Keep Clear of Craigslist Scams
Learn from these disastrous Craigslist experiences and avoid getting bilked, bamboozled, conned, swindled, and otherwise screwed on the Web's most popular classified site.
Rachel Sadon, PCWorld.com
Feb 8, 2010 7:00 pm
Given everything from the "Craigslist killer" to Connecticut attorney general Richard Blumenthal's campaign against the site to the escalating battle over prostitution ads, you'd have to live under a rock to miss Craigslist's sensational presence in the media. Lost in the discussions of illicit or criminal activity, though, are the everyday scams--and every category on the site has them.
From garden-variety pyramid schemes to complex money laundering ploys to pet frauds, the sheer diversity of ways to get stiffed on Craigslist is unmatched.
To be fair, the highly popular site offers very rational advice on how to recognize and avoid scams. But scammers persist in part because Craigslist is such a go-to place all over the world and partly because victims apparently don't heed the aforementioned advice.
One fellow even started a recreational blog called Exposing Scam Artists Who Use Craigslist, which is devoted to shining a light on the seedy underbelly of Craig Newmark's paradise. (Here's a 2004 interview with Craig. Note the last question and Craig's answer regarding his faith in mankind.)
Below we present a few of the scam classics. Make sure you don't become one of these poor schmucks.
Selling Something? Think Twice
When your significant other finally convinces (read: forces) you to get rid of that ejection-seat office chair you bought one drunken night on eBay, Craigslist is clearly the place to go. But one of the most common cons around is a dose of check fraud that might leave you reeling when you try to sell your unwanted item.
Here's how it works: The scammer contacts you and offers to buy your brown corduroy couch… oh, except they're out of town and will send you a check. When you "accidentally" receive a check for a much larger amount, they reasonably ask you to wire back the extra money--possibly even offering to pay a little extra for the inconvenience. But when the bank determines that the original check is a fake, guess who is responsible for the balance?
A variation of this scheme even briefly landed unsuspecting seller Matthew Shinnick in prison. When he tried to deposit just such a check (he thought he had sold two bikes to a buyer in Canada), the teller had a hunch that it was fraudulent and called the police. Shinnick wound up in an orange jumpsuit and had to pay thousands of dollars in legal fees before he could completely clear his name.
The lesson: Deal locally, never wire money to strangers, and stop buying ugly furniture.