The 7 Top Craigslist Scams of 2019 (and How to Avoid Them)

Don't fall for these tricks if you do business on Craigslist

A conceptual illustration of a Craigslist Scammer.
Lifewire / Theresa Chiechi

Craigslist is a popular classified advertisement site for buying, selling, renting and even finding jobs or gigs. While it certainly can be a helpful tool for finding something you need or offloading something you don't need anymore, there's always the risk of getting scammed.

Not all Craigslist scams are obvious. The sneakiest scammers know just how to make a deal look legitimate and are very good at tricking innocent people into handing over their items, money and personal information.

Here's how to keep yourself safe when doing business on Craigslist and hopefully spot any potential scams before it's too late.

If you suspect that you or someone you know is the victim of a Craigslist scam, find out how to report it.

01
of 07

Rental Property Scams

A woman looking at an apartment rental ad.

 

nadia_bormotova / Getty Images

Craigslist scammers will often try to take advantage of hot rental markets by posing as landlords. They steal photos and information from other legitimate listings and then post them as their own — typically at a very attractive price.

When a prospective tenant reaches out asking to visit the property, the scammer will make up an excuse explaining why they aren't able to let the prospect visit it in person. The scammer will then ask the prospective tenant to send a deposit over to immediately secure the rental property. They might even offer a fake rental agreement.

Avoid Craigslist Rental Property Scams

  • Look for spelling or grammatical mistakes in emails or messages since many scammers operate overseas.
  • Do a reverse Google image search with the listing's photos to make sure they're not stolen.
  • Ask to speak to the landlord on the phone and look for a local area code in the number.
  • Demand to visit the rental property in person.
  • Beware of overly detailed stories and excuses.
02
of 07

Cashier's Check and Money Order Scams

A cashier's check and a pen.

cnythzl / Getty Images

Say that you're selling something on Craigslist and a buyer agrees to give you a check for it. After you've given them the item, you go to deposit the check and find that it's fraudulent. The same can apply to money orders that look like they're from reputable companies like Western Union.

In other cases with checks and money orders, buyers will 'accidentally' overpay for what you're selling. When this happens, they'll ask you to deposit the check anyway and then wire the difference back.

So if you sold a laptop for $2,000 but your Craigslist buyer gave you a check for $4,000, you might go ahead and deposit the check and then immediately send the extra $2,000 back to them. A few days later, you'd discover that you got a phony check. The scammer would have your item, you'd have no payment for it and they would've even gotten an extra $2,000 from you.

Avoid Cashier's Check and Money Order Scams

  • Beware of buyers offering to pay by cashier's check or money order.
  • Beware of buyers who say they're out of the area and will have a friend pick up the item for them.
  • Ask for a certified check instead and call the bank that issued it for verification purposes before you deposit it or release the item.
03
of 07

Text Message Verification Scams

A laptop and smartphone using a verification code.

 Oleksandr Hruts / Getty Images

In order to prevent scams, Craigslist requires every new account to be verified by entering a code that was texted to a phone number. Unfortunately, some of the sneakiest scammers have a found a way around this.

Here's how it works: A scammer will start the process of creating a new Craigslist account and then stop once they get to the part where they're asked to provide a phone number for verification. Next, they'll target someone—often a Craigslist seller—by texting them about what they're selling.

The scammer will then ironically explain their concerns about the number of scammers using Craigslist and ask the seller to verify their identity first. To do this, they'll ask them if it's okay to send them a code to their phone number for verification purposes.

If the seller agrees, the scammer will then plug the seller's phone number into Craigslist (which generates the code), the code is sent to the seller's phone, the seller then texts the code to the scammer and the scammer types the code into Craigslist to finish the account setup process. The seller's phone number would then be associated with a brand new scam account.

Avoid Craigslist Text Message Verification Scams

  • Beware of any potential buyer who wants to verify your identify first.
  • Never give anyone a verification code that was sent to your phone number.

Scammers are also using this same strategy on Craigslist sellers to get into their Google accounts (using Google verification codes).

04
of 07

Email Scams

An email scam message shown on a laptop.

danijelala / Getty Images

Craigslist provides anonymous email addresses for buyers and sellers to communicate with each other safely, so if anyone on Craigslist asks for your actual email address, you should take it as a big red flag.

Some scammers posing as buyers will ask for a PayPal email address to send payment. Some never end up sending the payment or they make sellers think that they did by sending a fake confirmation email—carefully crafted to make it look like it came from PayPal.

Even worse, some of these fake emails could include some note or warning asking you to click on a link or do something in order to complete the transaction, which could put you at risk of phishing scams, malware, compromised accounts or additional email scams.

Avoid Craigslist Email Scams

  • Conduct all communication with other Craigslist users via the anonymous email addresses provided by Craigslist.
  • Beware of anyone wanting to send payment via PayPal.
  • Never give your email address or other personal information to anyone on Craigslist.
05
of 07

Escrow Scams

A graphic image of a burglar stealing a wallet shown on a computer screen.

Mykyta Dolmatov / Getty Images

Escrow sites are used to hold funds until the transaction has been completed and are typically used for high priced items. They can help take the worry out of having to transfer a large amount of cash to someone else, and scammers know this.

Scammers posing as Craigslist sellers might ask buyers to use an escrow site to deposit their payments. In most cases, these are actually fake websites constructed to look like legitimate escrow sites. Buyers who end up sending their payments to fake escrow sites will never receive the items they bought, lose their payment money, and are at risk of future scams due to handing over their personal information.

Avoid Craigslist Escrow Scams

  • Beware of Craigslist buyers who want you to use an escrow site that they picked themselves.
  • Do your research on legitimate escrow site, if you're considering using one.
  • Insist on picking the escrow site yourself for the transaction.
06
of 07

Ticket Scams

Tickets.

eatcute / Getty Images

Unwanted tickets for things like concerts, shows, sports events and even airline travel often end being sold at a discount on sites like Craigslist. But buyer beware, because many of these tickets are totally fake or have already been cancelled.

Scammers have gotten surprisingly good at replicating tickets so they're nearly indistinguishable from the real thing. Some even feature cleverly crafted watermarks or holograms to make them look legitimate.

Avoid Craigslist Ticket Scams

  • Never buy tickets from classified ad and marketplace sites like Craigslist.
  • Only buy tickets from reputable platforms like StubHub, Ticketmaster or directly from the venue's/event's site.
07
of 07

Car Scams

A car with a sale sticker on it.

 

vladwel / Getty Images

Countless used cars get listed for sale on Craigslist, but even the most legitimate ads can lead to scams. In fact, some of the scams already mentioned above are very popular with car listings on Craigslist.

The property rental scam can also apply to cars listed for sale. In this case, the scammer makes up a big excuse or sob story for why the prospective buyer can't check out the car in person and insists on getting a deposit to secure it due to high demand.

The cashier's check and money order scam also applies if a seller receives an excess payment from a scammer posing as a buyer. Some scammers posing as sellers might even insist on using escrow sites since selling a car typically involves a big purchase.

Other common car scams include hiding missing or damaged parts, turning the odometer back to lower the mileage and only letting you take a very short test drive.

Avoid Craigslist Car Scams

  • Make sure you get to see the car you plan to buy, drive it a reasonable distance and have a look at all the different parts and compartments before making any payment.
  • If selling a car, insist on taking cash or certified check.
  • If buying a car and using an escrow site to make your payment, do your research and ideally choose the escrow site yourself.
  • If buying a car, get the vehicle identification number to check the vehicle history.
  • If buying a car, ideally bring someone with mechanical experience along to help you.