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How To Stay Safe And Avoid Getting Ripped Off On Craigslist

By Erik Folgate

I was listening to the Clark Howard radio show today, and a guy was asking Clark if he should buy a car on Craigslist without ever seeing it. He said he was tempted, because the car was “such a good deal” and way below market value. As most of you probably know, this is immediately a red flag for a scam on Craigslist, but some people just don’t take the time to understand what they are doing. Here are some tips to help you never get scammed on Craigslist.

If It Sounds Too Good To Be True, It Probably Is

This old cliche rings true when it comes to doing any business deal and especially when buying something on Craigslist. If you are able to use common sense while shopping on Craigslist, you will never get ripped off. If you see a listing for a 2009 Lexus for $6,000, then it’s either got a lot of body damage or it’s a lure for people with the word “sucker” written on their forehead.

Craigslist’s Rules To Help Avoid Getting Ripped Off

This is straight from their website:

  • DEAL LOCALLY WITH FOLKS YOU CAN MEET IN PERSON – follow this one simple rule and you will avoid 99% of the scam attempts on craigslist.
  • NEVER WIRE FUNDS VIA WESTERN UNION, MONEYGRAM or any other wire service – anyone who asks you to do so is a scammer.
  • FAKE CASHIER CHECKS & MONEY ORDERS ARE COMMON, and BANKS WILL CASH THEM AND THEN HOLD YOU RESPONSIBLE when the fake is discovered weeks later.
  • CRAIGSLIST IS NOT INVOLVED IN ANY TRANSACTION, and does not handle payments, guarantee transactions, provide escrow services, or offer “buyer protection” or “seller certification”
  • NEVER GIVE OUT FINANCIAL INFORMATION (bank account number, social security number, eBay/PayPal info, etc.)
  • AVOID DEALS INVOLVING SHIPPING OR ESCROW SERVICES and know that ONLY A SCAMMER WILL “GUARANTEE” YOUR TRANSACTION.

If you follow the first rule of ALWAYS dealing locally with people on Craigslist when buying OR selling something, you’ll eliminate most of your risk for getting scammed.  I know that some people don’t like the added security risk of asking someone to visit your home or going to someone else’s home to buy something, and I agree with you.  The way to get around that is to ask the buyer or seller to meet you somewhere in public to make the transaction.  If it’s a heavy item like a piece of furniture, then make sure you’re never alone when someone visits or if you go to someone else’s home to look at an item on Craigslist.  Always bring a friend with you!

Analyze The Email Correspondence

If the e-mail has broken English (not always an indicator) and they use words and phrases that most people would never use in regular conversation like “good day” and “Hello Kind Sir” or “I am gratefully indebted to your kindness,” then be suspicious.  If their language reads like it’s disingenuious, then it’s most likely a scammer.

Ask Deep Questions

If you’re buying something like a car or a piece of furniture and they are selling it way below market value, ask them why they are getting rid of it.  If they give you some crazy story that involves leaving the country or an over-dramatic sob story, then it’s probably a fraud.

Again, it all boils down to common sense.  We all scoff and laugh at the people that get taken on these websites, but it happens all the time, and don’t tell me you’ve never almost fallen for one of these scammers.  Some of them are tricky, and others are really obvious, so be careful, practice common sense and DON’T let greed and impulsiveness overcome you.  Scammers prey on that type of stuff.  Use common sense and you’ll be fine.

Erik Folgate
Erik and his wife, Lindzee, live in Orlando, Florida with a baby boy on the way. Erik works as an account manager for a marketing company, and considers counseling friends, family and the readers of Money Crashers his personal ministry to others. Erik became passionate about personal finance and helping others make wise financial decisions after racking up over $20k in credit card and student loan debt within the first two years of college.

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  • http://thefrugallawyer.com Danielle

    I felt so stupid the other day, but I almost got scammed the other day. I thought it was a questionable freelance gig, but it was just a regular ole scam. Fortunately, one of the other lawyers at my firm knew it was too good to be true and said I was out of my mind. I hate being wrong, but I was oh so very wrong. It hurt, but yeah. Do your research.

    Another couple of points that I’ve heard from people in the past – never give a copy of any type of ID. They don’t need your drivers license. Really, they don’t need anything about you.

    Frankly, Craigslist is starting to scare me away lately. Now that I feel naked and broken from the scam especially. I know someone who went through a nightmare after buying a dining room set. I’m now officially jaded. Except when it comes to reading the Best of Craigslist blog.

  • Connie

    I think it is starting to be a little more subtle. It used to be the scammers would post amazing deals, now they are posting, pretty good deals. People who go by the “if it’s too good to be true…” motto can be pulled in by these guys.

  • http://lolmybloglol.blogspot.com/ anthy

    This is a very valuable article. I’m not only retweeting this for the contest, I’m also bookmarking it. I’ll come back to it when I sell something on Craigslist. (We have a TV that we’ve been thinking of selling, for one.)

  • Lauren

    I have to admit that I’ve sold things on Craigsist and after reading this article, I wonder if people thought I was a scammer. I was moving and needed to get rid of my furniture so I sold everything for a reasonably low price. People seemed happy to find out that I was a normal person who just didn’t want to lug furniture all over the place. After reading this article, I can see why they were relieved. :)

  • Anissa

    I’ve shopped on Criagslist before and I always arrange to pay and pick up in person (somewhere neutral w/ people around like a mall). That way you have a chance to walk away if it seems hokey and they don’t get your address or other info. It pays to do your homework because like you said things can often be too good to be true.

  • Karmella

    For me, the paradox of Craigslist is that it has to be a really sweet deal for me to go to the effort of meeting up with someone, and also for taking the risk of being scammed. But if it’s a really great deal, the odds are way better that it’s a scam.

  • http://www.sushimustwrite.com Sushi

    What you really have to watch out for is if the scammers come to you. I’ve been having a email conversation with someone who supposedly wants me to tutor his son. It started out innocently enough, but it was obvious that he never read my ad since he didn’t tell me what the kid was struggling in. I waited for a reply, and he replied from a different email with this really strange story in broken English saying he was raised in America but now lives in Jamaica and was sending his son for a vacation in the States. What? To top this off, the email for this domain was from an Indian ISP. No thanks.

  • http://grandgiveaways.wordpress.com Mami2jcn

    Craigslist is very scary. It’s too bad the scammers have ruined it for the rest of us.

    I agree that the #1 tip is to deal face-to-face with people locally. It’s very easy to be scammed long-distance.

  • Lisa Gregg

    As a woman, when I buy and sell locally on Craig’s list, I make sure I set up the place to meet. I agree that it is better to buy locally. I make sure that the place is public, during the day and an area that I am familiar with. I think safety is also an important issue to address.

  • Mike

    I started to notice that when selling things, you get a bunch of spam email sent to the craigslist email they assign you.

  • http://www.gettingaheadblog.com Jennifer

    When I deal on Craigslist, I think about ways to physically stay safe. I always have my husband home when a person stops by. I always have the item ready by the door. If the weather is good, I will even try to be outside doing yardwork or something when they come by. I also always keep the phone handy.

  • Audra

    That’s excellent advice about meeting each other in a public place and to never go alone!!! People are just plain nuts now-a-days; you never know what you’re getting into and it’s always better to be as safe as you can about it. I personally know someone who got pulled into a house just trying to deliver a pizza, so bad things do happen. Now that I’ve scared you to death, I have used Craigslist a couple of times and have had good results. Just remember if it sounds too good to be true then it is. :-)

  • jeccica simpson

    I have no problems to date on Craiglist, but great information to get out there for newcomers!!

  • gina

    I always worry about predators when you are using Craigslist (I know, I’m probably paranoid!). I always meet in public, and take my husband with me! You can never be too safe!

  • http://www.bucksomeboomer.com Bucksome

    We just bought a gently used dryer from a Craigslist ad on Monday so this was almost timely:).

    I think the takeaway message is not to stop using Craigslist, but rather to just be smart about it as you would any private transaction (remember the old days when we had want ads in the newspaper).

  • http://www.artificialrobot.com Sean

    I agree with Bucksome, be careful out there, but keep using it. I’ve sold a bunch of stuff on Craigslist and never had any problems, but maybe I’m just lucky. Great advice though, be smart out there and you can find some great deals and make some side money without having to give up any percentage to ebay. For me, this is the best reason to use Craigslist, I can sell things for hundreds of dollars and keep all of it. Nothing goes to paypal or ebay and I can trust the cash in my hand.

  • DG

    this is great advice! I always sell books on amazon and once i bought off ebay but I don’t trust craiglist. have heard one too many bad tales!

  • http://www.artificialrobot.com Sean

    DG, just curious if you’ve heard any of these bad stories first hand? Personally I still haven’t met anyone that had a bad Craigslist experience. Let me rephrase that, I haven’t met anyone that had a bad experience when they actually met the buyer/seller in person. The “bad craigslist storeis” almost seem like urban legends. Anyway, I’m sure it does happen, but I’d be curious what the actual numbers were, especially compared to people who have been ripped off on ebay.

  • http://www.freeroamsoul.com/ Dark Angel

    I like to bring someone else with me (when meeting up in person). Anything can happen at these meetups, and I find an extra hand helps.

  • http://www.artificialrobot.com Sean

    Another success story for me, I picked up a seed spreader for $20 today (new: $60), no problems and super easy! Anyway, Craigslist isn’t all a big scary place, there are good stories that come of it :-)

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  • Kim

    I moved across the country and sold just about everything we owned on Craigslist. Overall it was a very good experience, however, if you are selling on craigslist just make sure to keep valuables hidden if you have people come to your home. Also, keep your eye on them! No matter how nice they appear, the buyer is still a stranger to you. I had a necklace that was worth around $300 stolen from a buyer that was in our house and my husband turned his back on them for just a minute.

  • Andrea

    Please read this so this wont happen to anyone else !!!
    I have a friend who had a horrible experience on craigslist with a scammer that said he was in England because his dad was in bad health and was dieing and he also said he was going through a divorce and wanted to sell a 2009 4 wheeler for 1800 dollars which was worth about 5,000.00 to 6,000.00 dollars and he told my friend where to send the money through western union and said to send it to a lady whom he gave my friend the name of this lady and he said she was taking care of the transaction and payment for him while he was in England with his father. He said she was his assistant . He said he lived in another state here in the US I think Michigan and his parents lived in England and he said was selling the 4 wheeler so cheap because he was going through this awful divorce and wanted to sell it before his ex wife to be sold it and got the money from it and therefore since he had plenty of money and didnt really need the money he really didnt care what he got for it and he just wanted to sell it before his wife did. We sent him the money for the 4 wheeler and we thought the transaction was complete then he emails my friend and says he would ship the 4 wheeler as soon as he recieved the money and then my friend gets another email from him saying that he will ship the 4 wheeler as soon as my friend sends him another 800.00 for insurance and that my friend would get a refund on the 800.00 insurance money as soon as the we let him know that the 4 wheeler arrived safely in the US at my friends home and he told my friend if he didnt pay the insurance he would not be able to ship the 4 wheeler. We tried to call this guy and tried to email him to ask why we werent told about the insurance before the transaction was completed, that is when we figured out that it was a scam because we tried to call him over and over a hundred times and he would not answer the phone and would not answer our emails either. By then it was too late to do anything and my friends money was gone but thank the lord he didnt send the other 800.00 for insurance. What I would like to know is there a tax credit for such a loss to a senior citizen? My friend had a 4 wheeler and his grand son wrecked it and so my friend was getting this other 4 wheeler off of craiglist to be able to get around outside on his little farm as he has a muscle disease and arthritis along with diabetes and polymyalgia rheumatica and he had raised a few head of cattle to get this 4 wheeler and he sold the cattle and got scammed and feels really dumb about all of this. I feel so badly for him as his 18 yr old grandson didnt try to replace the 4 wheeler he wrecked and now this guy scams him for the other one he was trying to buy to replace the one his grandson wrecked and he had to raise these cattle for almost 2 yrs and sell them to pay for the 4 wheeler that he got scammed on. I dont know how people can get away with stuff like this and then dissapear into thin air and still have a concience. I do know that this guy is gonna have to answer to the man above when judgement day comes, thats for sure !!!! This person literally stold my friends $1,800.00 dollars. Sorry this was so long and Thank You everyone who read it but we just dont want this to happen to anyone else as this is a heart breaking and hard way to learn a lesson. If you type in 4 wheeler scam in your search box it was on the internet but I dont know if it is still there or not. several people got scammed.

    • JulioxD961

      aww i feel sorry for your frend… well i was looking to buy a iphone 4 (because ive been wanting one for the longest time) and a man on craigslist for 230$… do u think this mght be to good to be true?

    • JulioxD961

      aww i feel sorry for your frend… well i was looking to buy a iphone 4 (because ive been wanting one for the longest time) and a man on craigslist for 230$… do u think this mght be to good to be true?

  • JulioxD961

    hey please reply to this… ive been wanting a iphone 4 for the longest time and a man on craislist is sellig it for 230$… do u think he might be a scammer?

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  • Amandafew7

    I am currently talking to a guy who has a vehicle for sale on Craigslist a 2004 Chevy Tahoe for a really good price I have never bought or sold anything on Craigslist I pray this is not a scam he &the vehicle in question are in ND. Im in Al. He says we should use eBay to handle the money transaction for both our protection he sounds honest & legit I am a firm believer that there are still honest ppl. in the world but I’m no fool I also know there are scams & very untrustworthy ppl.out there what to do?

    • Deb

      Also, dealing with someone wanting to do the same with another vehicle…..did you find out anything?

  • Brenda

    i’m new to selling something on craigslist, what i posted is worth a lot of money and with fake cashiers checks and money orders i need to know how do i accept payment – cash?

    • Kollar11

      I just sold a truck for 12,000 on craigslist.
      What I did was drive the truck and title to the buyers bank, and had them sit with a personal banker who made the cashiers check out to me. I then immediately cashed the check. The BANKER filled out the check, had the buyer sign it, then handed it to me. Fool proof.

  • Confused….Help

    There is this Acura til 2004 for sale and it’s only 1,995 and they say they are selling it cheap because there husband died in Iraq 3months ago. They would ship it to me through DAS and the payment it through eBay and has the car protection situation. Does this seem like a fraud or am I just scared because it online deal?

    • Kollar11

      EBAY and CL are not connected in any way whatsoever, CL expressly states this and warns NOT to agree to this ever!!! HUGE SCAM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jim-McClarin/600237549 Jim McClarin

    A party who claims he is a marine engineer away at sea wants to by my vehicle sight unseen except for photos I’ve posted on craigslist. He wants to pay via PayPal and has “an agent” who will pick up the vehicle. I’m leery. What’s the danger here?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jim-McClarin/600237549 Jim McClarin

    A party who claims he is a marine engineer away at sea wants to by my vehicle sight unseen except for photos I’ve posted on craigslist. He wants to pay via PayPal and has “an agent” who will pick up the vehicle. I’m leery. What’s the danger here?

  • Jhook

    Someone is selling an 04 g35 coupe for 2,300 saying they’ll ship it to me… She Salinger husband had a heart attack and it was his car…. Sound like a scam?

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