How to Spot Craigslist Scams and Spam

Published: Nov 15, 2019 | Nate Auran | Last Updated: May 20, 2020

Spotting Craigslist Scams - Featured Image

If you’ve heard the name ‘Craigslist’ before you are probably aware of what it is, even if you haven’t sold or purchased anything on it before. For many people this is their go-to source for finding a great deal. Selling anything really ranging from cars to event tickets, renting apartments, appliances, furniture, etc. For others this is a means to making money, either on the side or a primary source of income. But with all things good comes the chance of the bad – and you need to know how to avoid Craigslist scams.

Most of the time the sales handshake between buyer and seller goes well. However things are not always easy-peasy sunshine and daisies when it comes to buying and selling on Craigslist. However, there are people that will use Craigslist to scam people out of money or products. And some that are trying to spam you to steal personal information or money. This guide will help you to spot craigslist scams and spam so you can buy, or sell, on craigslist with confidence!

…spotting a Craigslist scam could mean the difference between a smooth sale or a world of headache and frustration.

The Buyer’s Perspective

As a buyer, spotting a Craigslist scam could mean the difference between a smooth sale or a world of headache and frustration. It will save you time and most importantly money.

Too good to be true

Deals that seem too good to be true probably are and should be avoided. Use common sense often when buying on Craigslist, or any online classified system. Finding a 2018 Range Rover with 39k miles for a list price of $3810 – “WOW, what a DEAL!” you might think. Well, that is what they want you to believe – that you are getting an incredible offer. This is just to lure you in. Trust your gut instinct – if it is too good to be true, it probably is!

Sense of urgency

Ads that push a sense of urgency should be pursued with caution. Many Craigslist scams try to coerce you into making the purchase without some time to research. They are trying to lure you in to take advantage in some form or fashion. Take time to think through the purchase, check for other deals, and research. Doing this will allow you to think through all the options and gives your gut instinct a chance to kick in.

Photos speak 1000 words

If the image doesn’t match the item for sale, it is probably a scam! Most of us likely shop with our eyes. It is important to read the listing to make sure the item pictured is the same as what is described.

Pay close attention not only to the item, but the background imagery in the photo. Suspicious background images with the item being sold that doesn’t match the location. E.g. there are palm trees and adobe houses in the background for a car being sold in Minnesota. These should signal a warning. Proceed with caution as it is a very high chance the seller is trying to bait you.

BMW listed for sale in Minnesota – since when have palm trees grown in MN?!

Offers to ship items

When a seller is attempting to offer to ship your item to you just make sure you are smart about it. Some Craigslist scammers will attempt to get payment from you first. Then not even ship the item to you and then you are out of money.

However there are legit businesses that list nationwide on Craigslist that will ship to you. If you are unsure of a seller offering this service, make sure you vet them well.

Grammar and spelling errors

Avoid ads with multiple grammar error and mis-spellings. Many scammers are overseas and are going to try to get you to send your personal and banking information. If you are seeing posted ads with poor English and grammar, spelling, or punctuation errors, beware of these sellers.

Payment methods

You should never have to pay a downpayment. When a seller asks for money upfront to secure an item – turn around and run. You should never purchase an item without first seeing it – in person! Any down payment or advanced payment on an item you haven’t seen is typical of someone trying to scam you.

Cash is King! Dealing in cash should always be option #1. Never give your financial information like banking information, paypal, credit cards, etc out to a seller to buy an item unless you trust them fully as a legit business.

Deal face-to-face

Make the deal in person and do not provide payment to anyone you have not met. It is highly recommended to meet face to face, in a public place. Even better is to have someone with you when you do go to meet the seller for the item. Do not give any type of payment until you have met them and seen the item as listed. If they do not want to meet in person, it is likely a trap. There have been in the past meetings where a seller has lured buyers into a risky place just to mug them for their cash. So always be on guard when you are meeting, do it in public, in the light of day, and bring a friend.

If you are dealing with a dealer or business seller on Craigslist, make sure to vet them.

There is nothing wrong with doing a little research on the person or business you are potentially going to buy from. Legit businesses will often have a website these days and an internet presence. And for personal sellers, it is not hard to find names on the White pages these days. Searching may also provide past information shared already online if they have tried to scam others.

Dealing with legit businesses will open the door a bit and allow you to close the deal with a bit more flexibility.

If you are certain the seller is a real business then you have the ability to chose other forms of payment as well as even shipping options. There are many dealers across many different product categories around the country that are using Craigslist posting services to promote their products. Since listing nationwide they are going to have available options for payment other than cash, and shipping options to get the item to you.

Just always make sure, you are comfortable knowing who the seller is. Either by meeting in person or vetting the company if they are an online dealer.

Deal locally, face-to-face —follow this one rule and avoid 99% of scam attempts.


Escrow or purchase protection

Avoid ads promoting escrow services or Craigslist purchase protection. Escrow services in themselves are not bad. People can trust some of these companies when making expensive purchases to protect them. However Craigslist scammers have found ways to take advantage of people’s trust in these systems and end up robbing them blindly.

If after responding to an ad and you get a quick reply from the seller about your transaction is pending, or similar to these:

Craigslist Transaction Confirmed! Purchase Protection Granted!

Craigslist Transaction Confirmed!

Current status: Payment pending

Here would be some details about the Craigslist purchase you supposedly made

…and then you get another email with an attached invoice, IGNORE and delete. There is no such thing as a purchase protection program with Craigslist.

Is it really Craigslist

Pay close attention to the S and the .org – are you really on Craigslist’s site? The real address is where the ‘www’ is typically replaced by the city of the listings you are browsing. If you are not paying attention and end up on a spoofed version of Craigslist, you could blindly be giving away a heap of personal information to a fake website. Once they have it they could do anything they want with the information.

The Seller’s Perspective

As a seller, you want to sell your item without having to waste time jumping through hoops or having to cut all the red tape. You want a legit buyer that will properly pay you for your item you are selling.

Suspicious payment methods

Buyers wanting to pay with money orders, checks, or other suspicious payment methods like Western Union, Money Gram, BidPay, Squaretrade and sometimes even Paypal are red flags. Insist on cash!

When accepting cash use a counterfeit bill detection pen. You can buy these on Amazon easily and at a decent price. With a simple swipe, you will know within seconds if someone is attempting to pay with phony bills.

Craigslist scammers will attempt to pay with forged checks. Some of the time even for more than the amount of your item. They try to bait you to accept the payment or to take overpayment and send the difference back to them. When you are not careful and have cashed the check and already given them the item, you will soon discover the check is fraud and you have lost your money, item, and are paying bank fees.

Example of a craigslist scammer conversation
Example of a craigslist scammer conversation wanting to use check as payment and a shipper to pick up the item.

Some Craigslist scams will lure you in with alternate payment methods online. This is a way for them to gain access to your personal information or fraud you out of money. Be very cautious with requests like this.

If you do allow checks, be smart about it. Don’t accept a check if the bank isn’t local to your area. It is acceptable to take a check, or money order, if you go with the buyer to their bank and see it issued. Don’t hand over the item until you can verify it being issues legitimately or can take it to that bank to cash it and allow it to be cleared.

Wire money and overpayment

When someone offers to wire funds or overpay for an item. The excuse is that they are “out of the country” and are willing to wire you the money. Maybe even to overpay for an item as to compensate you for having someone else pick it up. Avoid these buyers as they are lurching to get personal information from you to use against you.

Grammar and spelling errors

Very similar to the buyer’s perspective, if their English is poor or riddled with spelling and grammar errors you need to beware. There is a high chance that it is a Craigslist scammer or spammer.

Vague questions and replies

Be cautious for buyers that don’t specifically refer to the item from the ad you posted. They may speak of the item in general terms like “I am interested in your item for sale.” Unlike a legitimate buyer that would say “I am interested in the couch you have have for sale.” This is a high chance they are not real and are trying to bait you.

If you fall for it and reply they often try to change the conversation into the above scam trying to pay more money, or with checks or money orders. Again…avoid this!

Requests for email, phone, or personal info

Buyers asking for your personal email or to email you directly outside of Craigslist system can open a can or worms. This can also piggy-back off the prior scam of sending vague responses. They may also outright ask you for your email address upfront. If you take the bait and email them back you could be opening the chance that they discover your true email and start spamming you with email ads. Simply avoid responding or reply to them through Craigslist email relay.

Craigslist scammer wanting to email directly
Craigslist scammer wanting to email directly

Buyers asking you to call them or for your personal information should be avoided. Beyond your address for the buyer to come see the item, you should never have to give them more information. Banking/financial, social security numbers, phone numbers, or anything else should be guarded. No matter if they insist on needing it for sending you payment. You should also insist on cash for payment.

Buyers really interested but can’t talk right now and ask for your phone number. Don’t give your number to a Craigslist ad or reply asking for phone number – in any form or fashion. They may ask you to go to a website to fill out your cell phone in the online site so they can “call you later”. This really is a way for you to give your information out without realizing it.

What to do if you suspect a scam

If you think a buyer or seller on Craigslist is scamming or spamming, your first and foremost reaction should be to turn around/run away/don’t reply or respond. Don’t allow yourself to fall for their trap.

You then have to decide if you want to do something about it. There are authorities you can call that Craigslist recommends on their Craigslist About Scams page. You will also find additional tips and points about avoiding Craigslist scams on their page.

Craigslist About Scam screenshot


Nate Auran

Nate is a web developer and a co-founder of Dealer Promoter Pro. He loves "making things function" whether coding websites or building tech for escape rooms while loving life in a small community with his family of 7.

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