What is Craigslist and what is it used for?
Craigslist is one of the largest online platforms for classified ads. Established in the US in the mid 90s, it now operates in over 70 countries.
You can search your local area on Craigslist for ads for all sorts of used items, devices, cars, rentals, and even job offers. You can also place your own ads offering goods and services. Using Craigslist is free for all users with a few exceptions, like placing job postings in selected cities and for some therapeutic services.
Is Craigslist legitimate and safe to use?
If you are wondering “Is Craigslist safe?”, let us put your mind at ease — yes, it is safe if you use your common sense and follow our safety tips. Craigslist is a legitimate website, and most Craigslist posts are legitimate and trustworthy as well. However, just like any other online platform, it can be used by scammers. Some people may post fraudulent listings only pretending to sell goods or services, so take precautions to ensure your safety.
The first thing you should know before using Craigslist is that its URL is https://www.craigslist.org. Don’t trust any site with a different URL stating that it’s Craigslist — it’s not. By using a questionable site you are risking paying for goods that simply don’t exist, so check the URL before committing to a purchase. And go over our Craigslist safety tips below to avoid such scams.
Types of Craigslist scams
There are some common Craigslist scams that you can spot quickly and avoid once you are familiar with how they work.
- Middleman scam. It’s a common scam in the rental industry. A con artist poses as a friend or relative of the property owner who is conveniently away. You wire them a month’s rent in advance to secure the rental just to learn that the real owner doesn’t even know that “friend” you found on Craigslist.
- Escrow fraud. The seller requests to handle the transaction through the escrow service site, the specific one they are recommending — a fake one, of course. If they’re the buyer, they will transfer funds to the fake escrow account and you’ll never be able to claim it, even though you’ve already shipped the item. If you’re the buyer and send money to the fake account, you will simply never receive the item you bought or get your money back.
- Job scams. Be careful with job offers that look too good to be true or sound too vague. Do a background check of the contact person for that listing and search for the company online to make sure it’s real. And never share your personal or financial information with strangers online because con artists could use it to impersonate you or hack into your accounts.
- Email recovery scams. This scam involves a criminal trying to break into your email account by using the identifying information you provide in your email signature (see “Email obfuscation” below). They might use your credentials to break into your accounts by trying to reset their password. Or you might start receiving phishing emails with malicious links and unsolicited or inappropriate content.
- Buyer scams. If you are the seller, be extra careful with Craigslist buyers who want to pay extra money and/or are set on writing you a check. Keep in mind that personal checks may bounce, while cashier checks and money orders can be falsified. Even if the bank accepts a check at first, it can be denied later and you will end up earning nothing for your items. The only exception is a bank certified check.
- Seller scams. One common scam on Craigslist is for the seller to ask for wire transfers in advance, to either secure the purchase with a deposit or pay the whole amount. If you are a potential buyer, never wire funds before inspecting the product, especially if it’s a big ticket item. If the seller insists on receiving a payment by PayPal, cashier’s check, or money order in advance, consider it a red flag and back away.
How to spot a scam on Craigslist
If you are worried about Craigslist safety, check out these tips on how to detect a Craigslist scam ad and not fall for it:
- The deal seems too good to be true. If someone is selling a car for half the market price, with suspiciously low mileage, and the pictures look like a poster — it’s a scam.
- The ad displays a sense of urgency. If the seller is pressuring you into buying, they probably have something to hide about the product or the product doesn’t even exist, and they just want to collect the money before you’ve realized you’re being scammed.
- They insist you pay upfront to secure the item. If you pay, there is no guarantee the seller will not disappear into thin air with your money. Your word and a set time and date for the exchange should be enough.
- They request a wire transfer. You should be adamant about paying in cash upon the handover of the item. Otherwise, you might wire money to a scammer and never receive your purchase. If the other party is not accepting cash — search for a different one.
- The item doesn’t match the image in the listing. If you’re handed an item that doesn’t look like the one in the pictures, you are getting something else than you bargained for, which immediately reeks of fraud. So walk away.
- Skip ads with misspellings and grammatical errors. Poor grammar is another red flag that should drive you away from an ad. Many fraudulent ads are characterized by language mistakes and vague wording that raises more questions than it answers.
- The seller refuses to meet in person. If they don’t want to be seen, it could be a scam. A trustworthy seller will agree to meet in a safe public place.
- Email obfuscation. Craigslist uses email obfuscation to protect your actual email address from exposure. When you click on the response button in the Craigslist ad, the site generates for you a Craigslist email address. When the other user responds to your message using this address, you receive the message into your real email address. However, the information in your email signature (your full name, phone number, links to social media accounts, ect.) remains as is, so, unless you delete it, the other user can see it when you reply and use this information to try to break into your email or social media accounts by trying to reset their passwords.
- Encryption. Craigslist uses TLS encryption to protect the web traffic that travels between your electronic device and Craigslist servers. In the rare case you have to pay for an ad, Craigslist uses SSL encryption to transfer your credit card data to the payment processors.
- Banning links. Craigslist protects its users from phishing scams by not allowing clickable links in its ads. However, some scammers get around the ban by placing links in images or image texts.
- Flagging posts. You can flag scams and other posts that violate Craigslist’s terms of service. If a substantial number of users flag a particular post, the website removes it.
- Ensuring privacy. Craigslist states that it does not share your personal information with third parties or use tracking cookies for marketing purposes.
How do I protect myself on Craigslist?
Protecting yourself from Craigslist scams is easy as long as you follow these safety tips and avoid deals that sound too good to be true:
- Meet in person. Choose a safe public place for your meeting spot. Shopping centers and popular coffee shops are great for that. Parking lots also serve as a good meeting site, but make sure it’s a busy one within range of security cameras, for example, next to a local police station. The possible presence of police officers is likely to deter fraudsters. And never go inside the stranger’s home or meet after dark. If the contact refuses to meet you in a safe place or offers a shady one — back out of the deal.
- Examine the item. Be thorough, check if it’s intact and if it works. Unpack the item if it’s packed. There have been cases of people getting scammed by purchasing a smartphone in a sealed box and finding a random rectangular object after unboxing it at home.
- Don’t pay beforehand. Paying for the item or service in advance gives the seller the upper hand and the opportunity to take your money and disappear. First, make sure the item is the one you were bargaining for or receive the service, then pay. Otherwise, look for a different seller.
- Do not accept a check or a money order. Always ask for the payment in cash because checks can bounce, while money orders can be falsified.
- Don’t share personal details. Never disclose your personal or financial information to strangers online. There is no need for your Craigslist contact to know your bank account number, home address, or date of birth. You might share your cell phone number with someone you are meeting in person, but not more.
- Do not open any links. If your Craigslist contact sends you a link, just ask them what it’s about instead of following it. Clicking a link could infect your device with malicious software that corrupts it and steals your data.
- Deal locally. Trading with people from your area will enable you to complete your Craigslist transaction in person.
- Use a VPN. NordVPN offers top-tier encryption to ensure your browsing experience is free of cyber threats and snoopers. The NordVPN app also contains a malware protection tool that gets rid of malware before it can corrupt your device and blocks access to malicious sites, even if you absentmindedly click on that suspicious link. You can also conveniently choose the location of your server to get a respective IP address, which enables you to finalize purchases in your local area while you travel.