Protect Yourself from Craigslist Scams


Last Updated: January 10th, 2020



Many a Craigslist scam goes as follows:

  • You post an ad selling a big-ticket item.
  • An eager buyer responds and says they'll send you a cashier's check-not just for the cost of the item, but also shipping fees, to make things easier for you. And depending on what you're selling, the shipping fees can be close to $2,000.
  • You deposit the check, so now, the payment for the item, plus shipping fees, are in your checking account. You then wire the shipping fees to the "shipper" so that the buyer gets the item fast.
  • A few weeks, maybe a month later, your bank pulls all the money that was deposited into your account, out. This means you are out whatever the shipping fees were. That's because the check was phony.
  • You now realize, "I've been scammed!"

Even if you wait to see if the check clears, this doesn't guarantee the money won't be pulled out of your account, because even the bank can be fooled, thanks to the Federal Reserve Board's Expedited Funds Availability Act. This makes it possible for deposits to be available pronto.

How can you spot a scam?

  • The buyer's e-mail address is strange.
  • The buyer says they'll send you a cashier's check that covers more than the sale item-usually the extra money is to pay for shipping.
  • Be especially suspicious if the buyer says they'll throw in a little extra to show their appreciation.
  • You're instructed to send the shipping money via instant electronic transfer.
  • And you're told to hurry this process up; the buyer pressures you to wire the money ASAP.
  • The extra money in the check doesn't always pertain to shipping. But the big red flag is that the check (or money order) coming to you is for more than the cost of the sale item. A lot more. And for whatever reason, the "buyer" wants you to send that difference back to him (or the "shipper").
  • The buyer, their check's bank, and the shipper are from different states.
  • The buyer doesn't show much interest in the sale item or its associated paperwork. They're happy with your price rather than wanting to bargain it down.

 How to Avoid Getting Scammed

  • Require cash transactions.
  • Try to work with only local buyers.
  • Sometimes you have to take a buyer who's long distance, and sometimes you just have to accept a check or money order. In that case, call the bank that the check/money order came from for confirmation that it's legitimate.
  • Warning: Sometimes a scammer will print phone numbers on the fraudulent check/money order and arrange for a co-scammer to answer and confirm the money's legitimacy. So don't dial any numbers on the money document. Instead get the bank's number from its website.
  • See what happens when you require that the buyer, who wants to use a cashier's check, use a local bank. If there's resistance, you're probably looking at a scam.
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