How to Identify Scam Buyers on Craigslist

By Barb Nefer

Craigslist offers a free, convenient way to buy and sell merchandise. Unfortunately, it can be a hunting ground for scammers who prey on uniformed sellers. If you're planning to post a for-sale ad on Craiglist, be alert for these scammers, and be ready to weed them out. You'll be able to recognize them if you stay alert for the signs of a scam artist.

Step 1

Be alert for buyers who send generic messages. When a person emails a response to your ad, does he refer specifically to the item or merchandise you are selling, or is the message general? A legitimate buyer will say something like, "I'm interested in the couch you're selling." A scammer often says, "I am interested in the item you have for sale," without any specific reference.

Step 2

Evaluate email responses for their level of literacy. Many scammers are based overseas, so their English skills are often poor. If a response is riddled with spelling and grammatical errors or seems to be written by someone who isn't fluent in English, beware.

Step 3

Only deal with local buyers. If the buyer claims to be in another state or country and wants to buy the item sight unseen, you're probably dealing with a scammer.

Step 4

Never agree to accept a check for more than your item's purchase price and send the difference back to the buyer. Scammers often send forged checks as payment. They'll claim they were given the check by someone who owes them money. For example, they might send a $1,000 check as payment for a $300 item. They'll ask you to cash it and wire $700 back to them. By the time the check is discovered as a fake, your money will be long gone and you'll be liable to your bank.

Step 5

Give out as little personal information to a buyer as possible. If she needs to come see the item, you'll have to give your address. Beyond that, you should never give personal information like your bank account or Social Security number, even if the buyer claims to need them to make payment. Insist on cash or a check from a local bank instead.

Step 6

If the buyer pays by check, take it to the bank on which it is drawn and cash it there before turning over the item or merchandise. Don't accept a check that isn't drawn on a local bank, and don't complete the sale on a weekend or holiday when you can't cash the check immediately.

Tips & Warnings

  • If you've been the victim of a scam, notify your local police department or the Federal Trade Commission at (877) FTC-HELP.
  • If you're uncomfortable with a situation, follow your gut and tell the buyer you're not going to go through with the transaction. You don't owe him any explanation.
  • If someone is coming to your home to view an item, make sure you're not alone. Have a friend or other family member present whenever a stranger is coming over.