5 Craigslist Scams and How to Avoid Them

Staying safe from Craigslist scams 

Craigslist has been the go-to for buying, selling and renting practically anything since 1995. You can even find and hire services like movers, travel agents and financial advisers there. Though it definitely makes things more convenient, it can also be a place where scammers take advantage of the innocent and inexperienced. While most fraud attempts are obvious, cybercriminals are becoming craftier — from creating counterfeit checks and fake websites, to rogue companies and suspicious encounters. 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. 

Woman sitting in a window seat, using her laptop to avoid Craiglist scams online.


What to look for

Craigslist criminals often use similar scamming methods, and they’re easy to recognize if you’re familiar with the signs. Watch out for these schemes:

  • The ‘Craigslist Guarantee.’ If the seller claims that Craigslist will verify the transaction then follows up with an email offering a buyer’s protection plan, raise the red flag. Craigslist never gets involved in trade deals.
  • No verbal communication. If the seller doesn’t want to meet in person or talk on the phone, be suspicious. It’s common for scammers to only want to communicate via text or email.
  • Poor grammar. While poor use of the English language isn’t always a signal, it could be an indication that the seller is trying to commit fraud from overseas — it’s wise to be aware.
  • Their way or no way. Think twice about deals where the person only wants you to use their resources for payment.
  • Rushed transactions. Be leery of people who want to rush to complete the process as quickly as possible.

Watch out for these five common rip-offs

Now that you know what to be aware of, familiarize yourself with these five common Craigslist scams to help ensure you don’t get caught in the middle of one.

Phony PayPal transactions

With more people using PayPal to buy and sell products and services, scams are becoming more common. One example is a buyer who tells you to send the item to their “shipping agent,” and they’ll pay you through an online service like Western Union. They then send a fake PayPal email confirming their payment — which actually hasn’t been made. If you receive an email from PayPal, make sure it’s real. Fraudulent emails won’t address you by first and last name and may say the money is on hold until you complete a further action. Usually, a link is included in the email — DO NOT CLICK THIS LINK. Instead, log into your PayPal account to see if a payment has gone through, and don’t ship any items until it has. If anything about the process seems strange, forward all suspicious conversations to spoof@paypal.com.

Buyer overpays

The purpose of Craigslist is to get good deals, so why would anyone offer to pay more than the selling price? If this happens, you’re probably dealing with a con artist. The person may pose as a buyer from out of state or out of the country. When they send payment (usually a personal check, cashier’s check or money order), it’s significantly higher than the asking price, and they’ll ask you to wire back the excess amount. While it may sound like a harmless mistake, the check or money order is likely counterfeit. But under federal law, banks are required to deposit these funds. So if it is fake, you’ll be out the money wired back to the buyer, plus you’ll owe the bank. And if the person picks up the item before the payment bounces, you’ve lost that, too.

Fake online escrow service

This scam usually involves expensive items like cars, boats and electronics. For security measures, the seller will ask you to pay on an online escrow service they use all the time. While it may sound reasonable, there are a lot of online escrow services that look real but are fake. And if you deposit money into one of them, you’ll be out the money with nothing to show for it.

Rogue movers

Rogue movers prey on individuals and families who are relocating. Be leery of any individuals or companies that offer unbelievably low moving prices, don’t send a reservation summary and don’t require a signature on a Bill of Lading (or other contract or types of documentation). If you end up hiring a scammer, you’re at risk of losing your money and household goods. The best way to avoid a moving scam is to research the company through the Better Business Bureau® (BBB) and thoroughly read reviews (through reputable sites).

Fake or canceled tickets

Craigslist can be an excellent resource for purchasing tickets to sporting events, concerts and festivals, and even getting airline tickets. What’s not so great is when you find out the tickets are fake or have been canceled. With advances in digital imaging technology, scammers can easily make exact replicas of tickets — some will even include a hologram or watermark feature. Or, maybe the person cancels the actual tickets as soon as they receive payment, rendering them worthless. To avoid ticket fraud, consider buying all tickets from a venue or legitimate sites like Ticketmaster®, StubHubTM SeatGeek, and Travelocity®, or asking the Craigslist seller to prove their purchase with a receipt. You should then call the appropriate contact (ticket office or airline) to verify the tickets and ensure the seat numbers match.

How to avoid scammers on Craigslist

Cybercriminals are crafty at tricking unsuspecting users. Avoid being ripped off by following these tips:

  • Stay local. Craigslist states you can avoid 99% of scam attempts by dealing with people locally and face-to-face.
  • Verify the website. Make sure you’re using the real Craigslist website — https://craigslist.org. Some scammers use fake sites with very similar domain names, so be sure the site is spelled correctly and doesn’t have a “.com” address.
  • Always research. Be extra cautious, and research anything that seems odd. If something looks suspicious, don’t proceed.
  • Only accept cash. Though wiring money or paying with a money order/check can be convenient, it’s best only to use cash (and use a counterfeit detector pen, especially on large bills).
  • Don’t give out personal information. Never give out personal information like address, Social Security number, checking account number, PayPal info, etc.

How to report Craigslist scams

There are several ways to report a Craigslist scam. Visit the Federal Trade Commission’s website to submit a complaint online, or call them at 1-877-382-4357. If the fraud takes place in person, contact the local police department to file a report. And finally, contact Craigslist using this online forum. Regardless of how you report it, be sure to detail the situation entirely, including emails, text messages and the ad’s URL if possible. The more descriptive the report, the less likely these criminals will get away with their wrongdoing.

What other fraud should Craigslist customers be aware of?

Do you have other tips that could benefit our readers? Share them in the comments below.

Selling items on Craigslist before a long-distance move? Learn what else you need to do in this moving checklist.