Common Craigslist and Marketplace Scams
Craigslist is a go-to place for people wanting to sell old record collections, buy new cars, cheap household items, or even to find a job.
Unfortunately, what makes this online clearinghouse (and others like it) so attractive to modern consumers, also makes it a place that runs rampant with scammers.
Sadly, the people who set out to scam others are professionals.
They run their scams a lot and they unfortunately get away with them a lot. Knowing what some common scams are, how they work, and the red flags that accompany them can help you avoid being scammed.
Scam definitions can be broad. That said, most scammers are interested in getting something from you that when they get it will harm you in some way.
The scammer may do something to steal your identity, to gain access to your bank accounts, or to sell you a bogus item to get your money.
It’s also important to say that because Craigslist in particular is all about face-to-face meetings, it’s necessary to proceed with caution when and if you do meet up with someone from that platform.
There is a potential for crime, like mugging or home theft if you invite the person to your home. It’s better to meet in a public place, like Starbucks or the police station parking lot, and to do so with a friend.
You can’t prevent a scam if you don’t know what one looks like, and while scammers are always thinking up new ways to scam people, the following scams represent some of the most common ones you’ll find on local seller marketplaces, like Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace.
1. The Deal Is too Good to Be True
Who doesn’t love a good deal, to get something that’s very valuable for a song? While such deals may fuel your “Antiques Roadshow” fantasies, the reality is most too-good-to-be-true deals on Craigslist are just that: too good to be true. This is one of the primary ways you know you’re probably being scammed.
In these cases, there is no item for sale. The scammer stole a photo from a legitimate sale and made up an ad to go with it. Additionally, if you were to do some digging, it’s likely that you’ll find the exact same ad by the exact same seller in multiple cities around the US.
2. The Out-of-Luck “Traveler”
This could be a variation of the above, meaning there is some sort of deal, probably a great deal. The catch is that the seller in question isn’t in the country. You fill in the blanks. Their mom died. A sudden business deal in Nigeria needed their attention. Their dog in Africa ate their homework. This seller will ask for payment to cover the costs of shipping or something of that nature.
3. You’re on the Hook for My Bill
A common scam involves phones (and other electronics) that the seller is still paying for. You might think you’re getting an excellent deal on an iPhone. What you’re really getting is a phone that won’t work in a couple of weeks because no one is paying the bill.
4. We Have Just the Job for You!
Fake job offers have been running rampant on Craigslist for years, so they’re worth mentioning. Is the offer too good to be true? Is there little to no company information.
Does it have a phone number and business address?
Is the job description vague, including the title?
If you did an Internet search of the title, do numerous job offers for the same job pop up all over the country? Does the listing take you to some other website that asks you for money, your bank information or something similar?
Many times, these listings are simply for MLM or Pyramid Scheme companies. However, people use fake job listings to steal your identity or financial information.
Sadly, in some cases, these job offers have even worse things in store for the unsuspecting: Many human traffickers use fake jobs to lure people in.
Red Flags to Look For
- Do they live in the area? If not, then don’t do it. Many scammers don’t live in the country, or don’t have addresses that can be traced.
- Does the party have a phone number, or legitimate url email address you can research? What about a street address? Do a search on Google to find the address to verify if it’s legitimate? If not, then it’s probably a scam.
Who Are They Connecting With?
- If it’s a Facebook Marketplace listing, what does their friends’ list look like? Just a few names? Or too many with no profile images, barely filled profiles, and short social media histories?
- If their social media profile picture comes up as a duplicate on someone else’s profile, you’re probably dealing with a scammer. Same goes for no picture at all. This isn’t always the case, but if they fit the other profile criteria and other red flags, beware.
Website or Ad Appearance
- What does the website or Craigslist ad or listing look like? Is it professional? Are there numerous grammatical mistakes? Do the photos look generic?
- If they send you to their company website, are the links on their pages spammy, like ads for porn sites, get rich quick schemes or weight loss pills?
- Have you done a search on their website? Is the owner’s name masked? That’s a scam.
You Won’t Believe This Deal!
- Is there an ad or listing selling an item at a price or with a guarantee that seems too good to be true? The ad gets bonus red flag points if the seller also has a sob story to accompany the ad.
- In the example above, the “seller” gets even more red flag points if there is a fake PayPal email. Buyers need to be wary of any link they follow. The link could lead to a fake site. What about a fake escrow account? Same goes. Always check for fake URLs.
Other Red Flags
- Know what items are typically scammed: Cars, phones, jewelry, and even dogs.
- Does the person ask you to send money before he or she sends an item? Unless it’s Amazon or some other legitimate e-commerce site, avoid sending money to people you don’t know.
- Be on the lookout for suspicious payment methods or requests: MoneyGram, Western Union, and cashier’s checks. They’re usually untraceable- similar to cash.
How to Protect Yourself
As was mentioned in the previous section, you protect yourself by knowing what the common red flags are and doing your research. Before you even agree to meet a buyer or seller from Craigslist or Facebook marketplace, have you checked out their story against the red flags lists?
If you decide that you do want to meet up with this person, be sure to do it in a public place and bring a friend.
Once you do meet up, be sure to exchange money and item at the same time. Don’t make payment arrangements.
Summary and Resources
Here are some further resources to help you if you do think you have been scammed or if you want to report a possible scam.