Safety Tips for Avoiding the Most Common Craigslist Scams

It may surprise you to learn that Craigslist has been around since 1995, but that’s when the company was founded by Craig Newmark in San Francisco. Today, the company generates over $1B (that’s billion!) in revenue every year and is currently operating in over 70 countries. If that sounds like a company that you’d like to work for, save your energy. They only employ 50 people – because the people who buy and sell on Craigslist do all of the work.

While it’s convenient to post items for sale on Craigslist or spend hours looking for bargains, there’s something to consider: many scammers operate on Craigslist and are constantly looking for new victims. So, before you consider buying or selling something on the site, here are some of the most common scams found on Craigslist.

Scam Example: “You Were Overpaid”

This scam is one of Craigslist’s top ones, but it’s used by scammers on other sites as well. That’s because scammers take advantage of a flaw in the way checks are posted to your account. This scam generally happens on bigger ticket items, like cars, sporting event tickets or property rentals. A buyer sends you a cashier’s check or money order for the item you’ve posted, but they deliberately send an amount higher than your asking price. Once you deposit their funds, your bank shows it being credited to your account.

Next, the buyer will contact you, asking you to wire the overpayment to them. Since you see the money is posted, you go ahead and do that – except – the “cashier’s check or money order is fake, and what you’re paying them is from your own account. In a week, your bank will inform you that their check or money order bounced, and you’re not only out the money you wired, but a bank fee as well. Sorry! But – now that you know – never accept an overpayment.

As with other Craigslist scams – the first thing you must do is verify the identity of the buyer or seller. Use Nuwber, an online tool that will let you verify the true identity of the person you’re dealing with using their phone number or email address. This lets you know, in advance, exactly who you’re connecting with. If the name on Nuwber doesn’t match up with who they say they are, it’s a scam. Report it – and disconnect your conversations.

Another trick that scammers like to use is when they ask to call you instead of texting or emailing you. They’ll ask you for your phone number – and please, never give it out! Instead of your personal number, use Google Voice and use a phone number that’s different from your real one. You’ll still be able to take and make calls, but it’s a protected number that won’t reveal your personal info or identity. Plus, Craigslist offers a proxy email address that you can use when you post an item on their site. Again, it helps to hide your identity and prevent identity theft.

Is that Item for Real?

Here’s another huge scam that many bad actors use – they steal a picture off the web and claim it’s the item they’re trying to sell you. The item looks beautiful and in top condition. Want to find out if they’re telling the truth? Mouse over the image and right click on the photo and copy the link that pops up. Next, go to and look to see if Google posts an image that matches the one you’re looking at. If it does, then it’s a scam, because the “seller” never took that photo.

Avoid “PayPal”

Paying using PayPal is one of the leading Craigslist scams, because scammers will create a phony site that looks exactly like PayPal. They’ll send you a link to use to pay on PayPal, and once you’re there, and enter your payment information, the scammer will use that data to steal your money and your personal and financial info. If you do want to pay via PayPal, go to their official website on the web and pay there. You’ll be protecting your privacy!

Alternatives to Craigslist

Lots of merchandise is sold on Craigslist – remember that $1B in sales each year? And that’s exactly why scammers target Craigslist users – because there are so many potential victims to scam. Here’s an idea: use an alternative selling site to buy and sell merchandise. NextDoor has exploded across the country, as it’s a neighborhood site that permits you to post merchandise for sale. There is also OfferUp and LetGo, among others.

Craigslist scams happen every day, so the trick is be careful and work to prevent a problem before it happens. By being aware of what can happen, you can help protect yourself when using their site.