How to avoid scams on Craigslist
There are many reasons you may turn to Craigslist or other online sale sites during your move: buying or selling furniture, apartment shopping, job searching or even finding loading help. While these online classifieds can be a great place to do business, even the most internet-savvy people fall prey to different types of fraud, deception and theft through marketplace websites. If you plan on using Craigslist during the moving process, avoid being caught in the middle of a scam by learning how to recognize one upfront and familiarizing yourself with five of the most common fraud attempts.
Different types of online scams
While you may think of con artists as people who would pickpocket watches from innocent folks in a town square, they’ve evolved with the times. Modern day scammers turn to websites like Craigslist to convince people to pay them money online without delivering on their end of the deal. In general, as you choose who to do business with, keep these things in mind:
Scammers aren’t typically local
Craigslist, and other online marketplaces, automatically send users to their local network, so if a scammer is located far away (either from the details in their post or their contact info), proceed with caution.
They will use third party payment
From wire transfers to money orders or online cash applications, scammers try to get you to send them money in an unprotected manner through third-party payment platforms. If you need to send payment online, we recommend only paying if they can send you a trackable, disputable invoice, like through PayPal or Square.
They will ask for personal information
When communicating on Craigslist, it’s best to use a masked anonymous email address (they will do this automatically for you). If someone needs your personal information, be wary. Scammers may only want your phone number or email address to sell them.
The specifics aren’t verifiable elsewhere
If there’s a job or apartment listing, you should be able to verify the company or rental agency through other means, like online yellow pages or local referrals. Don’t trust any brand-new pop-up listings that you can only find on Craigslist.
The listing isn’t correct
Somehow scammers don’t seem to notice typos, even though they can discredit their listings. Or they will mix up details between the image and post. Or worse, when you contact them, the facts change. If the listing and follow-up communication aren’t consistent, avoid the transaction.
Top five common Craigslist scams you’ll find when moving
While there are many ways you could be taken advantage of online, these are the most common ones you’ll encounter during a move.
1. Apartment rental down payments or background check fees
In this scam, you may see a listing for an apartment that looks great: clean, good area, fair price. It may even appear to be an actual rental by cross-checking it against other online apartment listing sites. However, when you contact the landlord, they urge you to “Put a down payment down today through this link” or “We need $100 to run a background check on you.” Don’t pay anything online or over the phone. Go in person to fill out an apartment application, or at least look at the apartment in person before paying anything.
In this scam, someone is just collecting down payments or background check money, and they may not even be affiliated with the rental company. They are just stealing money from people eager to rent an apartment or home.
2. Middle-man rentals
This scam is tricky because you can physically look at the rental. Someone has either rented the property or even broken in and is showing it to potential clients. After seeing the place, you’re willing to pay a deposit, but here’s the catch: they don’t have the authority to rent to you because the site isn’t theirs. If you cross-check the address online, you may find the rental listed as a vacation home, and they’ve rented it for the weekend to rack in cash on unsuspecting victims.
You have to do your homework to verify that a place is legit. Ask for information from someone above them, like the management company. Look them up online and do a cold call to ensure that the property and landlord are affiliated and authorized to rent to you. If they claim to be a solo entrepreneur with no management company oversight, ask for references from a bank or real estate agent.
3. Hired for task-based jobs
If you’re looking for a job after moving, you may find listings for personal assistant or task-based jobs. While some of these can very well be credible, use caution if you’re asked to:
- Spend your own money to be reimbursed later. Your new boss may ask you to purchase goods, food, or travel to be paid back later. The scam is that you won’t be repaid, and they got something for free.
- Work without filling out the proper paperwork. You may be asked to do a bunch of things and never get paid.
- Deposit or cash checks or money orders. If the checks are fraudulent, you catch the blame. If you can cash them without getting caught, they get free money.
- Pay an application fee or pay for training. Legitimate employers pay you, not the other way around.
- Do freelance work without upfront payment. They may steal your design or content and never pay you.
4. Too-good-to-be-true moving rates
Unfortunately, some untrustworthy people advertise moving services online through Craigslist. In this scam, they can do one of several things: take your deposit and never show up; load your belongings into their equipment, but then hold them hostage demanding more money; or steal your items. Only use moving companies that are verified through places like the Better Business Bureau or MovingScam.com.
5. Electronic payment for furniture
You’ve found the dining room table of your dreams. Maybe it’s a custom-built farmhouse table that will seat your entire family for Thanksgiving. Or perhaps it’s an antique pub-height table that will fit great in your breakfast nook. But when you ask to meet up, they suggest you pay for it online first. After all, demand for this item is high, and you don’t want to miss out. They’ll ask you to wire money, send it through an online escrow service or pay through a cash application, and sadly, you’ll never get your table or your money back.
You asked: I got scammed on Craigslist. What are my options?
There are a few things to do if you find a scam listing or if you’ve been taken advantage of.
Report a Craigslist scam directly
If you see a scam listing, click the flag icon on the post. And if you get an email that seems like a scam, report it by clicking the “Please flag unwanted messages” option. Doing this sends it to Craigslist staff for evaluation, and if they find it to be fraudulent, they will remove it. If you feel like you’ve been scammed, contact Craigslist directly. Use the “Scams, spam, flagging” section and select the best option for you.
Reach out to your bank or credit card company
If you used your card to pay for anything, contact your bank or credit card company immediately using the number on the back of the card. They may be able to intercept the payment or reimburse you, depending on the fraud protection on your card.
Tell the government
While it may seem small to get scammed online, government officials need you to report it to help them understand scammers and sometimes even prosecute them. Start with the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center, the Federal Trade Commission fraud reporting tool, and if you’re military, the scam reporter from Military Consumer. Then search online for “online scam + your state” to find the governing body that handles fraud collection. It might be your Attorney General, the Department of Finance or a state-level consumer protection group.
What other tips do you have for avoiding online fraud?
Share your red flags with us in the comments.
Along with keeping yourself safe online, find out what else to do before your move with this comprehensive moving checklist.
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