This Is What It Looks Like When You Get Scammed On Craigslist

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For a long time, I was straight-up paranoid/nervous to sell or buy anything on Craigslist for fear of getting scammed. I had friends that used the site a lot in college, but I couldn’t shake that disturbing phrase, “Craigslist Killer,” from my mind. Back in September, when Joe and I moved, we set up a few appointments to buy and sell a couple items, and I grudgingly accepted my fate — I’d finally have to be involved with the process. Every time we’d get a response on something, or see something we liked and want to contact the seller, I’d immediately think to myself, “how could I ever trust to know if this person is legit or not?” Of course, no matter how many people sing the praise of sites like Craigslist and eBay, it’s the horror stories that stick with me, and make me feel like no one can be trusted. Of course, I know it’s really not healthy or productive to live in fear of the unknown (which to me, is faceless communication with complete strangers), and I know it’s my duty to practice using these sites more. I really want to become more savvy at identifying when a seller/buyer is trustworthy, and become more independent in the process.

Just this morning, I came across a Reddit post called, “Craigslist roommate scam- I almost lost a lot of money this week- here’s what happened, please don’t let this happen to you!” posted by user Eshlau. It was a super helpful PSA-type post, where the user puts is own experience out there to help others. The user talks about his experience trying to find a roommate, and the odd things that happened along the way that made him realize he was probably being scammed. He mentioned a couple of red flags that made him question whether or not he was dealing with an honest roommate candidate. He said that the tone of her responses changed drastically, and the details that the woman provided about her situation were inconsistent, and didn’t make sense.

He also said that the woman’s insistence that she be given his EXACT address made him feel uncomfortable and skeptical. In the end, he reflects on what could have happened if he hadn’t been as cautious as he was, saying:

If I had kept going with the scam, “Chloe’s dad” would have sent me a money order or check for an amount much higher than the rent/deposit. I would be instructed to cash the check, and send the rest of the money to the car dealership/company ASAP. Of course, a few days later, the check would bounce, and I would be out whatever amount of money I sent to the alleged car dealer.

The write-up ends with a question posed by Eshlau wondering how he should proceed forward now that he’s 99% sure the roommate proposal is a scam. As usual, the Reddit community flooded the forum with awesome suggestions for what he should do next (which are definitely worth reading in full if you’ve ever experienced anything similar).

Overall, the Reddit thread made me curious to read more about how to avoid potential online scans on my own. I was thrilled to find that there are a TON of resources that can help me identify how people are typically scammed via Craigslist, and how to avoid it. It was cool to see people sharing their wisdom with others, even if it meant that they, themselves, had learned the hard way =( After reading through the articles here, here, and here, these were a few of the most prominent ways I learned one can spot a scammer on Craigslist.

The posting is riddled with grammatical/spelling errors.
Of course, a minimal amount of spelling and grammar mistakes are not uncommon (I, myself, frequently fall victim to grammar mistakes that slip by), but a posting riddled with mistakes might be a sign that something is fishy. Especially when, like the Reddit story above mentioned, it’s clear that the responses are inconsistent in tone/format/grammar/spelling.

There’s a sense or urgency.
Typically, there will be a sense of urgency in the tone of the post, and experts say that this is a way scammers get you to make a decision without really thinking. Be wary of people who rush you, and create a false sense of urgency.

Answers are vague and unclear.
Like the Reddit user from the story above mentioned, the potential roommate’s answers were consistently unclear and vague. Experts say it’s important to get details and facts when speaking with someone over sites like Craigslist. When someone is giving excuses for things, beware that it could be a warning sign that they aren’t legit. If someone is selling something, ask them to take additional photos, ask probing questions about their situation, lock in on dates, details, etc. It will help you sniff out whether someone is stringing you along in a scam or not.

They won’t meet in person or (usually) talk on the phone.
Even Craigslist recommends dealing with someone “locally, and face-to-face in order to avoid 99% of scams.” If someone is refusing to meet with you/talk to you on the phone, and is making crazy outlandish excuses for why they can’t, it might be a red flag. Of course, you should ALWAYS take necessary precautions when meeting someone in person. Do so in a public place with a friend or two with you to be extra safe. If you absolutely HAVE to meet someone at your house for any reason (if you’re selling a huge couch or something) make sure there is always someone present or on the phone in case things go awry.

The ad is posted multiple times in different cities/areas.
This is obviously a dead giveaway that the post is most likely a scam. Don’t underestimate the power of a quick Google search to see if the same ad was posted multiple times by the same scammer.

Cashier’s checks, money orders, and wire transfers.
The guy from the Reddit story above explained how he would have been swindled if he didn’t catch on early. Anytime money is requested from you via some not-in-person transaction, be wary. Some banks, like Western Union, allow for untraceable transactions, and enable scammers along with it. Exercise extreme caution, and never blindly send money to a stranger via a wire transfer.

Image via Unsplash

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  • Katie O’Brien

    “It was cool to see people sharing there wisdom with others, even if it meant that they, themselves, had learned the hard way =(”

    Sorry, I know these are the worst but, their*

    • Katie O’Brien

      But great article! I almost got scammed once trying to contact a breeder for Bengal Kittens– apparently it happens all the time..

    • Angela

      Haha exactly what I was going to comment, especially given the first tip that the scammers’ posts usually are filled with grammatical errors.

    • Wynne Linden

      “Overall, the Reddit thread made me curious to read more about how to avoid potential online scans on my own. ” *scams

  • Hell No

    I got scammed once as well, same check concept, but fortunately I did not send any money until the check cleared, which of course it bounced. I paid a $50 returned check fee to learn to be highly suspicious of any easy money offered on CL.

  • Angela

    TBH, I’ve never been particularly cautious on CraigsList. I’ve gone alone to see many rooms in apartments or check out furniture (always after a few messages back and forth though) and never gotten scammed. I do agree that you have to look out for these red flags though!

  • Maggie

    I once got into a bad situation on Craigslist by buying a used iPhone which turned out to have been stolen from an Apple Store just days before. In hindsight there were a lot of red flags but at the time everything seemed legit and the guy had a plausable story about where he got it. It took a year and a half and court case to get the $350 back. I would be wary of buying high-value electronics on Craigslist and the like. At the very least have them meet you at the police station and have the police run the serial number, that was how we eventually figured out the phone was stolen.

  • Taylor

    This actually just happened to me! I was selling collectible dolls from my childhood on Craigslist

    Red flags to look out for:
    – Lots of spelling errors, as mentioned in the article
    – The person who sent me the email was very vague and never mentioned exactly what he was buying from me.
    – The person who sent me the initial email was different from the person who got back to me after my reply. – – – The check I got was for like $7,000, and the name on it was different than the person emailing me.
    – When I shredded the check and never emailed back, the person emailed back a few days later, saying “i got a confirmation from my bank that the check fund has been processed and fully CLEARED into your bank account. The funds is now available in your bank account.” LOL Bullshit.

  • Summer

    Before moving to Germany, my husband and I sold most of our stuff on craigslist. I handled 95% of the process and since I worked from home, it was me fielding the texts/phone calls/visitors. It’s basically impossible to post something for sale on CL without getting a scam response, you just have to ignore them and move on. Most are blatantly obvious; emails saying something like, “I am on my way to the store right now so I cannot meet you right away but I wish to buy your item, let me know final price and where to send payment,” or “I will buy your item but I am currently out of the country, for your trouble I will pay additional funds just let me know bank account information,” etc, bullshit like that. It’s absurd. Ignore/delete. Although one time I did reply to a scam text calling the guy out on his nonsense and he replied back laughing and said I was “smart.” When I asked why he was doing this he said I couldn’t possibly understand the conditions of his country and the way of life. Cool story, bro. Still an asshole.

    That said, I’ve never been murdered and I’ve been alone with CL strangers in my own home more times than I can possibly count!

  • Wynne Linden

    Sorry about the spelling correction but you asked for it…subtlely, yes…but you did. 🙂
    What is obvious to me in many scams, albeit over the years they have learned, is the bizarre use of English words. In other words, someone who is not comfortable with the English language. Maybe one has to be a spelling/grammar nazi like me, but those words are glaring red thumbs! But yes, the search all of craigslist website should be your friend, when buying, in particular. I didn’t post the URL here because I assume it would be barred.

  • Aida Rosalia

    When my fiance and I were selling some furniture, we were contacted by a scammer and honestly the texts weren’t poorly done but the check thing tipped us right off. Also, when looking for apartments or places to live on CL, definitely watch out for posts that don’t have pictures but lots of buzzwords (like remodeled or brand new) and if they do have a picture, there’s only one of the outside. We contacted two not knowing they were scammers but the email responses tipped us right off – very long, full of errors, lots of little requirements and ALWAYS a request to have someone who “genuinely cares for the home.” They also say you can’t see the inside of the house but feel free to drive by! And usually are leaving the house to move to a new job somewhere that sounds like your typically considered “respectable” jobs (pediatrician, engineer, so on). We never responded so idk what a nice after that would include but it probably would be a request for the suddenly very large deposit. Just use some wisdom and caution and you’ll be fine.

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