Skip to Content

5 major red flags of a scam when shopping or selling on Craigslist

Craigslist is one of the most unexpected successes in the history of the internet. It started in 1995 as a simple way for founder Craig Newmark to let friends know what was going on in San Francisco, and now has more than 700 local sites in 70 countries and receives over 50 billion page views a month.

Craigslist has classified listings for just about anything you can think of from cars, furniture and other items for sale to jobs postings, real estate for sale or rent, and personals. You find fantastic deals if you know what to search for.

Of course, being so popular, it’s also a hotbed for scam posts that try to trick you out of money. How do you know what posts are real and which ones are scams?

A listener recently asked Kim this question on her national radio show. The listener was looking at buying a vehicle a few states away and wanted to make sure she wasn’t getting conned. If you want to hear Kim’s response, join Kim’s Club today to get access to the live show video feed, plus the show podcast and archives so you never miss any of Kim’s valuable information.

Now, let’s take a look at how scammers operate on Craigslist and how you can spot them before you lose a bundle. We’ll also tell you how to stay safe during face-to-face transactions.

1. Not local or won’t meet

Craigslist is meant for locals to set up face-to-face transactions. If someone doesn’t live in your area or refuses to meet in person, you probably should look elsewhere. Craigslist says this helps you avoid 99 percent of scams.

Of course, if you are meeting in person, you want to also think safety. Enough Craigslist meetings over the years have ended in robbery, assault or murder that you need to be cautious.

Meeting in a public place and bringing a friend is always a good idea. Many police stations around the country have offered their parking lots as safe places for transactions. Learn more ways to stay safe when buying and selling on Craigslist.

2. No specifics

If you’re in communication with a buyer or seller and their first response seems somewhat vague, that’s a tipoff. For example, if they only use generic terms like “the item” or “your area,” it could be that they’re using a message they send out to thousands of people across the country hoping to get a bite.

Normally at this point, we’d also say that bad spelling and grammar are a tipoff. Unfortunately, when you’re dealing with the general public online, that isn’t always going to be a giveaway. There are scammers who use proper spelling and punctuation, and plenty of legitimate buyers and sellers who won’t.

3. Suspicious payment methods

The way a buyer or seller asks you to pay on Craigslist can clue you in on their intentions. The best way to pay or receive payment is cash, in-person. A cashier’s check or money order is also acceptable if you go with the buyer to their bank and see it issued. Otherwise, avoid these, as they can be counterfeited.

If you ever see a request for a wire transfer (Western Union, MoneyGram, etc.), that’s almost guaranteed to be a scam. You should also avoid accepting personal checks or giving out financial information for direct deposits or transfers.

You’ll also run into partial payment scams. This is where you’ll make an agreement to send or receive part of the payment, then send or receive the rest upon delivery of the item. Usually, you’ll find yourself out the partial payment amount, or you’ll never receive the rest of the money for the item.

4. Requests to use a third party

Some people you meet on Craigslist will ask you to transfer money through a third-party service. It might be a so-called “escrow” service, for example, that holds the money until all parties are satisfied.

These services often “guarantee” that you’ll get your money or can dispute a charge in case of fraud. Unfortunately, the majority of these third-party services are run by scammers.

5. Too good to be true

This one seems obvious, but plenty of people still turn off their brain at the prospect of making fast, easy money. A check-cashing scam is a good example of this.

You’ll see an ad on Craigslist from someone trying to move money in or out of the country. They say they’ll send you a cashier’s check or money order to deposit, then you wire the money back (minus a nice cut for yourself, of course).

The trick is that the check or money order is counterfeit. The bank will cash it, but a few days later, after you’ve wired off the money, it won’t clear. You’ve lost whatever amount you sent off.

This can also happen when selling items. The buyer will give you a counterfeit cashier’s check for more than the item is worth and say you can wire back the difference. Don’t be fooled; leave immediately if the payment isn’t just as it should be.

More tips you can’t miss:

Best way to sell things online and not use Craigslist

Power tips for buying on Craigslist

How to score Amazon Prime perks at a discount

Komando Community background

Join the Komando Community

Get even more know-how in the Komando Community! Here, you can enjoy The Kim Komando Show on your schedule, read Kim's eBooks for free, ask your tech questions in the Forum — and so much more.

Try it for 30 days