Craigslist Scams Aren’t Going Anywhere: 9 Ways To Avoid Them

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    Why Do Scammers Roam Freely on Craigslist?

    When an elderly couple knocked on Jessica Puzio’s door, they didn’t have the slightest inkling that they had already been scammed.[*] The couple wanted to tour her duplex — in a popular Denver neighborhood — and had found the listing with her address in a Craigslist ad.

    It turns out that scammers had published a Craigslist post listing Puzio’s apartment for rent at about $1,000 less than the area’s going rate. The bogus listing was complete with photos pulled from Zillow and even included fake tenant references.

    The con artist persuaded the victims via email and text until they conceded to sign a phony lease and pay a hefty security deposit — all before seeing the apartment in person.

    Amid a time of soaring rent prices, Craigslist rental scams like this one are increasing at unprecedented rates. Colorado, for example, had the fourth most rental scams per capita in 2021, according to the Better Business Bureau (BBB). Unfortunately, it’s not just rental scams that hound Craigslist users.

    9 Smart Ways To Avoid Being Scammed on Craigslist

    The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recorded over one million fraud reports to date in 2022. Of those, victims lost a total of $468 million through fraud via websites and apps.

    FTC data on online scams to date in 2022
    Fraud reports by contact method. Source: FTC

    Craigslist’s terms of use outline that they’re not responsible for what users post.[*] As a potential buyer, here are 10 ways to protect yourself on the marketplace. 

    1. Watch out for overpayment schemes

    In this classic scam, a buyer contacts the seller and offers to pay with either a certified or cashier’s check. When the check arrives, however, it's more than the agreed sale price.

    The buyer will have a convincing story for the difference — it was a simple mistake, or the overpayment was meant to cover shipping. The buyer then urges the seller to deposit the check and wire back the overpayment.

    When the bank later discovers that the check is counterfeit, the seller will be held responsible. Not only is the seller out the money for the sale item, but also for the wire transfer funds. 

    When Dan Bell was offered $120 instead of the $90 he’d listed on Craigslist for his grandson’s bike, he knew something was off.[*] Fortunately for Bell, he reached out for help after receiving a counterfeit money order for $998.

    Steps to verify a check
    Source: The Balance

    To avoid an overpayment scam, do this:

    • Don’t accept cashier’s checks, certified checks, or money orders as payment methods. Fake checks are easy to doctor. When you buy or sell items online, opt for payment through apps like PayPal.
    • If you do receive checks, verify their legitimacy. Look up the bank account, address, and phone number for the bank name displayed on the check. Call the bank’s official phone number — not the one listed on the check — to confirm.
    • Don’t accept checks made out for an amount larger than the sale price. If a buyer insists that you return any overpayments using Western Union, MoneyGram, or Bitcoin, it is likely a scam.

    💡 Related: What Happens If You Unknowingly Deposit a Fake Check?

    2. Opt to shop locally whenever you can

    Craigslist encourages people to only make local transactions, citing that this can help you avoid 95% of attempted scams on the website.[*] Just the same, follow these best practices when you shop locally.

    Scammers tend to also use Craigslist listings to set up armed robberies. After identifying an iPhone for sale on Craigslist, an Anchorage man robbed the seller at gunpoint.[*

    When shopping face-to-face, remember this:

    • Make sure you meet in broad daylight in a safe, well-lit public place, like a coffee shop or shopping mall. Take a trusted friend or family member with you, so that you’re not meeting someone alone; and activate location services on your smartphone.  
    • If you need to meet near a seller’s car, choose a well-lit, high-traffic parking lot, ideally one with a police presence. 
    • For items (like furniture) that require you to meet at the seller’s home, ask that you first meet in person at a public place. Request that they bring the item outside so you don’t have to go into their home.
    • If you’re selling something that the buyer needs to pick up from your home, move the item to your driveway. Close your garage and all doors, so the person can’t see inside.

    3. Scrutinize high-paying job listings 

    ​​As of August 2022, nearly six million people in the United States were unemployed.[*] Vulnerable groups like these are easy targets for scammers and are often likely to fall for Craigslist unemployment scams.

    Money mule scams

    • These work-from-home job scams are similar to payment scams, except they tend to go a step further. 
    • Desperate job seekers are turned into unwitting money mules when the hiring company, usually in a different country, sends them checks or wire transfers.
    • Your duties only include receiving and transferring these funds to other unsuspecting money mules.

    Nanny job scams

    • With phony nanny jobs, scammers hire a person for the job but claim they need help setting up the house first since they’re new to the area.
    • The new employee then receives a check for rent and groceries for the house. Much like in an overpayment scam, the nanny is asked to return some of the money.
    • By the time the bank and the employee realize that this was a fake check scam, the scammer has already disappeared with the employee’s money.

    Postal service jobs

    • These job listings often guarantee employment as long as you buy a test and some course materials to apply.
    • They then redirect you to a website — unrelated to the United States Postal Service (USPS) — to purchase your materials.
    • In reality, the USPS will never charge you a fee to apply for a job or take a Postal Service exam.

    4. Avoid Craigslist rental scams

    Scammers may resort to posting fake, detailed listings on Craigslist — often pulling up photos from Google Maps and Zillow.

    Typically, the fake rental ad will flaunt fully-furnished units at lower-than-average price points. Additionally, they’ll include steep discounts in exchange for six month’s or a year’s worth of rent in advance.

    The renter will show up at the location, only to discover that the property was never available for rent. To avoid these scams, you’ll want to proceed cautiously with listings that:

    • Pressure you to act immediately and sign leases without meeting anyone in person.
    • Have unusually low prices for the area, but require a hefty security deposit.
    • Advertise a local rental but have an out-of-town owner who insists on wire transfers only for payment.

    📚 Related: Were You Scammed on eBay? Here's What To Do

    5. Steer clear of phishing emails

    Phishing email senders, masquerading as trusted contacts or businesses, dupe recipients into sharing personal information. Such emails, purporting to be from Craigslist, direct users to spoofed websites.

    Victims then may be asked to confirm usernames, passwords, contact information, or even credit card details. The scam site subsequently steals any information that users enter, enabling scammers to implement Craigslist account takeovers or sell victims’ personal data on the Dark Web.

    Protect your account against phishing attempts

    • Make sure to manually navigate to craigslist.org when accessing your account. Never click on inline links from official-looking emails that you receive out of the blue.
    • If these emails flag “problems” with your account, ignore any calls to action in the emails. Visit craigslist.org directly to verify your account status.
    • Craigslist requests a phone authentication code only as part of the posting process. Do not share these codes with an unfamiliar third party.

    6. Use “burner” contact information 

    “Burner” identity tools can help generate disposable contact information or credit card numbers to prevent spam (and scams) online.

    Craigslist also has a native, two-way email relay feature that masks your actual email address. Only your name, and the information in the body of the email, are sent through unaltered. 

    This helps ensure that another Craigslist user can’t contact you after an exchange, especially if you decide not to proceed with a sale.

    It’s worth noting that Craigslist deals are legally enforceable. That is, if both the buyer and seller agree on a transaction, the buyer can sue for damages if the deal falls through.[*] In such cases, a clear paper trail, masked contact information, and set sale conditions can stifle a threat of litigation.

    7. Reconsider buying and selling high-value items

    You want to be extra cautious if you’re considering buying or selling high-value items on Craigslist — such as cars, computers, or gaming consoles.

    To falsely entice buyers by dangling in-demand items, scammers post bogus ads with stock photos or duplicate listings. Sellers are also at risk of encountering a grab-and-go scheme if a buyer asks to “inspect” the item before making a full payment.

    For tough-to-find or expensive items on Craigslist, walk away if:

    • The price is too good to be true or well below market rates.  
    • You can’t thoroughly inspect the item before paying.
    • The seller insists on an upfront payment to hold the item for you.
    • Quick transfer apps, gift cards, or wire transfers are the seller or buyer’s only acceptable payment methods. These methods are used by scammers.

    📌 Safety tip: Use your credit card — and not your debit card — for expensive purchases. Buyer protection plans as well as return and warranty extensions are just a few types of purchase protection features available to you when you pay with a credit card.

    8. Avoid third-party escrow services

    Most people know not to directly transfer large sums online to an unknown third party. But some scammers have come up with a workaround to build trust with buyers — fake escrow services.

    Fraudulent sellers will recommend that you wire funds to a specific online escrow service while you wait for the transaction to be completed.

    Fake escrow service example
    Source: Reddit

    Either entirely avoid using third-party escrow sites or use a service that you have thoroughly investigated — not one recommended to you by the seller. And until you know for sure with whom you’re doing business, refuse credit report or background checks.

    📚 Related: How To Remove Hard Inquiries From Your Credit Report

    9. Beware of the multi-step Google Voice scam

    In yet another disconcerting attempt to pilfer your personal information, scammers pose as legitimate buyers interested in your listing. They hastily nudge you to leave the confines of Craigslist and insist that you text them on a number they provide.

    Following this, they press you to share a one-time, six-digit code sent to your cell phone number. This verification code, they claim, is to ensure that this isn’t a fake online listing.

    However, this Google Voice verification code scam can allow bad actors to use your phone number to conceal their identity.

    Craigslist text scam
    Source: Reddit

    Other common Craigslist scams also feature text messages with copy-pasted content from original listings. These messages inquire if the sale items are still available and insist on continuing the conversation over unusual Gmail addresses such as the example above.

    Genuine buyers will not persuade you to speak outside of Craigslist. Any attempts to do so could eventually lead to a fake check, advance fee, or phishing scam.

    📚 Related: These 10 WhatsApp Scams Are as Unnerving as They Look

    Take action: Aura’s $1,000,000 identity theft insurance covers lost wages, phone bills, and other expenses due to identity theft. Try Aura free for 14 days and see if it’s right for you.

    Were You Scammed on Craigslist? Here’s What To Do

    Most Craigslist scammers recycle the same types of scams across marketplaces — like Facebook Marketplace, OfferUp, or eBay — and with online payment apps like Zelle or Venmo. Protect yourself by staying alert and recognizing any early red flags.

    Craigslist scams can be hard to prosecute because scammers may operate outside of your home country and use stolen identities. If you’re the victim of a scam, make sure to:

    • Flag the listing on Craigslist by clicking the red flag icon so that you can warn others. Also send a detailed report to Craigslist.
    • Report the scam to the FTC at reportfraud.ftc.gov and to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) at ic3.gov/Home/FileComplaint.
    • Contact your local police department, especially if you met the scammer in person.

    Finally, to keep your bank account and identity safe, consider signing up for Aura. Aura will alert you about any fraudulent activity on your account in near real-time and let you know if any of your personally identifiable information (PII) is being misused. 

    Plus, if the worst should happen, every adult member included in your Aura plan is covered by a $1,000,000 insurance policy for eligible losses.

    Keep your whole family safe from scammers. Try Aura free for 14 days.

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    1. Financial identity theft and fraud
    2. Medical identity theft
    3. Child identity theft
    4. Elder fraud and estate identity theft
    5. “Friendly” or familial identity theft
    6. Employment identity theft
    7. Criminal identity theft
    8. Tax identity theft
    9. Unemployment and government benefits identity theft
    10. Synthetic identity theft
    11. Identity cloning
    12. Account takeovers (social media, email, etc.)
    13. Social Security number identity theft
    14. Biometric ID theft
    15. Crypto account takeovers