Use Caution on Craigslist

March 24, 2010

Written by wukovits

Classified ads have always been a staple of the newspaper, and the advent of the Internet brought us a new and exciting medium on which to sell or buy goods and services.  While entire websites can be online stores, selling from one person to another has always been easily facilitated by the use of a classified ad.  eBay ( might be a great way to use an auction-based system for merchandise, but a direct correlation to a classified ad online is a website you’ve probably heard of:  Craigslist (

The beauty of Craigslist is in its simplicity.  One complaint from a lot of folks is that the interface and look of the site hasn’t changed much from when it was initially launched back in 1996.  It’s all text, organized by city, and it’s a terrific resource when you’re looking to buy or sell something without much hassle.  The service itself is free, so it has quite a following and a great number of online users.  However, since it gets so much use, there are bound to be unscrupulous people who are looking to take advantage of genuine people that are honestly looking to buy and sell.

Craigslist itself warns you on every auction to not do business with people from out of your area, hence the organization by city.  They advise that transactions take place in person, so that the risk of falling victim to a scam is minimized.  For a more complete listing of some of the types of scams that are perpetuated on Craigslist go here:

Some of the more popular ones include using money orders or cashiers checks for purchase.  The buyer asks if you would be willing to accept a money order for payment, and is willing to send you even more than what you ask.  Of course, he’d like for you to send back the difference via Western Union or some other money transfer service.  This scam is a dangerous lesson to learn, because once you deposit the money order in your bank and send back the cash, by the time the money order is detected as a forgery, the bank holds you responsible for the money order, and you’re out even more than you deposited, and the item as well.

Another one I’ve noticed of late isn’t so much geared towards getting your money, but instead is looking to harvest email addresses.  When you post an ad on Craigslist for an item for sale, your email address is randomized through Craigslist so that your email isn’t easily collected.  However, you do receive the emails from potential buyers with their questions or offers.  There has been a rash for these emails that seem legitimate, but are indeed from “bots”, which are automated programs that exist for the sole purpose of generating emails that trick people into replying from their own email address.  Once you send your reply from your email, they have your address, and the deluge of spam will start to arrive.  Before you reply, read their email carefully, looking for errors.  Some I’ve seen are in the capitalization of the city name (“lake charles”) or they post very general questions about your item.  (I see you buy broken iPhones, and I have a great iPhone in lake charles to sell you!)  You can always post a phone number for them to call, which can eliminate a few potential buyers, but if you require them to call for more information or with questions, you can safely avert any attempts to harvest your email address.

With, as with anything on the Internet, there exists the need to be smart and safe.  I use it frequently to sell assorted items I no longer use or to advertise services I provide.  For buyers, it isn’t as dangerous, but for sellers, be extra cautious.

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