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How To Stay Safe And Avoid Getting Ripped Off On Craigslist

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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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