How to Spot Scammers on Craigslist. What You Need to Know to Stay Safe (2024)

Founded in 1995 by Craig Newmark as an email distribution list for friends, Craigslist transitioned to a web-based service in 1996. By 2000, it had expanded to multiple U.S. cities.

Today, more than 60 million Americans use Craigslist each month to buy, sell, and trade goods and services.

However, the platform also attracts scammers who are a real threat, whether you're buying, selling, or looking for a job. These scammers often seek money, bank account details, and other valuable information. Common scams on Craigslist include fake checks, overpayment schemes, rental fraud, and phishing attempts. Scammers frequently pose as buyers or sellers, leading to financial losses and personal safety risks.

In this article, we'll outline common Craigslist scams and provide practical tips to help you avoid falling victim to them. Whether you're buying or selling, staying informed is key to protecting yourself in this digital marketplace.

Related: Don't Get Scammed! Facebook Marketplace scams you should avoid

Did you know?

  • Craigslist has users from 70 different countries.
  • The platform receives more than 250 million visits per month.
  • The website comes in 14 different languages.
  • There are more than 80 million classified ad postings on Craigslist.

Source: firstsiteguide.com

Top 13 most common Craigslist scams and red flags that will help you identify them

1. Craigslist Rental Scams

In a rental scam, someone on Craigslist lists a property for rent to steal your money or personal information. Scammers might create fake listings for properties they don't own or copy legitimate listings with altered contact details. The real property owners are often unaware their property is being used as bait.

Red Flags:

- The property owner refuses to let you see the property.

- They offer a "lease-free" option.

- The rental price is suspiciously low.

- They ask for payment through wire transfer or app.

- They require large sums to reserve the apartment.

- They demand upfront payments for paperwork.

- Renters need to send money before seeing the property.

- They request personal information via forms that ask for bank details, social security numbers, email addresses, licenses, and credit reports.

2. Craigslist Verification Code Scams

Scammers may ask to send you a code to verify you're not a scammer. Don't share any codes sent to your phone; they're for a Google Voice account the scammer is setting up with your number. This allows the scammer to use your number to trick others, potentially leading to messages from people accusing you of scams and possible law enforcement issues.

Red Flag:

- A buyer asks you to provide them with a code to "confirm your identity."

3. Ticket Scams

Scammers frequently sell fake or non-existent tickets for games, concerts, or events on Craigslist. The platform's substantial user base makes it easy for scammers to quickly reach victims. As Craigslist doesn't provide a payment system, buyers have no protection if they are scammed. To avoid falling victim to this Craigslist buyer scam, consider using authorized resellers or contacting the venue directly for tickets.

Red Flags:

- Tickets are for sold-out events.

- The ticket price is much lower than usual.

- The same ad appears in multiple cities or states.

- The seller is pushy about buying the tickets.

- The seller asks for payment via wire transfer, cryptocurrency or payment apps such as Zelle, Venmo, CashApp.

Related: Ticketmaster Scams: Everything You Need to Know to Stay Safe

4. Pet scams

Scammers list fake pets for sale, claiming to be breeders. They may also claim to be rehoming an animal because they're moving or cannot care for it. In both scenarios, their aim is to deceive you into paying for pets that do not actually exist.

Red Flags:

- The seller refuses to let you meet the animal in person.

- The price for the animal is unusually low.

- The same ad appears on multiple platforms or Craigslist areas.

- There are no pictures, and the images are unclear.

Related: How to Protect Yourself from Online Pet Scams

5. Cashier Check Scams

In a cashier check scam, a buyer offers to send you a cashier's check for payment but insists that you ship the item before the payment clears. The check either turns out to be fake or never arrives at all.

Red flags:

- The buyer claims to be from a different location and will send a check.

- The buyer requests that you ship the item before you have received payment.

6. Overpayment Scams

This type of scam occurs when a buyer sends more money than requested and then quickly asks for a refund of the overage. They may request the refund in a different form from the original payment. After receiving the refund, they cancel the original payment, leaving you out of pocket.

Red Flags:

- A buyer overpays for an item.

- They quickly ask for a refund on the overage.

7. Craigslist Guarantee Scams

Scammers may claim to be "Guaranteed Sellers" on Craigslist, complete with high-quality images and official-looking emails. However, Craigslist offers no such certifications or guarantees.

Red Flags:

- "Trust" badges are displayed on listings

- You will receive emailed "proof" of guaranteed status from Craigslist.

8. Car Sales Scams

Scammers might list cars they don't own, hide damage, or offer fake vehicle history reports. Their goal is to get an upfront payment without delivering a car.

Red Flags:

- The seller declines to meet face-to-face.

- The same images are found in several listings.

- The seller claims to be acting on behalf of someone else.

- The price seems unusually low.

9. Travel scams

Be wary of scammers posing as ticket wholesalers or travel companies who offer discounted trips or sell airline tickets, claiming they cannot use them. If scammers use stolen credit card information to buy tickets and a credit dispute reverses the charge, you could end up paying for airline tickets bought from Craigslist twice.

Red Flags:

- Sellers offer trips at significantly lower prices.

- Scammers demand an upfront deposit.

10. Escrow Scams

Scammers might insist on using an escrow service they control to "protect" the transaction. These fake escrow companies are designed to steal your money or personal information.

Red Flags:

- A buyer or seller insists on using a particular escrow company.

- They provide a direct link to the escrow company's website.

11. Employment Scams

Craigslist is a popular resource for finding temporary or long-term work, offering a wide range of comprehensive and up-to-date freelance job listings. Users can easily browse these postings by visiting the platform's job board, and it's completely free for job seekers. However, scammers try to take advantage of this by creating bogus job ads to collect personal information or deceive people into sending them money.

Red Flags:

- The job listing is copied from another site with changes.

- There's no contact information, location, or detailed job description.

- The listing is poorly written or contradictory.

- The listing is for a government job.

- The salary is much higher than comparable jobs.

Related: Pay to Work? Scammers Impersonating Recruiters Steal Your Crypto Before Denying Your Salary, FBI Says

12. Overseas sellers scams

The scammer poses as a seller who needs to sell their items quickly because they're overseas or to avoid another month of storage fees, resulting in a very low price. Eventually, they claim you can't see the items in person and request payment via wire transfer or other untraceable methods like Zelle, Venmo or CashApp.

Red Flags:

- The seller says they are overseas.

- The seller refuses to let you see an item before paying.

- The price is much lower than it should be.

- They ask for payment via wire transfer.

Related: How to identify military romance scams. Are you a potential target?

13. Phishing Emails Impersonating Craigslist

Scammers might send emails claiming to be from Craigslist, offering verification or purchase protection. Craigslist does not provide these services.

Red Flag: Unsolicited communication from Craigslist

Related: How to Spot and Report Email Scams

How to stay safe on Craigslist

Safer online shopping is possible with Craigslist as long as you know what to look for.

Follow these tips to reduce your risks, always trust your instincts and ask for a second opinion before transferring money to a stranger.

1. Meet in person; avoid upfront payments. When you meet in person, you can inspect the item firsthand and assess the intentions of the other party before making any payment.

2. Use Secure payment methods. Opt for secure and well-established payment methods when making transactions on Craigslist. Digital wallets often offer buyer and seller protection against fraud. If meeting in person, cash can be used safely in a public place.

3. Verify the product, service or pet. Ensure you get what you pay for by asking questions and requesting additional photos or verification. The best way to verify is to see the item in person. If the seller refuses, consider it a warning sign.

4. Protect personal information. Most transactions on Craigslist don't require sharing personal information. Avoid disclosing your home address, bank details, or Social Security number to strangers, regardless of how convincing they sound.

Is your personal information on the Internet already? Find put now with Bitdefender Digital Identity Protection.

5. Use Craigslist's email relay. Craigslist's email relay system hides your email address, adding a layer of security. Avoid giving out your real email or phone number, especially if the other party pressures you.

6. Use Scamio to uncover scammers. If you suspect someone is trying to scam you, check with Scamio, our AI-powered scam detection tool. Send any texts, messages, links, QR codes, or images to Scamio, and it will analyze them to determine if they are part of a scam. Scamio is free and available on Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and your web browser.

You can also help others stay safe by sharing Scamio with them in France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Romania, Australia, and the UK.

FAQ

What can Craigslist scammers do with your personal information?

Scammers try to gather your personal information such as your email address, phone number, credit card information, home address, Social Security number, and full name. With this information, they can engage in identity theft, open new accounts in your name, steal your assets, or carry out other fraudulent activities.

How do I report a Craigslist scam?

If you fall victim to a Craigslist scam, report it immediately. Depending on the situation, you may need to contact multiple providers. For example, you might need to alert your bank to halt any transactions. In the United States, you can report Craigslist scams to:

How can I spot a potential scam on Craigslist?

Be aware of red flags: watch out for unusually low prices, pressure tactics, vague listings, an unwillingness to meet in person, requests for upfront payments, and duplicated ads.

Always proceed with caution. If something feels off, use Scamio, trust your instincts, and consider looking elsewhere.

How to Spot Scammers on Craigslist. What You Need to Know to Stay Safe (2024)

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