The Craigslist Cashier's Check Scam: What It Is and How to Protect Yourself

Identify the big red flags before you fall victim to this scam

If you're currently selling items on Craigslist or you plan on selling something in the future, you'll want to know how to spot the warning signs of the Craigslist cashier's check scam before it's too late. Here's what you need to know and how to avoid this scam.

What Is the Craigslist Cashier's Check Scam?

The Craigslist cashier's check scam involves a scammer posing as a buyer. These scammers are looking to purchase expensive items from Craigslist sellers.

An image of a cashier's check and a pen.
filo / Getty Images

When it comes to discussing payment with the seller of the item, the scammer will offer to pay the seller with a cashier's check. Despite the security of cashier's checks, these types of scammers have figured out how to fake their payments with checks that are later discovered to be fraudulent.

How Does the Craigslist Cashier's Check Scam Work?

A scammer posing as a buy will contact a Craigslist seller who's listed something for sale (typically a a high priced item). They'll show interest in the item that's for sale, but might not ask if it's still available—suggesting they could be using a script.

Red Flag #1: Not Local With a Detailed Story

The scammer will often explain to the seller they're not local—they're currently traveling or they're simply a buyer from out of the area. They might even offer a detailed, emotional story about who they are and what they do in order to get an empathetic response from the seller.

Since many scammers operate overseas, their messages will typically include spelling and grammatical errors. This is a very clear sign of a potential scam.

Red Flag #2: Insists on Paying By Cashier's Check

Next, the scammer will offer to send a cashier's check by mail as payment for the item. Oftentimes, they'll emphasize the security of this type of payment method.

The scammer will then explain to the seller how the item will be picked up—perhaps by a friend or a company. If it's a large item, they might tell the seller they're getting a shipping and/or moving company to come and get it.

Red Flag #3: Overpayment

Sometimes, the scammer will offer to pay more than the asking price of the item. If they're getting a shipping or moving company to pick the item up, they might say the extra money is there in case it's needed to cover the cost of the shipping or moving (although they could make up any story as to why they're sending more money than the seller asked for).

The purpose behind offering more money than the seller asked for is to eventually get the seller to wire it back to the scammer.

In some cases, the scammer will never tell the seller that they're sending an excess payment—the cashier's check will simply arrive with an "accidental" overpayment amount.

An innocent and unaware seller will provide their postal information to the scammer so that they can send the cashier's check. Many scammers will even send a confirmation message and a shipment tracking number.

Before the check is delivered to the seller, the item will already be picked up from the seller by the scammer's "friend" or "moving company." Of course, the seller isn't worried, because they got a confirmation that the check was sent, along with tracking information.

Red Flag #4: Details on the Check Don't Line Up

Once the seller receives the cashier's check in the mail, they'll head to the bank to go deposit it. The check might look astonishingly real to the untrained eye, but there are typically signs of a scam in process.

If the remitter name and signature name is different, that's one reason to be skeptical. Same goes for the name the scammer used and the name on the envelope or check.

Although many scammers use advanced printing technology to create their cashier's checks, some may be of lower quality than others. For instance, a check might lack microprinting, look as if it was printed on regular print paper, or feature edging that isn't serrated.

Red Flag #5: Seller Is Asked to Wire Money Back

If there was an excess payment made, the scammer will typically asked the seller to wire back the difference upon receiving and depositing the check (often to a person or company with a different name given by the scammer, envelope and/or check). The unaware seller will happily do so, wait for the check to clear, and in about 24 hours or so have the money in their account—thinking the deal is done and all is well.

Several days or weeks later, however, the bank will discover the cashier's check was fraudulent and the money is taken out of the seller's account. If the seller doesn't have enough funds in their account, the bank will still hold them accountable for the retraction of the fraudulent deposit.

The scammed seller will have unfortunately lost their item, their payment, and possibly even an extra sum of money that was wired back to the scammer for their overpayment.

How Do the Craigslist Cashier's Check Scammers Find Victims?

Scammers find victims by scouring the "for sale" section of Craigslist and looking for high ticked items. The item could be a piece of furniture, a watch, a laptop, or anything else that may be more than a couple hundred dollars—even cars and boats.

Scammers like to target sellers who are selling expensive items because they're more valuable. The higher the price on the item, the higher the risk of being targeted.

How Do I Avoid Getting Involved in This Scam?

The surest way to avoid falling victim to a Craigslist cashier's check scam is to never accept a cashier's check as payment for items you're selling on Craigslist. Your safest bet is to always accept cash, and accept it when you met up in person to give them the item.

If you absolutely must accept a check for payment, consider calling the bank that issued it to verify it's real before you deposit it. Make sure you're able to do this before you hand over your item—ideally at the time the item is picked up. You might also want to consider getting a certified check instead, which is signed by the account holder and certified by the bank, indicating the account holder has enough funds at the time of its issuing.

I'm Already a Victim. What Should I Do?

Unfortunately, once you fall victim to this type of scam, it's very difficult to seek retribution on the scammer and virtually impossible to get your money and item(s) back. Scammers typically operate from overseas, so even if you do identify the cashier's check as fraudulent before you deposit it, notifying the bank about it won't result in much.

You can, however, do your best to report the internet scam using these official resources. If the fraudulent cashier's check was delivered to you by mail, you might also want to file a report with the United States Postal Inspection Service.

How Do I Avoid Being Targeted for the Craigslist Cashier's Check Scam?

Although there's no guarantee you'll be able to avoid all Craigslists scammers who are trying to pay with cashier's checks, you can minimize your risk of being targeted by simply not listing expensive items for sale on the site. A good rule of thumb might be less than $1,000, but remember—this is no guarantee.

If you do plan on listing expensive items on Craigslist, make sure to filter out any prospective buyers who display any of the red flags discussed above. Ensure your potential buyer is local, willing to meet up in person at a public place, and willing to pay in cash.