Taking the Battle to Craigslist Scammers: How to Avoid Scams on Craigslist

Joel Lee 05-08-2013

Launched way back in 1995, Craigslist took the Internet world by storm with its innovative cross of classified ads with the web. With a free account, you could post up items for sale, job openings, apartment vacancies, or just browse around as a potential purchaser.


Since then, it has exploded into an international service with millions of active users and tons of popular items being sold every day The 7 Most Popular Items Most Commonly Sold on Craigslist Craigslist has it all. Whether you are looking for friends, a job, an apartment, a hair stylist, or a ride, you will find a matching category. While you can find almost anything on Craigslist, some... Read More . You can fare even better by using search engines like Search Tempest to search all of Craigslist 4 Great Craigslist Search Engines to Make Your Searches on The Site Easier In a web 2.0 era, Craigslist has refused to make major alterations to its site. This has advantages, but one disadvantage is the lack of a great search function. It can be hard to find... Read More .

But as with all Internet-based transactions, some users prefer to game the system and scam other users for a quick buck. Fortunately, Craigslist has instated a few deterrents in the system over the years (e.g., a cost for placing ads in certain sections), but scammers continue to find clever ways around them. If you’re on Craigslist, know that scammers are an uncommon but real threat and you should take heed to protect yourself with these simple tips.

Complete Transactions In Person

Two of the most common Craigslist scams you’ll encounter: the I’ll-send-the-item-once-I-receive-payment and the I’ll-pay-you-once-I-receive-the-item. For the naïve or inexperienced, both of these scenarios can result in you losing out on money since it relies solely on the honor system — and behind the guise of the Internet, people quickly lose their sense of honor.


Whenever possible, complete your Craigslist transactions in person. This will guarantee that the item and money — or item and service — exchange hands at the same time, ensuring satisfaction for both buyer and seller. Do not send money for a purchase before you have a guarantee that the item will arrive. Do not ship an item before you have guarantee that the money will come in.


Of course, Craigslist is an Internet service, which means that you won’t be able to deal locally all the time. In this case, you may want to use a third-party escrow service, though it may not be worth the hassle for small-budget purchases (e.g., a pack of pens). If someone recommends a particular escrow service, research it and be very thorough — fake escrow sites will steal your money.

Meet In A Public Place

Even if you deal only in local Craigslist exchanges, you can still be scammed – by being robbed. Depending on your physical build and stature, you may be less prone to physical violence and damage, but it still sucks to walk into a transaction and have your item or money stolen from right under your nose. Thievery is a real risk.


When dealing in person, always meet in a small but public place like a local café. Get there a few minutes before your scheduled meeting time and pick out a spot that’s far from the entrance. Seat yourself in a way that if the robber was to grab and run, he’d have to run past you to escape. The hope is that it buys a bit more time for you, or someone nearby, to react in the case of attempted theft.


If you’re more worried about your personal safety than the integrity of the transaction, you should bring a friend or two, particularly ones who have a physical presence and can defend you if it comes down to that. When in doubt, don’t go alone.

Too Good To Be True

As a general rule of thumb, if a listing on Craigslist feels too good to be true, it most likely is. Whether they’re selling or buying, people want to get the most value for their money. Nobody is going to sell a legitimate $1,000 camera for $25 since they could just as easily sell it for $50, $100, or however much else. Huge differences between asking price and actual worth should be an immediate red flag.


Sometimes scammers will give you a sob story to explain away these red flags. Maybe their grandmother just passed away and the camera belonged to her and they just want to get rid of it as quickly as possible. Maybe a buyer will tell you that they’ve fallen on tough times and they want to haggle. Or they’ll try to convince you that something isn’t worth what you’re asking.


Playing with your emotions is Scamming 101. Don’t fall for it. Make sure you do the proper research on value and prices beforehand, then stick with your gut.

Ask Lots of Questions

If a particular listing seems fishy to you, or if the person running the listing feels dodgy, then you should ask questions and ask a lot of them. People who try to scam you will be hiding behind some sort of lie. They succeed when you don’t see the lie or you buy into it. Asking questions is a great way to test the veracity of a scammer’s claims.


For example, if someone is selling a $1,000 camera for $50, you should question the price. Why is it so low? Why not price it higher? Is there something wrong with it? You should also request photos to be taken of the product (if you’re buying a tangible object) to make sure that it’s working as described in the listing.


You’ll eventually find holes in their story or you won’t. However, at the end of the day, if they still feel sketchy to you then don’t go through with the deal. Better to err on the side of caution than take the risk and be scammed.

Craigslist Scammer Blog

My last piece of advice isn’t actually a piece of advice, per se. It’s a blog that consists of user-submitted catches of scammers on Craigslist. Whether the listing itself reeks of a scam or the scammer tries to wiggle his way through you by email, vigilant users who realize a scam before it’s too late can post it here for all to see.


Use this as a resource to train your eyes for what a scam looks like. Notice how most scammers will play on your emotions and make you an offer that seems too good to be true. Notice the little inconsistencies in their stories and how they’ll say whatever it takes to sway you into believing them. Once you’ve seen a few scams in action, it’ll be much easier to catch them when they come your way.

If you don’t gain much from this site, that’s all right. At the very least you can have a laugh at some of the more pathetic attempts mentioned on the site.


Again, I like Craigslist. The purpose of this article isn’t to scare you away from using it but to warn you that you need to be cautious. If you decide that you don’t feel comfortable anymore, there are always alternatives to Craigslist 5 Sites Like Craigslist to Buy and Sell Used Stuff Online Want to buy and sell your used items locally but not on Craigslist? Here are the best sites like Craigslist you should consider. Read More that you can explore. You’ll still find scammers (they’re everywhere, especially on the Internet) but since none of the alternatives are as popular as Craigslist itself, the number of scammers you encounter will be far smaller.

On the other hand, if you decide to stick with Craigslist then check out Aaron’s suggestions for how you can get the most out of Craiglist Get the Most Out of Craigslist and Stand Out While Doing It Craigslist has become the go-to site for anyone looking to buy, sell, hire, be hired, etc. However, at the same time, it has the reputation of attracting “sketchy” people. But this article isn’t just about... Read More and learn how you can improve your Craigslist experience within minutes.

Image Credit: Mysterious man Via Shutterstock, Money Exchange Via Shutterstock, Cafe Via Shutterstock, Price Tag Via Shutterstock, Question Marks Via Shutterstock

Related topics: Craigslist, Online Security, Scams.

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  1. Anonymous
    October 28, 2015 at 10:07 pm

    OK how about sending money internationally i met this girl online we been talking for awhile like almost 2 months now and we gotten real close she's telling me she needs my help to send $50 to nigeria for her mother for food but this girl lives in texas so do you think this a scam or legit for help she's send me alot of pictures of herself she seems real and legit i don't know still it still seems a bit fishey to me i told her i wanna talk to her over the phone 1st think i should wait people? any help or advice will be great thank you for taking the time to read

  2. cj
    December 10, 2013 at 11:44 pm

    I posted an antique bean pot last year and got 12 responses. All were scammers. One way you can tell is that they will email you, through CL contact, with some benign question. If you hit reply, you'll see that the recipient of your email is different than the sender of the one you are answering. CL will ask you to indicate that the email you received was a scam, but you are then reporting a different email address than the one who is actually getting your reply, and, now, your email address.

  3. Craig
    September 8, 2013 at 3:03 am

    The best site that I have found currently listing and updating about all the scammers on Craigslist is They have an ever increasing list of names and phone numbers that you can compare to see if you are being scammed.

  4. Ed A
    August 6, 2013 at 4:34 pm

    I've always been a seller and never a buyer. Craigslist is great for selling stuff.
    Nice article. I ALWAYS sell items I can carry in a public place like a Starbucks.
    Unfortunately, larger items like furniture may require that you invite strangers into your home.
    I have to say, living in both NYC and Austin, I have never ever had a bad experience as a seller. Having sold literally dozens of items ranging from electronics, to books, to an entire apartment worth of furniture, my experience has always been great.
    As always, use caution. When selling in a public place, after the sale, I always make sure I leave in a different direction than the buyer and keep an eye out to make sure I'm not being followed. When someone must come to my home to buy something large, I'm never alone.

    • dragonmouth
      August 6, 2013 at 9:07 pm

      "When selling in a public place, after the sale, I always make sure I leave in a different direction than the buyer and keep an eye out to make sure I’m not being followed. When someone must come to my home to buy something large, I’m never alone."

      That in itself is a sad commentary on the jungle Craigslist is. It sounds like your doing a clandestine drug deal and trying to avoid a rip-off.

      • Ed A
        August 7, 2013 at 12:17 pm

        No. It sounds as if I'm selling a perfectly good, used laptop for say $200, and I don't want the person I just sold it to (whom I don't know) to follow me home and perhaps mug me (somewhere quiet) for the money he just gave me for my laptop. I live in New York City. It pays to be cautious - even though I've always met very nice people when selling anything on Craigslist :)

        Actually, it pays to be cautious no matter where you live :)

    • Joel Lee
      August 10, 2013 at 2:39 am

      Always better to be safe than sorry. It seems like it's definitely easier to be scammed as a buyer than a seller, though it's possible both ways. Good to know your experiences have always been good, especially considering the fact that you've been in both NYC and Austin!

  5. bben
    August 6, 2013 at 12:29 pm

    Watch for any form of advance pay scam - where the buyer offers too much for an item - ex: $500 for a $300 item and offers a 'certified' check as payment if you ship right away to a foreign address. That certified check will be accepted by your bank. THEN a week or so later WILL bounce. And you are out that $300 used laptop that you shipped to Nigeria (or England) at your expense.

    Advance fee scam - again a bogus certified check, but with a request to take out your share and send the rest on to someone else. I saw this one used on a rental scam - foreign renter (from England) wanting to rent unseen, sends a $8000 'certified' check with instructions to take out the security deposit and first 2 months rent ( $5000), then send the rest ($3000 from your checking account) to a 'furniture store' who is to furnish the apartment. (turns out the address is a rental PO box in some other city) - You are out that $3000, the $5000 is bogus and the place is still not rented. I caught this one for a friend before they deposited the check. The emails were through a proxy in England, the cell number we wheedled out of the renter turned out to be in Nigeria.

    Essentially - if it sounds too good to be true - it is.

    • Joel Lee
      August 10, 2013 at 2:38 am

      Good examples. "Too good to be true" should be taken to heart when dealing with classifieds!