8 Vile Craigslist Scams to Watch Out For

By Paul Michael on 25 March 2013 144 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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8 Vile Craigslist Scams to Watch Out For

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Guest's picture
Jennifer

OMG!! Absolutely word-for-word I received the same texts via ruthvb7@gmail.com. Called hersef Ruth Shelley. Word for word I kid you not. Fortunately I did not cash the check and have been reporting this to any and every agency I can. I am so angry that I too almost fell victim.

Guest's picture
Cynthia

Several years ago, I was looking for a job on Craigslist. I came across an ad that I like and contacted them. He agreed to meet me at a restaurant to interview and discuss details. I needed to be sure to bring my current credit report. Yeah. No.

Guest's picture
GuestLauren

WATCH OUT! Just got scammed today out of $1,500.00. I was supposed to do light cleaning and documents filing in a apartment. The couple/aka scammers sent me a check for 2k, told me to deduct $ 400 for my services, to start work right away, exchanged phone numbers and someone will contact me and give me the keys. They were moving back to town a week later in the apartment that I was cleaning. I received a COMPANY check, deposited it in the bank, funds were there the next day, kept $ 400 for myself and wired transferred via western and money-gram to their supposed landlord the remaining of $ 1500. Turns out that MY BANK showed fund available the very next day BUT that only happened because of my great credit with the bank, NOT because the checked actually cleared and of course, it turns out that two days later I found out from the bank that the scammers retracted the check and I was negative 1500 in the bank. So WATCH out because banks accept fakes and then hold us responsible. I will never get this money back because when I went to the police in NY and wanted to file a report and told them that I have wire transferred the money in Texas, THEY SAID that they can't help because it's a different state and not their jurisdiction. In the meantime the bank can close my account in any moment and decide not to open it again even after I pay back what I owe simply because the first check that I have ever deposited was retracted. So the scam: come clean the residence, we will arrive a week after you start, we are sending you a check, deposit it, deduct your week's pay and the rest wire transfer to landlord, travel agent, pay someone who will pay our utilities etc so GUYS ... PLEASE DO NOT make any payments before your bank does not tell you that , that specific check you have deposited cleared and that the bank did not simply credited your account with the amount of the check because of your good credit with them.. Good luck you all !!

Guest's picture
Guest

I posted an ad for landscape material and started receiving texts asking me to email them information. I texted back and said you have my phone # so you call ME for information if you are serious and they kept insisiting I email them which I didn't. Obviously a scam to get some kind of information using my email address??

Guest's picture
Guest

We were shopping for a vacation home to rent in Scottsdale Arizona. We found one at a very affordable price. We responded by email and received a rental agreement that we were to fill out and email back. Then to hold the house we were asked to sign up through pop money and make a deposit of $600. We returned the agreement but before depositing money we did some research on the property address. We were able to contact the actual owners of the home to find out this home was not a vacation rental and infact the pictures that were posted were not the address listed but in fact the neighbors house. Be careful out there...if it's too good to be true, it probably is!

Guest's picture
Guest

I had a king size bed listed .
The scammer asked for my name and address to send the certified check .
He said he was a missionary .
Now they've got my name and address

Guest's picture
Mikey

Someone friended me on FB then almost immediately asked me to do them a favor and advertise a 2003 Tahoe for sale for them on Craigslist. I became suspicious when they informed me they wanted $1,500 for the vehicle -- a ridiculously low price, given the condition of the vehicle shown in the pictures they sent me to post in the ad. Does anyone have some idea of what kind of scam this person (or people) are trying to run on me?

Guest's picture
Guest

Craig's list ad asking for art models for photography. He referred to the website of a well established photographer and even posted one of that artist's photos on the craigs list site. When prospective model bites, he asks for them to send close up photos " of your eyes, face, belly, thighs hands, feet, breasts, bottom and vagina". Right. I'll get right on that.

Guest's picture
Ozzie

Seriously, who would fall for these scams. Especially the 'cell phone swindle'. Come on. Who is falling for these?

Guest's picture
Drew Pod

New scam. Heard it today. A potential buyer shows up to your house and takes a couple of pics discreetly of nice items in your house. They decide not to buy anything. The crook then photoshops the pics of items taken at your home, and photoshopped to look like they are in his home. The crook calls the police and reports his house was burglarized. Police take a report along with the photoshopped pictures. Then 2 days later, calls the police and reports that he sees a stolen item on Craigslist. The police set up a sting and find all of the photoshopped items at your house. You are arrested and the police give your things to the crooks. Now... Does anyone have any suggestions to prevent against this??
Please let me know.

Guest's picture
Guest J

Periodically take pictures of your stuff, in particular the more pricey things, and keep it in the cloud. I do this anyway for insurance purposes.

Guest's picture
Tai

Anything about texting back a code that the scammer sends via microsoft...???

Guest's picture
Guest J

Don't text back a code ever. That's a way to get a recurring charge on your phone. Almost fell for it, and my husband stopped me...

Guest's picture
Guest

A new Craigslist scam is a person or persons sending potential sellers to a home address of somebody who has not contacted them and leave the homes occupants to explain that no such person lives there nor did they contact the seller and the spoofer never reply to the seller again

Guest's picture
Guest

Just had a TEXT message sent to my phone giving me a website that has a craigslist message for me to read ! Sounds like an exercise in redundacy in order to phish some information.

Guest's picture
Simone

I have received text messages telling me I have two craigslist messages with a link to click on to read them. Here is the most recent one: You have 2 new messages for your Craigslist item, to read them use : http://984.craigsvoicemail.click/too/?ref=(There were 8 numbers here which I deleted for this comment). I didn't have any messages on my phone so I figured it was a scam and didn't click on the link. I have no idea what that's all about.

Guest's picture
Lyn

I am interested in a trailer that was listed on Craigslist. The trailer and seller are out of state. The seller has set up an Ebay account where the money goes, the trailer is shipped to my address with bill of sale and title. I have 5 days to look over the trailer and approve. The seller will only receive the money if I decide to purchase after the 5 days. If I don't, Ebay refunds me 100% and the seller pays for the trailer to be shipped back to them.
What's your thought about this transaction? Should I be wary?
Thanks.

Guest's picture
Guest

Ebay covers all transactions within Ebay. But they will NOT cover paypal transactions made outside of Ebay. Just request them to list it on Ebay as a BUY IT NOW Item.

Guest's picture
Boux B

i recently purchased a 11 week old German shepherd puppy and stupid enough i sent 500 $for the pup.. the carrier agency then began to tell me the crate wasnt good enough for her so i had to buy a new one and i denied and said well i dont know if your even real so im not sending anymore money to you untill i know you have my dog.. so i contacted the owner " Alex Maxwell" and he told me that he cant afford the new crate because of his finances .. and he said he wouldnt recieve any money untill i signed the papers from the "air pet carrier agency ".. he began to say how he didnt want me to leave his sweet puppy at the agency.. if he was a real guy he wouldnt let my dog be sitting ther over night.. well now i cant get ahold of either of them and im beyond livid! i understand now im the dum dum that only went to the websites they told me to go to and it seemed legit! well now im out of 500 and dont have the dog ive been wanting for a long while now! what do i do??????!!

Guest's picture
Guest

I'm selling a car. Txt came asking if I want to trade and sends link to his posting. Following link takes me to a CL log in screen. Log in and you get to a bogus post. Look carefully at the link. Craigslist with 2 l's. Scammer now has your CL password. A much more computer literate friend was available and discovered the fraudulent link. Changed my PW immediately and think I survived......

Guest's picture
Guest

I've talk to atleast 10 people today about getting one of there puppies an everytime I try an b meet with them they say they r to far away an I can have it transported for little of nothing, to good to be true..my heart is broken for I was so excited to find me a puppy but all I found was scam artist, as if life wasn't already enough

Guest's picture
Guest

Craigslist has ads for pure bred puppies to be rehomed don't do it. Found it to be a scam by some investigation and turn all websites in to attorney general office.

Guest's picture
Guest

And what about that gray area where they describe the item as being in mint/new condition, like speakers which turn out to be dented, or a desk that turns out to be scratched up, some of these people use stock photos or favorable angles so you cannot tell from photos and now you have driven 1 hour and now another hour back home and wasted your time.

Guest's picture
Guest

YES. I do NOT post my telephone number in my Craigslist ads, but nevertheless, I have received text messages on my cell phone from scammers/fraudsters instead of using the CL "reply" system that protects my anonymity.

How are they getting my phone number when I have not listed it in the ad??

Guest's picture
Debra burgess

I have a man that sent me a check for zero dollars and zero cents. He said it was his accountants error. And he will send another one. He sent it priority from Wisconsin but his address on the check is for sc. And he just text me and I called him once he didn't answer and it said it was a goggle line. Please advise!!!

Guest's picture
Steve

I am / was selling an item on Craigslist. Within minutes of posting it, it was sold. Buyer agreed to pay the asking price and would be sending payment. Received a cashiers check for $1380 more than the asking price. The balance is now for the "shippers". I can over night to him and back 4 times for that. Did some digging with Capital One and they said it was a bogus cashiers check. Cops should be visiting me here shortly to do their thing. Oh well... Back to the drawing board.

Guest's picture
Rochelle

Scammer selling and/or looking for a forever home for a puppy or young dogs. I am finding that they cannot talk because they are at work - text only! Also, they are posing that they left the state to take another job in another State but could deliver the puppy / dog via dog carrier! Scammer everywhere trying to make a dollar

Guest's picture
Tarsha

Why the ppl use text plus numbers when their trying to sale things on craglist ? I have sent numerous of emails , left voicemails , sent texts even called still haven't gotten a reply from anyone I considered purchasing from all text plus numbers

Guest's picture
Ron

I've now had several CL buyers show up on a CL ad where the price was very clearly posted in the ad as "firm." They then proceed to tell you they had thought, or were told, the price was much lower.

This is not so much a scam as it is a dishonest negotiating tool to get around the wording in your ad. Just thought sellers ought to know.

Guest's picture
Guest

when I post an item for sale people will text me to ask if it's still available I will answer yes and they will not reply after that what is the scam also they will call me and asked me for my address but never follows through I never give out my address anymore I set up a meeting place but what is the scam with them calling me or texting me once I reply I hear nothing from them this has been going on for year

Guest's picture
Guest

Here's a new one. I responded to an ad where the seller had an antique dresser for FREE. Can't pass that up, right?? I sent an email asking for the dimensions. The response was "Give me your phone number....." I reread the ad which stated they wanted a phone number for communication, so I replied via email "Oops, sorry" and then gave my phone number. I went to my phone expecting to receive a call or text shortly but I didn't. Instead I received another email that said "If you agree i can send you a verification code.When you send the code to me then i will give you my full address.all of this is for our safety......" To this I replied that I appreciated their precautions but to not give me their address yet because I wasn't sure if I even wanted the dresser. Again I asked for the dimensions. I then received an email response "....Give me your phone number......" What?? I already did. But being the nice person I am I emailed my phone number again. To which I got another email "If you agree i can send you a verification code.When you send the code to me then i will give you my full address.all of this is for our safety......" This is an exact duplicate of the message I previously got. Red flags were going up in my mind by this point. I quick Googled Craigslist Verification Code and found some emails warning of scams but not something quite like this. Anyway, I emailed back and I said I was no longer interested. No response by email. Never did get a call or text via cell phone which supposedly was their choice of communication method. Has anyone else had a similar experience?

Guest's picture
GuestNicole

Usually I see on Craigslist, the title bar I'd all wierd like:
2o01 vE#!le fOr SALe
Plus a bunch of these ****#$$$@!!! €¥¥₩***@&$

Guest's picture
Janet Curtis

someone with a ny phone said they were in colorado and wanted my table site unseen in reno nv.? i use a pay as u go phone..can they do anything to that? wanted to send a check wait for it to clear then pick it up. how do u pu something from nv when ur in colorado. ? i have already seen/gotten checks for thousands to be a mystery shopper. so i know all too well how that goes. craigslist scammer how do i turn him in? what a horrid thing to do to the poor selling items to live. fbi? who can stop this idiot his number was 347 440 1831 they must be doing this in every state!

Guest's picture
Guestami

I posted an add to sell my dads RV. Got an text message for some guy who's friend is in the military and searching for him. He gave me the guys email snd name since he is deployed. I emailed him and he emailed me back asking questions. I told him what he needed to know. He responded back said he wanted it but needed to use pay pal to transfer funds to pay for the RV. He said he has a hauler company that will pick up RV and sign. He has not seen it or test drive it just going by what I'm saying but he does not want to loose it while he is in the military. Seems too good to be true but again this is different because I am the seller not the buyer and he's willing to do PayPal for me to get the money first. What do YALL think.

Guest's picture
Josh PowellGuest

There is a national academic paper mill scam listed on "Services", Category "Writing, Editing, Trans". The same ads stating they will write original academic papers, for any subject. They will write your Thesis or Dissertation. They'll even take an online course for you. They claim the papers are all original when in fact they are plagiarized papers bought off Google and resold to university students. These fraudulent ads (the same ads) are posted in every single city and town throughout the United States. They have "fixed" their ads where everything is automated and their ads can't be flagged. They have literally 40-60 ads listed in every city and town in the U.S. It's all automated. They have reported repeatedly to C.L. Mgmt who has done nothing to rid C.L. of these predators who are making a fortune off students. The few legitimate ads among all these fraudulent ads are now cast in a bad light. Students, especial ESL students are being expelled from universities all over the country. Still, no one does anything to ban these ads from being posted.

Guest's picture
Guest

Perhaps the students should be expelled for cheating. This scam would be useless if not for dishonest students.

Guest's picture
Guest

Regarding the Cell Phone Swindle, how does entering your phone number on a website result in
"signing you up for a monthly charge of $10 or more per month, and there is no way to cancel the service."

If the site asks you to enter CC info then that should be a tip off that all is not legit.

Guest's picture
Char

Too many scams. One you dont mention, text to buy your item that tells you to call them and when the phone picks up enter 55 to conect. What really happens is they now will be recievig all your calls and will scam someone using your phone number.

Guest's picture
Mrsdallan

What is the deal with higher end items and individuals wanting to send you money by a paypal and have shippers pick product up sight unseen. twice I have looked up their cell number which has been flagged as dangerous

Guest's picture
Guest

Phone scam some one called and said my Nefertiti was in a car crash and need $2000 on gift cards are there calling the cops and he will be n big trouble they had the right names unknown where they got the names from ALL HE GOT WAS AN EAR FULL OF SWEAR WORDS LMAO

Guest's picture
Mike00000

I can't believe like half of you are unsure or fall for the scams. Too good to be true = scam, Checks = Scam, Shipping = Scams, Job offers = Scam, Act today = Scam, I will help you sell this = Scam.

You always meet in person, you always get cash, You never give out person information. No one is going to pay you to work a few hours a week at hundreds of $$'s. Half the jobs wont even pay you or they involve you becoming the scammer.

Why? because people in other countries are sick of making $1 a day. They learn English and scam the crap out of people willing to believe they can make easy money.

If the English is not perfect, they use words or slang not from your area, ect, it is a scam.

Honestly, 80% of the listings are scams, so just focus on the ones that seem legit from day one and ignore them as soon as they are fishy.

Guest's picture
Anonymous

There is some type of car selling scam going on on Craigslist where people are advertising nice cars really cheap and using the text now app as the contact number. When you call it, whether you leave a message or not, then people will send you a text message saying the car is still available and to email them at some email address. Then when you do, the reply with some details and ask for your full name and address to supposedly open an eBay protection claim (mind you, the car is not listed on eBay). After that I am not sure what happens because I would never give
My full name and address but when I pushed one seller about why they were now saying the escalade was grey and $6000 in Omaha, when the ad was for a white one for $4000 in the Philadelphia Craig's list the seller stopped communicating with me. So far I have flagged over 40 ads like this in two days time, and I have a meeting with a special prosecutor that is going to look into the activity. Not sure if you know anything more about this scam and what the end result is but if you do, I would really like to know.

Guest's picture
guest

I use CL and have several things listed right now. In the last week I've received text messages at least 5 times inquiring about the "vehicle" that I have for sale. I don't have a car listed on CL.
I'm pretty sure this is a scam.

Guest's picture
John Wellstead

I advertised a bike on Craig's list and got a reply from a person calling themself Mike Cambill asking for details (were on the ad anyhow).
At first I was delighted,but on reflection I noticed the unusual selling and grammar in places. My suspicions were confirmed when he called himself a set administrator in the film business, and saying if I would send him my details (also in my ad) he would send the money, sight unseen.
Of course the next step would have been for me to send my bank details to receive the money.
Guess what, I haven't replied!
John W.