Did you know Craigslist is a virtual Mecca for thieves?

Founded in 1995 by Craig Newmark in the San Francisco Bay area as a way to post local ads amongst friends and family, the online repository has exploded in growth. It’s now utilized by an astounding 570+ cities in more than 50 countries. That’s a lot of potential sucker targets for thieves—don’t become one of them!

Popular for the ease with which users can post classifieds, resumes, ads selling just about everything, personals, and more, Craigslist (CL) is also laden with all the latest scam attempts. Just by taking a few moments to familiarize yourself with the usual shenanigans, you may avoid becoming scammed yourself.

One heavily trafficked area of CL is the job classifieds and resumes section. But be warned, responding to job adverts just may direct you to the ole bait-and-switch routine. It works like this: You read a job ad that sounds terrific, no special skills, great pay, and reasonable hours (which should immediately ring the ole if-it-sounds-too-good-to-be-true alarm bells!). So you email a copy of your resume and perhaps a cover email. Now scammers have your email address and resume. Not only that, they often email you back that the particular job you are applying for has been taken but wait! They have another opportunity—this is typically followed by the ole check-cashing scam. That is, we need someone with a bank account to act as an escrow and cash our clients’ checks, of course keeping a percentage for yourself, then forwarding the cash to the employer. Think about this—does this really make any sense?

Another tactic is to email you links to “sign up” at the company’s web site, which turns out to be nothing more than a phony site phishing for your personal information. Never click on links in emails; go to the URL directly from your browser. Take caution, however, sophisticated thieves can set up legitimate domain names!

We can’t write this often enough: Never never give out any personal information such as social security numbers or banking information. If you are suspicious about a particular web-site, attempt to contact the company directly, and check with the Better Business Bureau.

For this reason, it’s recommended to set up a dummy account when responding to the classifieds. Additionally, never put your full address on a resume—you might try just listing your city or zip code. If a legitimate employer contacts you, there is always time later to reveal your true physical address.

Take note of ads: Is correct grammar used? Is the spelling right? Does the English seem a little offbeat? Legitimate employers would be loathe to place a job advert with incorrect spelling or grammar, so these types of errors are often your first sign something is amiss.

Another popular section on CL to be wary of is the ads selling various items—anything from household goods to computers to cars. If you are the seller – and always anonymize your contact information – and you receive generic-looking emails that read something like “Is this still for sale? I’m interested,” or “I am ready to buy immediately—please email me,” do NOT respond. These generic emails are probably sent out by some kind of bot. Make sure the emails you receive regarding your advertised good contains specific product and contact information. Again, set up a dummy email account for responses (you can set up a free email account on Yahoo quickly for this purpose).

Never accept cashier’s checks or money orders for products, never accept payment to be “wired” to you—specify in your ad “cash only.”

When responding to an ad selling something, be sure it passes the smell test. Most ads on CL are legitimate, but there are always those who are trying to get something for nothing. Never pre-pay for an item, or send money to any type of online escrow account.  Once you wire money somewhere, it’s gone baby, gone!

When going to check out merchandise, do it in a public place if possible or take a friend with you. It also doesn’t hurt to get the seller’s name and run a quick Google search.

The following is an example of an actual online CL scam email:

“Hi,

I am selling this car because my platoon has been sent back to Afganistan and don’t want it get old in my backyard. The price is low because I need to sell it before November 16th. It has no damage, no scratches or dents, no hidden defects. It is in immaculate condition, meticulously maintained and hasn’t been involved in any accident…I do have the title , clear, under my name. The Denali has 35,000 miles VIN# 1GKEK63U16J138428 .

It is still available for sale if interested, price as stated in the ad $4,300. The car is in Baltimore, MD, in case it gets sold I will take care of shipping. Let me know if you are interested, email back.

Regards!!!”

CL is a great resource, but as with anything, the temptation to steal a buck is just too great for scammers. Use the smell test, your common sense, and follow these simple tips from CL:

  • DEAL LOCALLY WITH FOLKS YOU CAN MEET IN PERSON – follow this one simple rule and you will avoid 99% of the scam attempts on craigslist.
  • NEVER WIRE FUNDS VIA WESTERN UNION, MONEYGRAM or any other wire service – anyone who asks you to do so is a scammer.
  • FAKE CASHIER CHECKS & MONEY ORDERS ARE COMMON, and BANKS WILL CASH THEM AND THEN HOLD YOU RESPONSIBLE when the fake is discovered weeks later.
  • CRAIGSLIST IS NOT INVOLVED IN ANY TRANSACTION, and does not handle payments, guarantee transactions, provide escrow services, or offer “buyer protection” or “seller certification.”
  • NEVER GIVE OUT FINANCIAL INFORMATION (bank account number, social security number, eBay/PayPal info, etc.).
  • AVOID DEALS INVOLVING SHIPPING OR ESCROW SERVICES and know that ONLY A SCAMMER WILL “GUARANTEE” YOUR TRANSACTION.

Who should I notify about fraud or scam attempts?

Additional informational links:

Personal safety tips

Internet Fraud Complaint Center

Online escrow fraud

If you suspect that a post on Craigslist is part of a scam, you can email the details to abuse@craigslist.org . Please include the URL (or 10-digit post ID number) of the suspicious post.

Video:

How to file a complaint with the FTC

Identity theft secrets, guest writer, Sami K. Hartsfield, ACP,  is a paralegal in Houston with experience in commercial litigation and tax law. She holds a degree in paralegal studies and a Bachelor of Science degree in political science. After interning with Texas’ 14th Court of Appeals under Chief Justice Adele Hedges and completing the University of Houston Law Center’s Summer 2008 Prelaw Institute, she is preparing to enter law school this fall. Sami holds a national advanced paralegal certification, and four specialty certifications: Discovery; Trial Practice; Contracts Management; and Social Security Disability Law.  More helpful tax information can be found at her National Tax Law Examiner page.