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Craigslist- Tips And Tricks To Avoid Scams

Updated on November 19, 2013

Most people are familiar with Craigslist. This website acts as an online classified for millions of people to list and search for items for sale. Whether you are trying to clean out a garage, sell a car, or buy a motorcycle, Criagslist has something to offer. By allowing people to list items for free, Craigslist is able to reach thousands of viewers that would otherwise never pay to have a classified ad in a local newspaper. Unfortunately, with a website as popular as Craigslist, there will always be people that try to take advantage of others. Here are some tips and tricks to help make your buying or selling experience on Craigslist go as smoothly as possible. Hopefully you can use Craigslist to it's full potential without becoming the victim of a scam.


Always Sell And Buy Locally

My first tip is to always sell and buy locally. While some people do have success driving to another city to find a particularly hard to locate item, or get a better deal on something, in general you want to avoid this.

I have sent several e-mail inquiries about items that I am interested in. These e-mails are usually to collect information about the item that I am interested in, that wasn't published in the posting. The response to the e-mail also gives me a good idea what to expect from the seller. If you have used Craigslist for very long, you have probably run into some suspicious e-mails.

For my example I will use my state, Colorado and say that you are searching in Denver. Now that summer is coming, you start looking for a boat. After looking at the ads for several days you see an ad for a boat in Denver and the price seems to be a good deal, but the pictures are lacking. You shoot off an e-mail asking for more information and pictures. The response you get does not mention the questions you asked, but rather rambles on about how the person is in the military and is having a friend handle the sale for them. Once you make payment they will have the boat shipped from Michigan, or somewhere a long ways away from the city you were searching in. Hopefully you don't fall for that scam, the boat most likely doesn't exist, they probably found the picture somewhere else and stole it to use for their ad.

Oops, I Gave You Too Much Money

In this example, you have settled on a price for that old guitar that you were going to learn to play. It sat in your closet for several years and now it is time to make some money on it. A buyer has offered to pay the $100 that you were asking for it. After arranging to have a check sent to you, you get the guitar ready to ship.

When the check arrives it is made out for $2,500. The buyers e-mails you and tells you that his secretary, or some third party, made the check out for too much. They instruct you to cash the check, then keep $500 for the guitar and "your trouble." The remaining $2,000 is to be sent back to the buyer.

This should automatically raise red flags to you. Who in their right mind would let this check go out and just ask some stranger to cash it and send money back? I know if I wrote a check for that much over the amount, it would be immediately cancelled and the correct check sent. In this case the buyer is hoping that you will cash the check, then immediately send a money order or personal check to them. By the time that you realize that the buyer's check has bounced, they will already have your money.

Bottom line, never accept a check for more than the agreed upon amount. Also, never send money back that came from a check. You should allow time to make sure that the check that you received was a legitimate check.

It Seems Too Good To Be True

This could be taken as a general tip for life, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. This isn't to say that there aren't some good deals to be found on Craigslist. There are many, after all, that item that you are so desperately searching for may be gathering dust in someone else's closet or garage. They may need the money, or just want to clear some space and may sell the item cheaply to get it out of the house, or they may not be aware of just how valuable it is.

When you are looking at big ticket items, such as cars, motorcycles, or in my case boats, pay attention to prices. The better you know prices of similar items, the more you can protect yourself from getting ripped off. Maybe it's a scam, or maybe the person just thinks that what they have is worth more than it really is, but prices can vary on similar items. If I am looking at boats and I see a certain boat advertised for almost half of what it should be at, I get excited and suspicious at the same time.

I may have just found a smoking deal, or a problem waiting to happen. Sometimes the price is low because the item is damaged, broken or needs serious repair work. Sometimes it is priced so low because the item doesn't exist and a scammer is trying to get your attention. Always be cautious of deals that seem too good to be true, they just might be!

Should I Use Craigslist?

Reading this may make you think that you shouldn't even use Craigslist. Are you risking being scammed by every person that you contact on Craigslist? Of course not, there are many, many honest people out there, just like you, trying to sell and buy items.

Just remember to be cautious and don't assume that everyone on the site is as honest as you are. Whenever possible try to deal in person and with cash. Don't give away personal information that you don't have to.

As one last note, I wanted to mention a positive story from Craigslist. In a suburb of Denver, a man had his dirt bike stolen out of his yard. The dirt bike had several high end aftermarket parts on it and had a distinct look because of the work that had been done on it. After several days the owner was checking Craigslist for his motorcycle and found it. He tracked down the seller and lead the police to the dirt bike. The seller had bought the motorcycle the day before, not knowing it was stolen. The person that stole it sold it for much less than what it was worth, just trying to get some money for it. The buyer realized how much the aftermarket parts were worth and realized that he could make a quick profit just by selling it for closer to what it was worth. In the end, the owner got his dirt bike back and the original Craigslist seller was charged with the theft.

Do you have any Craigslist stories? Please feel free to list them in the comments below and be safe when shopping.


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