Today you can find almost anything you’re looking for on Craigslist. Need a cheap secondhand couch? A new car? An apartment or even a new job? Check Craigslist first. Craigslist can be an incredibly handy tool for finding things that you need in your local area. It is also a great resource for saving money on things like furniture and electronics if you are in the process of paying off credit cards and don’t have the extra money in your budget to splurge on new items.
While the majority of the ads are completely legitimate, there are always a small percentage of people who are out to scam you. If you are not careful and not aware, you can easily fall victim to one of these common Craigslist scams:
The Overpayment Scam
How it Works: If you are selling something on Craigslist, watch out for this scam. Similar to the Craigslist money order scam, one of the first warning signs of this scam is if someone sends you a check, money order, or cashier’s check for more than you originally asked. The intention here is that you will wire back the difference (before you find out that the check bounced or that the check/money order is fake) and then you will have paid the scammer, have given the buyer your item for free, and owe the bank a fee.
How to Avoid It: Craigslist warns you to never wire funds and to always deal locally. They also recommend that you be aware of fake cashier’s checks and money orders.
The Rental Scam
How it Works: You’ve heard the saying “too good to be true” before; keep that in mind when searching for a home or apartment on Craigslist. In this scam, the scammer will list an amazing home or apartment at an unbelievably affordable price. In most cases you will be told that the owner or landlord is out of the country or unable to meet for whatever reason, so you will be asked to wire some sort of payment (first month’s rent, security deposit, etc.) to them. Sometimes they will ask you to first fill out a background check, giving them access to your personal information and increasing your risk of identity theft. Once you send the money, the scammer will completely disappear as will your dream home.
How to Avoid It: Again, you should never wire funds. Craigslist also recommends that you do not rent or purchase sight-unseen and that you refuse background and credit checks until you have met the owner or landlord in person.
The Job Scam
How it Works: There are many different job scams on Craigslist. It generally starts with a posting for a job that sounds simple with a great salary and benefits. The scam comes into play once you apply and are offered the job. The scammer may ask for your personal information and say they need it to run a credit or background check (and then use that information to steal your identity). You should also look out for the overpayment scam if they offer to send you pay in advance.
How to Avoid It: You should be leery of anyone who is willing to hire you without meeting first. Do your research on the company and make sure they have a physical location and a phone number you can call. Also, never give your financial info and again, refuse background and credit checks until you have met the employer in person.
The Online Escrow Service Scam
How it Works: You will see an ad for a big-ticket item such as a car or boat often at a bargain price. The scammer will offer to do a “safe” transaction (especially if you are hesitant about wiring money) using an online escrow service. Often times, the escrow service will seem professional and official; however, it is usually a fraudulent site setup by the scammer. Once you send your money, the seller will disappear.
How to Avoid It: Be wary of online escrow services and make sure you verify the legitimacy of the company with the Better Business Bureau.
In general, avoid transactions that involve any of the following:
- Inquiry from someone far away, often in another country
- Western Union, Money Gram, cashier’s check, money order, shipping, escrow service, or a “guarantee”
- Inability or refusal to meet face-to-face before consummating transaction
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