Money Management

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

By | Tuesday, May 17, 2016


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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