No matter what stage of moving out on your own you’re at, you’re probably using Craigslist: finding a job, finding an apartment, finding furniture for your apartment, selling your junk to pay for food… all can be done with the awesome power of the ‘list! Not to alarm you or anything, but there are SCAMMERS on Craigslist, and they want your money! Or your stuff (for free)! Or your identity!
Not everyone on Craigslist is a scammer — in fact, most people aren’t. You can continue to use the ‘list for all of your classified needs, safely, if you just pay attention to these simple tips:
- An offer that’s too good to be true… is. Look, if someone had the awesomest job ever that you can do from home and earn $75,000 per year… why would they be posting it on Craigslist? That’s not to say legitimate jobs aren’t posted on Craigslist, but awesome, well-paying, AND totally easy jobs aren’t. If a job is really that good and pays that well, they wouldn’t need to put up 10 ads a day about it.
- Don’t pay up front for anything. Yes, you’re searching Craigslist to do some sort of legitimate transaction, but don’t fork over money up front. There are several scams that rely on you giving over your money and then getting nothing for it. For example, you shouldn’t have to pay for a credit check before you even see an apartment. And for a job listing, you shouldn’t have to pay anything at all.
- Beware strange forms of payment. Can you mail this package to my son in Argentina and I’ll wire you the money? No. Can I pay you via Western Union more than I owe you, and you give me half of the extra money back? What?!? No! Can I pay you buy Canadian check (er, cheque)? Only if we’re in Canada! (Actually, you probably shouldn’t take a check at all, or pay with one, unless you’re dealing with an apartment security deposit. For everything else deal in cash, if at all possible.)
- Meet in a neutral place for small transactions. Don’t invite someone over to your house to buy an iPod from them. If they’re picking up a couch, that’s one thing, but for stuff you can carry easily, meet someplace neutral, in public, and bonus points if you can find somewhere with security cameras. Take a friend with you, especially if you have someone who is kinda tall and menacing. When I sold my iPod, I took a male friend and met the buyer in a mall food court. Oh… and meet during daylight, please!
- Keep an eye out for pictures that don’t make any sense. Fellow personal finance blogger MapGirl recently got scammed on Craigslist, and she noticed this dead giveaway for a scam: “There was one ad that shot a kitchen view in two directions, but the cabinets weren’t the same color in both pictures. (Laminate white vs wood)”
- Avoid super-vague listings. Job listings that tell you absolutely nothing about the job? No thanks. I think it’s great that you’re looking for “energetic self-starters!” and all, but I need to actually know something about the job/apartment/item before I’m going to contact you.
- Make sure there’s some form of contact information. Yes, a legitimate listing might use just the anonymized email address that Craigslist offers, but most will give some other form of contact information. Look for a phone number, real email address, or link to a (legitimate) website.
- Familiarize yourself with Craigslist’s Scam Tips and Personal Safety Tips. And report any scams you come across, before anyone else gets scammed. The details of suspected scams should be emailed to email@example.com and if you’re sure a listing is a scam, the Craigslist Scam Tips page has information you need to contact the Federal Trade Commission (or the Canadian PhoneBusters hotline).
Remember: the majority of people on Craigslist are normal people just trying to complete a transaction. But there are a few scammers and they can be, at times, unfortunately clever. Keep a weather eye on the listings and you’ll be fine!
This article is a part of a series of posts on moving out on your own.