Craigslist is a website used for localized classified ads. It was founded in 1995 by Craig Newmark. He initially set it up for the San Francisco Bay Area, where he lived. Soon after, he expanded it to 450 cities in 50 countries. By 2007 it had grown so large, the company hired 24 people to staff it. Currently, Craigslist sees more than 9 billion page views per month and earns revenue from paid ads. The platform is in 56th place for one of the most visited websites on the internet. The unique nature makes it ripe for cybercriminals to wage in Craigslist Scams.
Common Craigslist Scams
No doubt that Craigslist is a great way to find bargains, hunt for an apartment, or meet up with other like-minded individuals. However, it is also a breeding ground for all different types of scams and criminal activity, these scams are usually either monetary, or for identity theft. Some of the more popular types of craigslist scams right now are:
Craigslist Car Scams
Buying or selling a car on Craigslist can save both parties money. However, there are deals on Craigslist to watch out for. In some cases, the scammer is the buyer and overpays for the car and then demands a refund for the overage. If the buyer deposited the bogus check and refunded any money, they are out the funds and still have a car on their hands to sell.
In other cases, the scammers are the ones selling a car (which in all likelihood doesn’t even exist). Some things to watch out for in this craigslist fraud:
The vehicle is priced way below fair market value.
The seller or buyer claims to be in the military overseas and has to complete the transaction urgently.
There is no phone number or method to contact the buyer/seller other than email or text.
The seller requests you use an escrow service that they chose.
The seller requires that you wire transfer the money to them.
Always be on the lookout for anyone who pushes you with urgency. This is an indication that it is a scam; they want to quickly close the deal before you wise up.
Craigslist Rental Scams
The rental market in New York City is fierce, and Craigslist rental scams run rampant among the ads. Apartments are highly sought after in the big apple, making it easy to bilk thousands of dollars from unsuspecting apartment seekers.
In one particular Craigslist scam, a woman promised a small studio apartment to dozens of prospective renters. She collected security deposits totaling more than $60,000 before disappearing off into the wind.
Very often, it’s a case of bait and switch where the ad will show photos of a lovely apartment, which actually turns out to be something very different in reality. Some tips to avoid the Craigslist rental scam and craigslist fraud:
Verify the landlord’s information and ask to see their ID.
Check them out online with an ID check service.
Use a reverse phone number lookup to ensure you are dealing with the right person.
Ask for a showing of the property.
Never hand over a security deposit without reading and signing the contract first.
If the landlord doesn’t do a background check or even ask for your ID, they are probably scamming you.
Use a professional realtor to find that perfect abode.
Craigslist Email Scams
Many of the craigslist frauds come from Nigerian criminals. They may send you an email claiming they want to purchase your item on Craigslist. They sometimes craft emails to look like a legitimate receipt from PayPal showing they have paid you for the item, and now you need to wire a refund back to them. Scammers are getting more sophisticated by the minute, so you always have to be on the lookout for fraudulent and phishy emails.
Some things to look out for when receiving an email from a buyer or seller on Craigslist are:
Poor grammar, misspelled words, and they never use your name.
The buyer claims to be from one area but wants the goods sent to another; it’s probably a scam.
The person pays you too much or in advance, and you get a strange email from PayPal asking you to remove the funds and wire them. PayPal doesn’t do that.
Fake Craigslist Website
Another disturbing way cybercriminals try to ruin Craigslist is by mimicking it with a fake website with a similar URL. These scammers hope you will happen upon their website instead of the real Craigslist website and start buying from them, which of course, is all a scam. The correct web address for Craigslist is https://www.craigslist.org. Some scammers have used similar domains to pull this one off. Watch out for variants of these misspellings like: www.craigslist.com or www.craiglist.org.
If you do visit one of the fake websites, always run a full scan of your computer. Your machine may have been infected with malware just by visiting the site.
Fake Checks From Craigslist
Many victims of Craigslist scams claim the seller or buyer cashing fake checks or fake money orders to pay, and sellers required them to pay via wire transfer. Those two things alone are a big red flag that you are being scammed, and the sale is not legitimate, regardless of which side you are on. During the elaborate Nigerian 419 scam, the criminals used authentic looking receipts from Western Union, but they were all faked. If you have to accept a check, wait a few days for it to clear before sending out any goods to the buyer.
Craigslist Ticket Scams
A popular item for sale on Craigslist is tickets to shows, concerts, air travel, sporting events, fairs, festivals, and more. More than one lucky sports fan has scooped a deal for Super Bowl tickets using this method. However, many scammers also put ads out on Craigslist for counterfeit or stolen tickets. Some ways you can make sure you aren’t buying bogus tickets are:
Find out what the real tickets look like so you can compare with the tickets you are purchasing.
Check the fair market price, stay away from high mark-ups.
Meet face-to-face in a public place when swapping cash for the tickets.
Ask to see a copy of the seller’s invoice (where they purchased the tickets).
Ask for the seller’s account number and verify it with the ticket seller.
Always pay with a cashier’s check or PayPal if you cannot meet in person - these two methods will protect you if something goes wrong.
Ask for a receipt of the transaction.
Craigslist Purchase Protection
Craigslist is an open forum to post ads, period. They do not offer any purchase protection or claim to be responsible for any lost funds, or fraudulent activities perpetrated upon the platform.
However, some victims have received emails that look like they come from Craigslist, offering them Purchase Protection for a small fee. Any email that offers you any such thing is a scam. Be on the lookout for emails from Craigslist. The company does not send emails except as an automated confirmation of their ad submission process.
How to Avoid Craigslist Scams
Information below are all according to Craigslist
Common sense is the best defense against these types of scams, but sometimes it is hard to tell if the deal is legitimate. Therefore, Craigslist posted some information for users to help avoid being duped by these types of scams. Some basic things to look for are:
Vague inquiries about the condition of the item.
Watch out for poor grammar/misspellings.
The person refuses to meet or makes up excuses like being overseas in the military.
The sale is urgent and has to be completed quickly.
They want to pay or be paid by Western Union, Money Gram, cashier check, money order, Paypal, Zelle, an escrow service, or a “guarantee.”
Here is the list directly from Craigslist:
- Deal locally, face-to-face—follow this one rule and avoid 99% of scam attempts.
- Do not provide payment to anyone you have not met in person.
- Beware offers involving shipping -deal with locals you can meet in person.
- Never wire funds (e.g., Western Union) - anyone who asks you to is a scammer.
- Don’t accept cashier/certified checks or money orders - banks cash fakes, then hold you responsible.
- Transactions are between users only, no third party provides a “guarantee.”
- Never give out financial info (bank account, social security, PayPal account, etc.).
- Do not rent or purchase sight-unseen—that amazing “deal” may not exist.
- Refuse background/credit checks until you have met the landlord/employer in person.
- “craigslist voicemails”- Any message asking you to access or check “craigslist voicemails” or “craigslist voice messages” is fraudulent - no such service exists.
How To Report Craigslist Scam
Additionally, Craigslist also offers the following resources to report scams and victimization:
FTC complaint form and hotline: 877-FTC-HELP (877-382-4357)
Consumer Sentinel/Military (for armed service members and families)
SIIA Software and Content Piracy reporting
Ohio Attorney General Consumer Complaints
Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre or 888-495-8501 (toll-free).