Craigslist Scams: Everything You Need to Know

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Brandon King
Editor
August 22, 2023

Want to feel awake and alert? You don’t need a cup of coffee – here are some facts that work just as well.

Every month on average, people create around 80 million posts on Craigslist. 

Research shows that 1.5 percent of all the listings posted on the site are scams. Crunching the numbers reveals something truly alarming – there are 1.3 million scams on Craigslist at any given time. 

Craigslist is great at connecting buyers and sellers, employers and job seekers, or people and communities. Unfortunately, since the site first started it has also excelled at connecting scammers with victims

Countless people have fallen for Craigslist scams over the years, and the problem is getting worse, not better. Bogus posts designed to steal your money or identity are more sophisticated than ever and tough for even the most savvy browser to spot. 

You should be alarmed – even if you don’t use Craigslist regularly, or ever. You should also be prepared. This article covers everything you need to know about Craigslist scams and outlines how to defend yourself, your accounts, and your identity. We also cover what to do if you fall prey to one of these scams as so many others already have.

man in black crew neck t-shirt using macbook

Source: Anthony Riera

What are Craigslist Scams?

The term “Craigslist scam” applies to any type of deceitful activity that utilizes Craigslist at some point in the process. Some scams are trying to steal money while others attempt to harvest information. You can also be the direct victim of a scam or an unwilling party in a scam targeting someone else

Craigslist has been around since 1995, and scams have been a problem since the start. So, as you can imagine, those scams have attempted just about every tactic imaginable over the years. Most of those tactics failed – but only a small number needed to succeed to make it worthwhile and encourage MORE Craigslist scams.

You’re probably wondering how many people have fallen victim to Craigslist scams. Well, we don’t have anywhere close to a reliable figure. Why? Because most people who get scammed don’t report it to the authorities. Maybe they feel embarrassed or they consider the losses small enough that they keep the incident to themselves. 

We know that Craigslist scams are a problem, but how big isn’t clear. 

What is clear is this: If you have spent any time on Craigslist, you have almost certainly encountered a scam…and probably many more scams than you even realized

6 Kinds of Common Craigslist Scams

Don’t forget – Craigslist scams come in all shapes and sizes, including formats that are brand new. However, scammers often return to the same tactics, especially if they worked in the past. 

Here are six examples common on Craigslist:

  • Rental Scams – A post will advertise an attractive rental property for below-market rent. Anyone who inquires is asked to send in a deposit or upfront rental payments, and they’re told they can’t tour the property. Seems fishy? That’s because the property was never for rent at all, and the payments have been stolen. 
  • Automotive Scams – Someone may buy a car off Craigslist and pay with a bad check or money order. Or, someone might claim to be selling a car in a different state and demand upfront payment from a potential buyer, only to disappear afterward. 
  • Ticket Scams – A scammer might create fake tickets using a digital printer or photo editing program and list them for sale on Craigslist. Another version of the ticket scam is to sell canceled airline tickets that the buyer doesn’t realize are no good until they arrive at the airport. Ouch! 
  • Escrow Scams – Escrow is supposed to prevent scams by holding onto funds until both buyer and seller agree to release them. That is unless the escrow site is a front set up by the scammers to instill false confidence in their victims (and possibly steal some of their personal information in addition to their money). 
  • Employment Scams – If someone posting a job opportunity on Craigslist ever asks you to wire money or cash a check on their behalf, beware. Job seekers are eager to please and therefore a common target of online scammers on Craigslist and elsewhere. 
  • Identity Scams – Many Craigslist scams will ask you to send personal information – your address, a picture of your driver’s license, or a six-digit code – only to steal your identity. Craigslist is already a good source of personal and sometimes sensitive information about the people posting. And, by interacting with those people directly under the guise of being another Craigslist user, scammers can get the specific details they need to steal someone’s identity.
Crop cyber spy hacking system while typing on laptop

Source: Sora Shimazaki

How are Craigslist Scams Carried Out?

Most scams prioritize quantity over quality. They may not use the most sophisticated tactics, but that doesn’t matter. As long as they cast a wide net, reaching as many people as possible, they will always catch a few victims.

Craigslist scams are no different…except for the fact that the platform gives scammers some unique advantages.

First, the platform has a huge audience, receiving over 50 billion page views each month. Scammers can target people anywhere at any time by using Craigslist to make the connection.

Another reason scammers love Craigslist is because it lets them hide their identity. Craigslist profiles are free to create and anonymous, giving the criminal a handle they can hide behind. There’s also the fact that Craigslist posts feel like they’re coming from real people living somewhere nearby – not scammers on the other side of the world. 

People keep their guard up on other corners of the internet. Not so much on Craigslist. No one knows that better than scammers, though. And they will go to almost any length to lie, manipulate, and steal whatever they can

Beware, but don’t feel hopeless. We show you how to get the upper hand over hackers in the next section. 

How to Spot Craigslist Scams

Now, even though Craigslist scams take many forms and evolve all the time, they tend to have something in common: the same red flags

You see them over and over again. And, once you learn to spot them, you get much better at avoiding scams on any platform, not just Craigslist. Before you do anything else, look for these common signs of a scam:

  • Distant Location – Craigslist is for locals. If you get a message or see a post from far outside your area, be very cautious. That’s a HUGE red flag.
  • Poor Writing – Foreign scammers often make spelling and grammar mistakes. Someone who isn’t a serious seller/buyer may also be vague with details. 
  • Money Transfers – Any post that asks you to send a wire transfer, money order, or digital wallet payment before receiving goods/services is highly suspicious. 
  • No Meetup – Scammers will avoid a face-to-face interaction, either refusing or claiming they can’t, even though it makes sense for most Craigslist transactions. 

How to Avoid Craigslist Scams

The organization behind Craigslist takes scams very seriously. They have identified the single most important way to avoid scams. In fact, they suggest that following just one piece of advice can help you avoid 99 percent of scam attempts. What is it? 

ALWAYS DEAL LOCALLY, FACE-TO-FACE.

Meeting in person takes away the biggest advantage scammers have: the anonymity of the Internet. When you insist on exchanging items, money, or information in the real world, it makes it much harder for scammers to create elaborate lies. 

Craigslist puts this advice first and foremost, but it has other recommendations for avoiding scams:

  • Never pay someone you haven’t met face-to-face (phone conversations aren’t enough).
  • Be careful of deals that involve shipping items to you or someone else. 
  • Don’t wire funds – with something like Western Unionunder ANY circumstances.
  • Don’t accept cashier checks or money orders, which are easily faked. 
  • Refuse transactions that enlist a third party to “secure” or “guarantee” payment. 
  • Keep financial information – bank account numbers, Social Security numbers, etc. – strictly private.
  • Never rent or buy something without first seeing it in person. 
  • Never agree to a background or credit check without meeting a landlord or employer in person. 
  • Consider any message that mentions “Craigslist Voicemails” a scam. They don’t exist. 

Anonymity may help scammers, but it helps you too. If you ever make a post on Craigslist, about anything, keep your identity and contact information as private as possible. Don’t reveal anything you don’t have to. Scammers will seize on any opportunity, and details you include in your posts give them an advantage. Follow these tips when you post on Craigslist:

  • Never include your phone number in the post. You can choose to give that out after making initial contact with someone.
  • Use the Craigslist routing email. Posting your own email to Craigslist guarantees you will get messages you don’t want. 
  • Keep your address secret. Use your neighborhood name, zip code, or landmarks to indicate your location without revealing exactly where you are. 
  • Refuse contact from sellers. You can choose to give this permission, but it opens the door to scam offers and unwanted sales pitches. 

The picture below shows where on the Craigslist UI to set your contact preferences when making a post.

Screenshot of Craigslist Post Information Contact Info Section

Source: Craigslist

Craigslist Scams and Identity Theft

Take note: the worst Craigslist scams of all may not be after your money. At least not initially. Scammers will steal your identity first and use that as a springboard to steal even more. 

The camaraderie and one-to-one connection of interacting on Craigslist makes it perfect for getting unsuspecting people to hand over information about themselves. And, once scammers have enough of that information, they can steal your identity, open accounts in your name, run up charges that you’re responsible, and cause tons of expensive damage. 

Falling Victim

It happens more than you might expect. Take this real example from Connecticut. 

A woman saw an apartment listed on Craigslist and filled out a rental application. The application asked for her Social Security number, a picture of her driver’s license, tax information, and more. 

You can probably guess where this is going – the apartment was fake, and the scammers tried to open credit cards in her name using the information from the rental application. 

Sound scary? 

This scenario and others like it are not rare. Even worse, Craigslist scams for the purposes of identity theft don’t exhibit the same red flags mentioned above. It’s uncommon to send wire transfers, but people share personal information online all the time. It doesn’t seem dangerous to share it over Craigslist as well – but anyone could be on the receiving end. And, once they have a few details about you, they can take identity theft to the extreme

That’s the bad news. 

Here’s the good news: You can prevent most identity theft by being extremely vigilant about when, where, why, and how you share information online. Also, be very aware of who you share it with.

Caution stops most attacks – but clever and persistent scammers can still find ways to catch you off guard. For those Craigslist scams you can’t stop, identity theft protection keeps the worst from happening. You may not be able to stop identity theft from happening. But with the right protection and provider in place before an incident happens, you can contain the damage and speed up the recovery. 

What to Do if You’re a Victim

Craigslist providers this helpful list of organizations to contact if you are the victim of a scam:

United States

Canada

If you see a post you think may be a scam, report it to Craigslist.

man wearing eyeglasses

Source: Leon Seibert

Should You Avoid Craigslist?

There are pros and cons to using Craigslist. The large number of scams combined with the difficult nature of spotting those scams is one con everyone must consider. However, Craigslist is also a great local resource with posts/sales/jobs/connections that may not appear anywhere else online.

It is everyone’s choice what sites they visit and how they engage with them. Everyone also has the responsibility to protect themselves while browsing online. If you use Craigslist, whether a lot or a little, be constantly looking for red flags. And, if you want to feel as confident as possible while taking advantage of all the pros that come with Craigslist, use identity theft protection to stop many scams before they start. 

What’s the Future of Craigslist Scams?

This may be a turning point for Craigslist scams…in the worst way possible

With the arrival of AI chat bots that can produce convincing text from basic prompts, it’s easier than ever to create scam posts. 

Hackers can now pump them out at scale, each one free of typos and trained on sophisticated language models. Automation could even send back and forth responses so that an individual scammer could reel in multiple people at once and take identity theft to new levels. 

Of course, these are hypothetical scenarios. but the writing’s on the wall – bad actors will exploit this technology for their own gain. 

What does that mean for the future of Craigslist scams? Expect MORE scams than ever, with each attempt more convincing than the last

Are you ready for what’s coming? 

One of the best ways to feel more at ease if you still want to pursue something on Craigslist is by getting an identity theft protection service, such as Aura. These services will help monitor your personal information, devices, and financial and social media accounts, for suspicious activity. 

Aura even offers $5 million in insurance, so in case you fall victim of identity theft, you and your family will be covered. 

Feel better? 

We can’t live under a rock and never ever use websites like Craigslist. Knowing that your identity is protected, will help make these online buying experiences fun and not scary.

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