Consumer News

Cast a Wary Eye when Scanning Craigslist and Classifieds

Consumer News

Cast a Wary Eye when Scanning Craigslist and Classifieds

More than 50 million Americans are using Craigslist for everything from bartering for services to finding a roommate.

Unlike your local newspaper or magazine, Craigslist ads are generally free, which explains how the site receives 50 million new classified ads a month.  Despite being a dot org, however, Craigslist is not a nonprofit and is partially owned by eBay.

Because of its popularity, ease of access, and lack of verification standards (all you need is an e-mail to post most ads), consumers need to be very careful about ads that may be scams.  The site depends on community moderation to police the vast number of ads that are posted daily, which is sadly insufficient in filtering out the troves of misleading and fraudulent ads.

Here are some common Craigslist scams to watch out for:

1. Dirt Cheap Rentals & Other Good Stuff

The ad probably sounds too good to be true – your dream rental at hundreds less than market rate.  Often, detailed pictures of the property and the fabulous amenities are included in the posting.  You have to pinch yourself before looking back at your computer screen, ready to pounce on the deal before anyone else. When you respond to the ad, you may be told that the property is available but the owner is out of town (on mission in Africa, on vacation in Mexico, on a family emergency in Europe, deployed in Iraq) so you need to wire your deposit in order to get the key.

This is when the warning bells should start to ring in your head. (Anytime you are asked to wire money, be suspicious.)

Most likely, you won’t be able to go inside to check out the property (duh, the owner is out of town after all) but “feel free to look around the outside and peek in the windows to get a feel for the place,” he or she will tell you. You might even hear: “Oh, and don’t worry about the contact info on the ‘For Sale’ or ‘For Rent’ sign out front or online” – that was for the previous agent that the owner has fired.”

Sometimes your communications with the seller will be riddled with spelling and grammatical errors. Those warning bells should be loud and clear now.

The con artists who run this scam are very clever – they will scan the Internet for legitimate property listings and steal the information to use in their Craigslist posting.  Examples can be found here and here.

The same con is also applied to other high-ticket items such as jewelry, cars, vacation rentals, rare collector’s items, and expensive bikes.  You know it’s a scam when the advertised price is ridiculously low, and the seller can’t meet you in person but asks you to wire money in order to complete your purchase, uses an A service to protect both a buyer and seller by holding money for payment until a transfer of goods or property is complete., or immediately asks for confidential information.  In these instances,  beware.  Your money is most likely going straight into the con artist’s pocket.

2. Work-at-Home & Other Employment Scams

Employment scams are EVERYWHERE and Craigslist is no exception.  Job seekers are enticed with ads promising out-of-this-world salaries for what should be suspicious sounding work-at-home tasks – filling out surveys, wiring money, performing background checks, participating in research trials, or signing up for trial offers.

 Some of these scam jobs sound legit – who would suspect that an ad for an administrative assistant, a data entry person, or customer service representative would be a fraud?  The job descriptions are vague and often very little specific information (such as the name or exact location of the company) is included.  These jobs cast a wide net since they require generic skills but are often used by con artists to steal confidential information under the guise of an employee background check, or to get you to buy stuff that you don’t need such as training sessions or supplies for your job.

 Here’s a simple rule to follow when it comes to job ads: YOU are the one that is supposed to get paid, not the other way around.  Be wary of any “job” that requires you to make upfront payments.  Oh, and if the salary sounds too good to be true, it likely is.

To read more about employment scams click here.

3. Faking It: The Fake/Excess Funds Check Scam

In this con, a buyer will come forward for whatever you are advertising, especially if it’s an expensive item, and offer you a cashier’s check.  They might even offer you far more than you are asking (why would anyone do that??) and request that you wire the difference back to them.  Sometimes the “extra” money that they are offering is for a “shipper,” who will come to pick up the item.  Job seekers are also targets – you might be sent an excess fund check and asked to deduct your “salary,” and send the rest back to your new employer or to a third party.  It’s not until the check fails to clear that you realize you have been scammed, and that the check that you were sent was a total fake, leaving you responsible for any funds that you might sent out.

 How to Protect Yourself

1. Think local: For buying or selling, deal with people you can meet face-to-face in a secure location.

2. Cash is king: Never wire funds or give out bank, credit card, or PayPal information to strangers you meet through Craigslist.  And don’t use escrow services as they are often owned by the scam artists.

3. Beware of the “money back guarantee”: Be wary of any seller who offers a Craigslist-backed guarantee, warranty, or payment protection service.  There is no such thing.

4. Prevent identity theft: Do not give out personal details, such as your home address or social security number, to a Craigslist advertiser.  When responding to job ads, ask for more information and research the company before sending a resume with your personal details.

Report scams and suspicious postings to: [email protected]

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