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How to Spot a Craigslist Scam

Updated on May 28, 2012

New to Craigslist?

Welcome to Craigslist; One of the largest garage sales / flea markets on the planet! If you're like me, then you are probably always searching for a bargain of a buy, or looking to sell some unwanted household items to make some extra cash. Some people opt to use Ebay for this purpose, however there is a cost associated with that. Enter Craigslist; the online classifieds with no fees... period.

On Craigslist, you can find everything from a pair of shoes, to a multimillion dollar house. The sky is the limit... as long as you are careful and have some patience.

Buyer Beware!

Buying an item on Craigslist definitely does have it merits, however, you need to have some scrutiny at your side when looking. In the past years, Craigslist has exploded with items from all over and with them came the next natural thing... SCAMMERS! Yes, no matter where you turn, there is always someone out there that wants something for literally nothing and Craigslist is no exception to this rule.

There are a few guidelines that I follow religiously when shopping on Craigslist:

  1. Buy Local - Look for the item that you want close to where you live. Craigslist has no guarantees on shipping or payments. If you agree to buy something, pay for it and then never receive it... your money is GONE. If you want to buy outside of traveling distance, I would recommend either Ebay or Amazon
  2. Cash Only Transactions - This should be a no brainer. You wouldn't go to a flea market or garage sale and hand someone your bank card, would you? Then this should be no different. There are a few exceptions to this rule such as a device called 'Square' (, but outside of this, I would steer clear. Also avoid people asking to do money transfers such as Western Union or PayPal.
  3. Avoid Unrealistically Low Prices - If a deal seems too good to be true, then it probably is. There are thousands of ads on Craigslist every day that seem unbelievably cheap. I once found a $16,000 motorcycle on there for $2,900. The catch? The bike was 'out of state' in storage. The seller would have gladly sent me pictures of the bike and then proceed with a shady transaction where I would have to pay via MoneyGram and then have the bike shipped to me. This is absolutely classic SCAM material.
  4. Meet in a Public Place - After deciding to buy something, if at all possible, request to meet in a public place such as a restaurant or mall etc... Try to avoid meeting at your home or theirs unless there is no other option. Unless you are buying the house, I would say that this one could be avoided pretty easily. Heard of the Craigslist Killer? I doubt you would want someone like that knowing where you lived.

Overall, if you just use some good old-fashioned common sense, you can have a very good buying experience on Craigslist. Don't let an unbelievable deal get the best of you!

Seller Beware!

Selling items on Craigslist can be a fairly easy way to make a few extra dollars from things you no longer need that are lying around your house. After all, it is free to list as much as you want.

Where this all gets a bit sticky, is when people start replying to your ads. This is where things get annoying. I get dozens of scam emails from every ad that I post. There are, however, a few good legitimate replies mixed in there too.

Here are a few selling guidelines:

  1. Make your ad clear, concise and detailed - One of the quickest ways to weed out the scam replies, is to give as much detail as possible when creating your listing. A bad listing example would be: "Selling a 32" TV - Email for pictures and information". I have seen way too many ads like these, and I gotta tell you, that I really feel bad for the seller, because they are probably getting FLOODED with scam emails, and the sad part is, they will not know who is phishing for information or who has a real question about the item. A scammer will generally send you a message similar to the following: "Hello, I am wondering if your TV is still for sell. What is the condition? If so I will transfer money to your bank account include shipping. I am wanting to ship this overseas as I am out of the country for very important training and need this item desperately to complete my work. Please send your account info." Now, this type of reply has red flags all over it and breaks pretty much every one of my buyers rules to begin with, however, if you had a well structured ad, you would have been able to flag this from the start.
  2. Include Pictures - It is a fact that most ads that get skimmed over on Craigslist do not have pictures included in them. I am one of those skimmers. Being an extremely visual oriented person, I like to see pictures of the items I want to buy. Ads with pictures will almost always get more attention.
  3. Sell Locally - Just like my buying rule, I also only sell local. Make this abundantly clear in your ad. This avoids the same types of scams you get pertaining to wire transfers, shipping etc...
  4. Cash Only Transactions - Again, unless you are using something like 'Square', then accept only cash transactions. Avoid MoneyGrams, PayPal and payments of the digital sort. These will usually end in failure on your part.
  5. Meet in a Public Place - This should be no different whether you are the buyer or the seller. After deciding to sell something, if at all possible, request to meet in a public place such as a restaurant or mall etc... Try to avoid meeting at your home or theirs unless there is no other option. Unless you are buying the house, I would say that this one could be avoided pretty easily. Again... think of the Craigslist Killer.

Overall, these few guidelines plus the whole common sense factor, should bring you a great deal of success when selling on Craigslist.

I hope that overall, you find this to be a useful guide to Craigslist scams. If you have any suggestions, please feel free to comment of message!

Thanks for reading!!!


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    • eric2112 profile imageAUTHOR

      Eric Hartman 

      6 years ago from Greensburg, Pennsylvania

      Thanks Rutley!! I get a kick out of some of the scammers on there. Sometimes I will play along with their ridiculous emails just to see how long I can sting them along. It gets pretty humerous at times.

      Thanks for commenting! Have a great day!!!

      Eric H.

    • rutley profile image


      6 years ago from South Jersey

      Great job Eric! Voted up! Craigslist also has so many employment scams you can't even imagine! I don't know why I continue to look at it.....I love to email the scammers back and tell them where to go! Happy writing!


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