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What does a Craigslist Scam look like, and What to Do about It?

Some users spend years on craigslist, selling and buying many great things, without ever running across a single scam.
Unfortunately, there is also quite a bit of fraud activity going on on Craigslist.
The good news is that these frauds operate on the same scenario, and can be avoided by always dealing locally.
In this article, we'll look into classic scams, and review ways of dealing with them.

Most often, scam victims are users new to Craigslist, but veterans do get trapped sometimes as well.
If you research the Internet on the subject of "Craigslist scams", you'll find that while the subject and content may differ, most scams follow very similar scenario.

Scenario 1 - The Deal of a Lifetime

In this case, you are the one buying, and you're looking for something somewhat rare and expensive - a good example would be a pre-1973 Porsche 911 (I personally encountered scammers on this one).
One beautiful day, you see this ad for what you've been looking for, at a really good price.
You contact the seller via email, and they respond pretty quickly - they may even call you back in person.
Their story goes something like this: "Unfortunately, I cannot show the item at this time, I did get many inquiries, but you can get the deal: Just send me a small down-payment and I'll arrange for a friend to deliver the item and finalize the transaction."

In 99.999% of the cases, this is a scam, and the ad that looked too good to be true, was too good to be true.
You can stop right there, and respond to the seller that you "only deal in person and locally; thank you and good luck".

Scenario 2 - The Over-Payment

In this case, you are the one selling; and it all starts with you posting something for sale on craigslist - typically something of high value: it's easier to come up with an elaborate story and do some damage when dealing with a $1,000 bike, than with a $5 used tennis racket for sale....
Shortly after posting your ad, you get a message from someone who is interested in buying the item. You have a nice email conversation discussing the details of your transaction and you are proposed the following option:
Because they can't meet you in person at this time, they will mail you a money order; and it's only after you get it that they'll come by (or send someone) to pick-up their purchase.
Sounds good so far, doesn't it?

After you receive the check, you get a message where you're told that the buyer (or their assistant) has accidentally sent too much money. They ask you to cash the check you've received and send back the extra money through Western Union, Money Gram, money order, or any other long distance financial transaction service.
This is where you have to stop dealing with the buyer.

This is a classic case of overpayment scam.
The money order or cashier's check is in fact counterfeit - it will bounce in a month or two.
However, the money you'd send back through Western Union, or similar service, is your own money, is very real; and that transaction can't be reversed.

What to do Next?

You shouldn't cash this check and you shouldn't send any money back.
Instead, you should e-mail the buyer and say that the bank has confiscated the check, because it was counterfeit, and that you've provided the bank with their contact information.

There are a number of organizations that you can and should report the scam to:

- The U.S. Secret Service Field Office - part of their mission is to deal with counterfeit currency and financial instruments
- The Internet Fraud Complaint Center - this is a one-stop-shop to contact both the FBI and the FTC. You can alternatively call the FTC toll-free helpline at 877-FTC-HELP (877-382-4357)

These organizations will ask you to either bring the check to their office or destroy it.
Also, don't throw away the envelope you received your check in; and if you can, be ready to print out and share your full correspondence with the buyer.

If you receive some e-mails pretending to be sent by Craigslist, some lawyers, the FBI, or others; don't believe these.
Also, when you are communicating with buyers that don't or can't deal in person and locally, don't provide your personal info - phone number, address, etc: you'd most likely end-up being targeted by phone, mail, and email scams.

The first sign that you should be very careful is the inability of the person to meet you face to face and pay cash.
If they offer the money order, just say "good bye" and look for another buyer.


The best way to enjoy selling and buying many great things, without ever running across a single scam, is to always deal locally, in-person, and in a public place.




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