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. You can fare even better by using search engines like Search Tempest to search all of Craigslist.
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.
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 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 and learn how you can improve your Craigslist experience within minutes.