Craigslist has been the internet’s go-to buying and selling marketplace since, well, forever. It’s the only semi-reliable, online place where you can find everything from used cars, to new iPhones, to your new apartment. On the front end, it’s easy to use: a simple, basic interface that even your granny understands. And while it’s easy to post a listing or respond to one, it’s also easy to fall for the many common Craigslist scams. .
We’re here to help, and not just with bringing your purchase home (though we can do that, too!). We’ve put together a guide on the most common Craigslist scams, how to avoid them, and how to stay safe while selling or buying on Craigslist. Whether you’re in the market for a new car or are trying to sell your couch, here’s what you need to know to stay safe and scam-free on Craigslist:
1. Familiarize Yourself with the Most Common Signs of Craigslist Scams
Source: Our Community Now (CO)
Because Craigslist is still the world largest virtual bulletin board, the most common scams are fairly well-known. The best way to avoid them is to be aware of the most frequently used Craigslist scams in the first place.
The most common Craigslist scams are:
- Listings that don’t require a credit check for homes, cars, or other used vehicles (usually, this is a way to get your personal information, or put you in crippling debt)
- Requesting a wire transfer to either steal your money without giving you anything, or get your bank information
- Posting an item for sale that they don’t have, and including generic photos of the product in question
- Spamming Craigslist with dozens (or hundreds) of postings for the same item
- Requesting to use PayPal, then sending you a link to sign up (it’s a phishing scam, so don’t click that link!)
- Someone who wants to buy from you, or wants you to buy from them sight unseen (they’re stealing or robbing your identity, plain and simple).
When you see one of these common scams, proceed with extreme caution, or better yet, abandon them – you’ll find something better soon, we promise.
2. Use Photos to Determine If It’s Real or Fake
Stock photos are a clear sign of a scam, but even pictures that look more realistic could be fake. It’s always a good idea to reverse search a photo. You ca do this by right-clicking on the image, then selecting “Search Google for Image.” If you find the photo and it links to anything other than the Craigslist ad, it’s probably fake. If you’re still unsure, ask the contact to send you a picture of the item next to a newspaper with the current date (or have them take a selfie with it). If they refuse, back away slowly – it’s definitely a scam.
3. Meet in Public and See the Product in Person
Just like when you’re meeting someone from a dating app, you want your first meeting to be in a public place, with plenty of witnesses. Never meet them for the first time at a private home, or invite them to your home before meeting them in-person first. Coffee shops and shopping malls are usually good places, and if you need to go to the seller’s car (or have them come to yours) to see the item in question, choose a well-lit, highly trafficked parking lot with regular parking enforcement and ideally, police presence.
4. Or Meet at a Designated Safe Meet Up Space
Many community police stations offer their parking lots as a community meetup space specifically for online transactions. They’re usually well-lit, trafficked at all times of the day and night, and loaded with police officers – many of them will even allow you to make the deal inside, within full sight of a police crew. Or use an official Community MeetUp Space, which has video cameras on at all times in addition to safety precautions.
This isn’t always possible when buying large items like furniture, so use a Craigslist pickup service like Dolly if you aren’t comfortable going to the buyer’s home, or vice versa. Dolly will send background-checked Helpers to pick up your item – whether it be a small television or a massive sectional – from the seller and deliver it straight to your home. You won’t have to risk going to a stranger’s home, and you won’t have to rent a truck just to bring it home – it’s a win-win.
5. Try Your Luck Elsewhere by Using a Craigslist Alternative
From OfferUp to LetGo, the rise of the sharing economy has resulted in plenty of Craigslist alternatives, all you can reach without leaving your web browser. If you’d prefer to sell only to known friends, Facebook Marketplace lets you specify who can see your post: local users, your Facebook friends, or everyone. But if you want to keep it in the neighborhood, NextDoor allows you to buy and sell, and verifies the addresses of all users, so you know you’re only selling to folks who live nearby.
6. Safeguard Your Privacy on Your Listing
While receiving text inquiries about your item up for sale is much easier than constantly responding to emails, posting your phone number online is an open invitation for someone to steal your information. Instead, use Google Voice, which allows you to select a different phone number from your own, but still accept calls and texts. Your email should always be protected as well, so always use the proxy email that Craigslist offers when posting a listing on Craigslist.
7. Don’t Forget to Privatize Your Location By Removing GeoTags
One lesser-known way that identity thieves (or creeps) will steal information about you is from the photos in your listing. You may not know it, but if you took your photos on an iPhone (and some Androids, too), the location where the photo was taken is embedded in the photo’s data. If you took the picture at your home, someone can easily find out where you live from that photo. Be extra safe by using a geotag remover app like deGeo to keep your frequent locales private.
8. Keep Craigslist Payments Offline
It may seem nerve-wracking to pay someone in cash instead of through an app, but services like PayPal and Venmo allow for transactions to happen totally online without ever actually seeing the product. And if you pay online, you may never actually receive your product – or, you get home and find that your product is a fraud. If you’re selling on craigslist, predators may also ask for overly personal information in order to “pay you through PayPal,” but really, they’re looking to steal your identity. In fact, stealing your information or money through PayPal is one of the most common Craigslist scams, so if you can, avoid paying through PayPal altogether (same goes for wire transfers!). But by keeping your Craigslist exchange cash-only, you can be sure that none of your information is wrongly distributed – and that you get paid in full.
9. Inspect, Ask About, and Unwrap What You’re Buying
Source: Cult of Mac
Don’t buy if it just looks good. Do your research on the product you’re considering, and ask lots of questions about it. Best practice includes googling “common problems with [name of product],” and then asking the seller about the issues that are most frequently searched. Inspecting the product in-person is important, too, especially with tech like iPhones. Ask the seller to pull the item out of the box and show it to you, then test it for yourself. Even if it’s shrink-wrapped, be suspicious – one common Craigslist scam involves you opening the box at home to find that it’s simply a weighted box wrapped in plastic.
No matter what you’re buying or selling, your best rule for craigslist safety is to trust your gut. We can help with that. Let Dolly take care of the heavy lifting, pickup, and delivery of your large Craigslist purchases, so you have more time to pay attention to the details.
Miranda is the Marketing Coordinator at Dolly. She’s moved nine times in the past six years, and while she’s grateful for the moving expertise, she’s hoping she doesn’t need to move a tenth time anytime soon.