:

"Thanks for the prompt response to my mail. I will be buying from you so
please kindly withdraw the advert from C.LIST to avoid disturbance. Please
be informed that i will be paying with a certified check from my Bank it
will be delivered to you via United Parcel Service (UPS) or FedEx , Then,
the last price you're willing sell it for me so I'll need you to provide me
with the following information to facilitate the mailing of the check...

1.....Full name to write on the check
2.....Full Physical address to post the check
3.....City, State and Zip Code
4.....Home & Cell Phone to contact you

I will make arrangements for the pick up as soon as you have your money I am
completely satisfied with the advert and the payment will be delivered
within 4hours.** I use a hearing impaired phone # and will receive your
calls via email **

N.B UPS/FedEx does not deliver to a P.O box addresses.Thanks"

Guest's picture
Fran

Umm that is definitely a scam. The "check" they are giving to you is a fake and if you cash it you will be responsible for the lost money from the bank. Anything that says "dear" or "please kindly" or any other grammatical sentence structures of the sort ARE scams as well. And why can't you call him? He is "hearing" impaired? You are most likely talking to a foreign scammer from india, africa or any of the other countries they do stuff like this on!

Guest's picture
Guest

I had almost an identical response to a current listing I have, it was from a "Hustin Lee", instead, it asked for my paypal account "for quick and easy transfer of funds". I hate that they actually catch people in their web from time to time....

Guest's picture
BGonzalez

Excuse me Fran, but I feel particularly inclined to remind you that most Craigslist scammers are in the United States in the city they are probably scamming. Scams happen everywhere. Don't be so quick to blame "other countries".

Guest's picture
kim

I just recived the same reply. My gut was tellng me something was wrong. I was offered 30.00 extra for taking the craigslist post down asap. Wanted my name...address..no po box...cell phome#. Was to be paid via curior and movers will pick up the item as soon as the cashiers check was cashed. Go with your gut.

Guest's picture
Nikki

I received the exact email for a hutch I am selling. Also 4 others with similar responses. My question is what would someone have to gain from this scam? I don't understand how they could benefit from this?

Guest's picture
Lori

I got the same note almost exactly. A friend said that these emails never mention the item specifically. I did send my name address and phone number and I am worried what might be done with this info. like the other writer below. I never received a check (yet) but if I do I plan to take it to the police. Any thoughts or suggestions?

Guest's picture
GuestDBG

Hi Mark. This exact thing just happened to me! But with a Paypal acct. What was the outcome? I just gave them the info yesterday, but thinking it could be a scam started searching. thanks for any info you can give me.
DBG

Guest's picture
Guest

Pimps are a major problem in Talent, Event, Domestic, Crew and even Creative Gigs. In the San Francisco area, these sections often contain posts looking for "models", or "dancers" which are sometimes easy to spot, but anytime you see any post for a need a female for an assistant for a busy executive, date to the opera, date for lunch, someone to serve drinks at a private party, etc. IT IS A PIMP. They are looking to find women who will go on dates for money. It's all about the social engineering. They then try and hook them into lunch for a presentation (the usual pitch). If you are in doubt, use a fake email address with a female name and respond asking for more information. I flag relentlessly (I have three different machines in three different subnets that I can remote into, but they are like cockroaches - they keep coming back...) If Craigslist would respond to complaints about this it would take a majority of them out, but craigslist doesn't do anything until the police or district attorneys make threats.

Guest's picture
Jules

I've been scammed recently on a vacation rental apartment abroad, foolishly transferring a payment for a deposit. So the money is gone, my concern though is that I gave them my address and dates when we will be away. Is there a risk of being robbed while away because they have this information? Or is the scammer only interested in the money? Is there anything I should do? i am based in Europe, not sure where the scammer is based, possibly US as i was asked to make a transfer to a US based 'accountant'.

Guest's picture
Christopher Freedom

I just caught my landlord in a scam. She rents out rooms in her home, only there are no rooms available. She requires the prospective renter to leave her with a month's rent and a month's security and tells them that the room will be available in a week's time. When the renter shows up to move in, she tells them that there was a problem getting the present tenant out, and claims that she is having trouble with the bank getting her money out, then she ignores any future calls from that person. She knows that the police will do nothing except to tell the unfortunate person who got cheated that "it's a civil matter" and they have to take her to court. Most people who rent rooms don't have either the knowledge or the money to file a suit against her, and she seems to be getting away with it.

Guest's picture
Sally

We have tried twice to but a used Treadclimber from craigslist in two different states. Both have been scams and even months apart the return email stories were similar. Both claimed to have moved, one out of the country. Neither would talk to us on the phone. Both wanted to use eBay protected buyer program instead of cash and asked for a bunch of personal info to get us 'registered'. Then asked us to wait until eBay contacted us. Thankfully this was acted flag and We never gave our info. Both times the machines were not located where they were posted, both needed shipping, both sellers sent way too much detailed personal information about why they were selling. Both wanted to make sure we had money ready to go. I have bought and sold many times on Craigslist and legit sellers want to talk on phone- they want cash and they are willing to do a quick non-complicated interaction. They never ask if you have money ready to go. Isn't hat a given if we respond to an add?

Guest's picture
kco

Watch out for this: You are selling something from your home that you cannot meet someone for ( heavy furniture Items that can't be moved easily) You are contacted by someone that doesn't even want to look at your item and agree to the cost right off. They are VERY interested and want to come pick it up: They ask for the address before they even attempt to set up a meeting time. If you give it to them they start asking you about possible meetings time...THEY NEVER AGREE TO A TIME WHEN YOU SAY YOU WILL BE HOME BUT SUGGEST OTHER TIMES HOPING YOU WILL SAY "WE ARE NOT HOME THEN". THIS CAN HAPPEN WITH TWO OR THREE DIFFERENT "INTERESTED BUYERS" WORKING TOGETHER.

What is happening is that you are basically telling the same people when you won't be home. Pretty much a burglary ring setting up your home.

watch for:
Mostly "female" contacts very "understanding and overly work with you" demeanor
will not give you a cell phone # to talk to them to text them
uses the hidden craigs list email will not provide you with real email contact
uses a group of different tactics to change up meeting times
Never provide you with a real name (always some strange contact cypher)

Once you give them any reason to think they are being scrutinized they bail on the deal
and never hear back from them.

Guest's picture
Betty Nix

I have been applying for jobs advertised on Craigslist that describes front desk receptionist. I get an email back stating that position has been filled but, he needs a personal secretary....I have received many of these saying the same thing....$500 a week, they are always out of the country and will contact me as soon as they get back, very confidential but need me to start now..just send them name, address and telephone...but, i had sent my ruseme' already....i know this is a scam so be careful.

Guest's picture
Guest

Help me figure out what kind of scam attempt this was...I had a chair for sale, guy emails that he wants to buy chair and to call him (I thought the email was a little abrupt, but not everyone has the same style). I called the number, but it was a wrong # (this may have been an honest accident because it turns out two numbers were transposed when he actually called me). I emailed him back that he had given me a wrong # and to call or text (my cell #). He called later and sounded a little weird (nervous, high?). My red flags were at half staff, but I was anxious to sell the chair and my husband was home with me. He asked if he could come right then, and I said yes if he was on his way, and so he asked me to text him my address which I did. (This is how I normally operate with CL sales; I give out my address only when they say they are on their way.) So then he called back from a different # (I recognized his voice) and said "OK, so I checked her out and she is 53 and a Catholic..." (which is not a description of me by the way), and I cut him off with "Whoa, you have the wrong #" and he said "oh, who is this?" and I said "whoever it is, it's not who you want to be talking to" so he hung up and then texted me a few minutes later "I'm sorry but the Furniture does not fit mine" I ignored him from that point. Is this an attempt at identity theft? All is he basically has is information that is publicly available (name, address) and my cell and email. What exactly can he do with this? My husband is freaked out that he was setting up a burglary, but I think it's more along the identity theft lines.

Guest's picture
Jennifer

As far as job scams go, I also have gotten responses back from jobs saying that the position has been filled and that they are looking for a personal assistant "who can be trusted... make pick ups and deliveries on their behalf and have stuff mailed to [me]" etc.

Guest's picture
Guest

I applied to an add on craigslist for an RV. Gave them my physical address. Was told that I'd be hearing from eBay motors. Was not asked for any money. It's been 4 days and I have not heard from either parties. I have never done this before. Should I be concerned for my safety or does the whole process take this long?

Guest's picture
Guest

I have someone that sent me a check that was wired through their bank. I was told that he is out of town and he will schedule a mover to come and pick up the chair once I deposit the check. The chair is $300 and the check is for $1572.35. Is this a scam?

Guest's picture
Guest

Yes, it is. The check is fake. The buyer probably asked you to pay the mover through a wire service of some sort. You will lose $1500.00 on this!

Guest's picture
Guest

I am in the middle of one of the "Overpayment Scam" right now. What do i do with the check when i receive it?

Guest's picture
Catherine

I have just been a victim of a craigslist s scam. My bank account is now negative of $2519. Here is what happened: On Saturday, April 12th of this year (2014), I answered an ad from the famous craigslist website for a child caregiver job. The mother, who goes with the name of Laura Johnson answers me Sunday, 20th via email. She tells me that she is moving from Phoenix to Los Angeles because last December she lost her husband and her 4 months old baby in a car accident. She tells me that the only survivor is her 6 year old kid, named Joe, who is now in a wheelchair. Of course I am affected and moved by this story. I even cried when I read her email. So she needs a babysitter/caregiver for the first weekend of when she arrives; May 10th and she wants us to meet the 9th to assure that I am reliable. She sent me a picture of her and her handicap son. Everything was very believable. She wants to have everything ready for when they arrive in Los Angeles. So she asks me to accept the delivery of the new wheelchair she ordered so that it is here for when they move. The wheelchair is supposed to be delivered at my own place. She sends me a check of $2775 to pay for the delivery and to cover my first week of work ($2523 for the wheelchair + $252 for my first week paid in advance). She asks me to deposit the check at the bank and then to transfer it to the seller who will deliver the wheelchair. So I do. The check got returned to the bank and my account is now in a negative balance. I contacted the bank and they tell me that I am responsible because I am the one who deposited it into my account. The bank will not return me the money. The person to who I transferred the money is named Orma Daniels, she banks with Bank of America and I have her account number. Also, the check that I have received of an amount of $2775 was sent through Fedex and a signature was required. It was sent from a person named Tyler Jones and the sender's address is; Stihl Inc. 536 Viking Drive Virginia Beach, VA 23452 I kept the envelope. We first communicated via email and then switched to text messaging because it was quicker. She also told me that she was death so I could not call her, this should really have ringed the bell, but I was so happy to help someone in need that I did not even pay attention to all of those (now obvious) signs. As soon as the money was transferred, she told me that she would contact me for the delivery of the wheelchair and then never got back to me. We set an appointment for the delivery the next day but she cancelled it and I have never heard from her again. I have ALL of our email conversations and text messages. I also have the original craigslist ad. I took pictures of the check that I received (to prove her that I had received it well) and pictures of the receipt of the deposit that I made on the seller's account. I was worried that she would think that I was a scam and that I would keep the money for myself. I could not imagine that she (or HE) was actually the scammer. I have witnesses, friends that were with me when she (or he) was texting me to go to the bank and send her proof of the deposit. And my mother to whom I very proudly told that I had found a new child caregiving job.

Guest's picture
Guest

I have recently been looking for cars. Every person I have come in contact with is mysteriously in a different location than which they posted the ad in. I have now received the same exact story from 2 people and very similar stories from others. They are either in the military or some family member has died. I almost fell for the first one, but when things didn't add up I was able to get out of the scam. Do NOT fall for it. These people are very smart and convincing. Can't trust anyone now days. I now know that meeting in a safe public place is the way to go, and to never send money via internet. Please be aware and smart while using craigslist!

Guest's picture
Hannah

I just posted an ad to rent our rooms in our house over summer and got a reply from someone named Klara Smith and she says that her father is wiring a check to me for the rent, and also included in the check is money for me to pick up her car. She is allegedly moving from Europe so she needs to be picked up from the airport in her car and she says the check is already on its way. I have a gut feeling that this is the Overpayment Scam. Am I right? She asked for my address and name and phone number. Should I just block her emails?