Learn More About Craigslist Scams

Craigslist is a site that many people trust for buying and selling with people in the local area. But some people have also come to think of it as very dangerous. Why is that?

No Identity Verification

You don’t have to verify your identity to use Craigslist; you don’t even have to create an account. Although you can create an account to more effectively manage multiple listings, it’s also possible for users to create a listing with just an email address. Craigslist doesn’t verify or guarantee listings or users, which means it’s pretty easy for people to post scams.

For its part, Craigslist does often flag and remove listings that appear to be fraudulent, malicious, misrepresenting or otherwise a violation of the Terms of Service. But it’s not meant to be a full-blown buyer and seller site — it’s meant to offer people an easy way to locate people in your area. That means less identity verification.

Direct Peer-to-Peer Contact

Craigslist doesn’t have a messaging system on the site. Rather, to communicate with sellers on the site and respond to interested inquiries, you use your own email program. Though this can sound scary, Craigslist does offer the opportunity to use a masked email address, and most people utilize that opportunity. Instead of an individual emailing your personal email address, the person emails a Craigslist email address that functions as a middleman.

Still, because Craigslist doesn’t directly offer a messaging service in-app, it’s harder to keep track of conversations and other important information you might need when it comes time to sell. Also, you need to make sure you remember to use the masked email program, so you don't accidentally publish your email address online.

Meeting and Selling in Person

Craigslist is actually only intended for buying and selling locally; the site discourages people from buying anything online and encourages users to flag posts asking customers to send money through the internet. That’s because it’s very easy to just make off with the money and never actually hand over the product as promised. In fact, this can be a useful way to actually stay more protected, since you know now that many scams on Craigslist request online payment.

Of course, the concept of meeting someone in person to buy a product makes some people uncomfortable. The company itself addresses these issues on its website — almost everyone using Craigslist acts in good faith, and it’s very rare that anyone deals with a local scam or crime. But the overall feeling surrounding Craigslist can be difficult to get past.

What Type of Craigslist Scams Exist?

To avoid the most popular Craigslist scams, you first need to make sure that you know what they are. These are probably the scams you’d run across most frequently:

Sending Money in Advance

This is the most common scam on Craigslist, by a large margin. The company itself estimates that you can avoid 99% of all scams if you only deal with someone in-person and don’t send money online. If you refuse to wire money, buy products sight unseen, or place a down payment before you get additional information, it’s rare that you’ll be taken in by a Craigslist scam, because that’s almost all the scams on the site.

It’s very easy for a seller to run a Craigslist PayPal scheme. A scammer just has to add a posting to the site, then wait until you email asking for more information. The scammer insists that the product, service, or property is good to go. The only twist is that you need to pay in advance. Don’t ever fall for this, no matter how sweet the deal may seem. You’ll almost certainly lose money.

Phishing Emails and Calls

After scams that attempt to rob you of your money, the next most common Craigslist scam actually utilizes the authority of the Craigslist service itself. Phishing is a scamming topic whereby an individual pretends to be from a real and authoritative organization, then manipulates you into giving the person money, financial information, login credentials, or other private information.

Though this mostly happens through email, some scams try to reach you through the phone as well, claiming that Craigslist needs to verify your identity or information through the phone. Craigslist offers limited phone verification services, but you have to directly request those services. To avoid phishing scams, Craigslist recommends you only visit the website by typing it into your internet search bar, not by clicking on any email links.

Guaranteed Transactions

Though this technically falls under advanced payment scams, it’s sometimes convincing enough to manipulate people into forgetting the most important rule of Craigslist purchases: don’t send money in advance. To get you to drop your guard, a seller may claim to be “guaranteed” by Craigslist, eBay, or another company or financial institution. The seller will argue that because this company has guaranteed the transaction, you have nothing to lose by sending the money first.

These claims are always false. The Craigslist terms of service explicitly state that all transactions happen strictly between the seller and the buyer, never through another third party. It’s even adamantly repeated multiple times across the website. Don’t let these claims fool you. Stick to the basics, and never send money in advance.

How Do I Avoid Craigslist Scams?

You already have a leg up just because you know about these Craigslist scams in the first place. But if you want to maintain your safety even further, take these pieces of advice.

Only Make a Payment In-Person

This is the easiest and most useful way to avoid Craigslist scams. A certain incredible deal might catch your eye, but don’t ever actually send your money over. These scams are ubiquitous, and they’re so well-known that a genuine seller would almost certainly never ask you to go through the same steps.

If you don’t want to carry cash in the amount of a very high-value item, you might be able to work out a different payment option as long as you only process the transaction in-person. For example, peer-to-peer payment processors may be a valid option, though you should still be on the lookout for Craigslist PayPal scams and similar fraudulent transactions.

Always Verify a Seller’s Identity Beforehand

Before you meet up with a seller to buy an item, it’s imperative that you verify their identity. This provides you with some additional security, making it much easier for you to ensure that the person you meet will be genuine. A person who’s telling the truth about his or her identity is much more likely to also be telling you the truth about a transaction.

When you need to verify an internet user’s identity, whether for Craigslist or for any other website, PeopleFinders should be your first stop. This site hosts billions of records for millions of American adults, and the people search is a great tool for helping you verify someone’s identity. Plus, with the criminal records search and background check functionality, you can even look into the seller’s history to make sure they are truly safe to deal with.

Trust Your Gut

Though you may have seen Craigslist in the news connected to crime, that’s usually just because it makes for a great headline. It’s actually very rare that someone connects Craigslist directly to an assault or other violent crime.

But if you feel uncomfortable, you always have the right to back out of a deal. At the end of the day, background checks from PeopleFinders may be able to make you feel safer from criminals, but it’s up to you to make the final choice.

Are There Scams on Craigslist?