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Craigslist is the modern version of the classifieds that formerly propagated the newspapers. A great venue for selling locally, Craigslist can be useful for unloading your old wares. However, if you plan to use these classifieds frequently, you will need to know how to spot a scam on Craigslist. But, how do you know if a Craigslist ad is a scam?

how to spot a scam on craigslist
Image credit: Sergey Nivens/Fotolia

Here are a few quick tips for spotting Craigslist scams:

  • Avoid deals that seem too good to be true.
  • Look out for ads that display a sense of urgency.
  • Watch for deals where the seller asks for money upfront to secure the item.
  • Be smart about how you pay.
  • If an ad offers an item for sale that doesn’t match the image, it’s likely a scam.
  • Don’t send money to someone offering a deal from out of your local area.
  • Avoid ads with multiple misspellings or grammar errors.
  • Make sure the seller is willing to meet in person.

If a Craigslist ad doesn’t feel right, it’s probably a scam. Even Craigslist encourages buyers and sellers to trust their instincts. If something seems off, abandon the deal.

Avoid Craigslist ads that seem too good to be true

Before buying on Craigslist, it’s a good idea to do a little research. Perform an internet search to determine the retail value of the item for sale. You can go one step further and check sites like eBay or OfferUp to see what the going used price is for the item (or a similar item) you are buying. Once you have determined the approximate value, compare this against the condition of the item. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Don’t buy items from a Craigslist seller who seems too urgent

You might see Craigslist ads that offer extreme deals because the seller is “moving soon,” or “needs cash quickly.” Beware of ads that display a strong sense of urgency. Often, urgency is used to coerce the buyer into making a purchase without providing time for research or thinking about the deal in greater detail. If sellers want to entice you into a quick deal, there’s usually a reason, and it's probably not a nice one.

Never send payment in advance for a Craigslist item

Craigslist is intended to be a localized selling site. Users are even routed to their local area when they search for Craigslist in an internet search.

Sellers should be willing to meet in person and bring the item they are selling. If a seller encourages you to send a down payment or any form of money before receiving your item, this is a strong indication that they are trying to scam buyers.

Some Craigslist scammers may ask you to send money to a foreign address because they “have suddenly been stationed overseas,” or something similar. These posts often promise that your item will be shipped when they receive payment and are almost always a scam.

Meet in person to make your Craigslist purchase

Meeting a Craigslist seller in person gives you the opportunity to review the item before locking yourself into the deal. You also want to give some thought to your payment method. If you are buying a lower-priced item, cash is always a good way to go. However, if you are making a larger purchase, such as a car, you might consider a cashier’s check so that you have evidence of the transaction.

Meeting in person also gives you a chance to look at the item and determine the condition. If the item is damaged, you may want to negotiate a lower price or abandon the transaction all together. When determining your payment method, avoid giving any identification information which could be used against you.

Craigslist ads are meant to foster transactions between a buyer and a seller. If a seller offers to use third-party services or encourages you to pay through a money wiring company, that is a red flag that something isn’t right.

Make sure to exercise caution when meeting a seller in person. This article offers some safety tips.

Pay close attention to the Craigslist ad description

Craigslist prohibits the use of identical ads to prevent spamming. To circumvent this rule, sellers sometimes post an identical ad with a different image. If the image doesn’t match, that’s not a good sign.

In addition, avoid ads that use vague or overly generalized language. Genuine sellers typically provide a wealth of information to describe the item and its condition.

Beware of Craigslist ads with multiple misspellings, grammar errors, and the use of special characters

It’s not uncommon to see a few errors in Craigslist ads. Humans make mistakes. However, if an ad is fraught with several errors, misuse of punctuation, and an overabundance of special characters (such as !, %, &, among others), it is likely to be a scam. Avoid these Craigslist posts. Check out Craigslist’s site to see a few examples of confirmed scams. Here's an example of what this type of scam might look like:


Also, keep an eye out for keyword jamming. In certain cases, scammers will post ads that seem almost nonsensical in an effort to gain interest by stuffing an ad with keywords. Read the Craigslist ad thoroughly to ensure that it makes sense and sounds credible.

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