Craigslist Has Become A Total Sewer of Scammers

I know the title of this post will come as a surprise to virtually no one.  I gave up on Craigslist years ago.  However, I had no idea how bad it has become.  My contractor had some left over materials.  My wife and I said to just drop it off at Habitat for Humanity but the contractor said they thought I could sell some of it for real money.  So the contractor listed it on Craigslist.  I so far have gotten 8 responses, and all 8 have turned out to be scams.  They are all variations of this theme:

i really appreciate your quick response to my text. I will be buying
the item from you, kindly withdraw the advert from C.LIST and
considered it sold. My husband will be overnight the payment asap but
he will be payingwith a certified check from his Bank and it will
deliver to you via United Parcel Service (UPS), so I'll need you to
provide me with the following information to facilitate the mailing of
the check... And am offering additional $50 with the original price to
have this asap. Name to be on the payment......Address to mail the check to.....
Cell phone # to contact you ......Final Asking price....

I will make arrangements for the pick up as soon as you have your
check clear, due to my work frame and my Kids, I will not be able to
come with the cash and pick it up myself , so my husband will mail the
check and have someone pick up the item after the check clear.,
Reference to your CL post am completely satisfied with it and the
payment will be deliver within 24hours.

Any reply will yield bot or script responses that make little sense.  For example I said:

Ok, I now believe this to be fake as I have gotten the same response word for word with the 50 dollars offer from multiple people.  This sale is cancelled.

The response was:

Thanks , I got the Details and the payment will be sent out tomorrow
and as soon as it sent out i will get back to you, Please keep the
other buyer off and the payment will get to you asap and the item will
be pick up after you have the payment

Apparently bots and Asian click factories send a trolling response to every sale on Craigslist nowadays.   I left a telephone number only in the ad (a burner cell phone thank goodness) and in turn I got urges to immediately email them back.  And then this script with small variations 8 times, but always with the certified check thing, the offer of $50, and an urge to take down the ad immediately.  Apparently the check is fake but you learn this only after you have shipped the goods.  Sites like this urge face to face meetings in cash, but I have little desire to meet Craigslist readers face to face, which is confirmed by the advice in this article to "meet the buyer in a police station" lol.  Might as well post the advice never to use craigslist.

If it has not already been written, this is the epitaph in my mind for Craigslist.  Possible moral of this story:  You can't build a trust-based system just by trusting people.  The lesson from places like Amazon and ebay are "trust but verify".

Update:  From commenters, part of our mistake seems to be to have let a third party put up the add because then we lose out on some of the internal Craigslist communication avenues that provide some protection.  A number feel like Craigslist is still a useful place to transact.  I will add that in addition to 8 cashiers check scammers I also got one paypal scammer later in the evening making contact.  Zero legitimate contacts to date.

  • herdgadfly

    It seems to me that using the craigslist email contact is entirely safe. Responders to the ad email the unique craigslist email address and craigslist forwards it. Scams can thereby be detected and ignored. As seller, you and only you has the right to dictate terms of sale.

    As we all know , the real danger comes from face to face meetings - so do not sell that way.

  • Agammamon

    The 'always meet in a public place' is . . . ridiculous. I've been using Craigslist successfully for years now and meet *in my home* and have meet buyers in their homes. Its not like you're going to cart a washing machine down to the local supermarket parking lot so some dude can look at it, lowball you, and say he needs to think about it and will call you back.

    However - meet in person, have a buddy with you, and always pay in cash is a damn good rule.

    But there are a lot of scam ads posted nowadays - you can't look at a motorcycle ad on CL without finding a bunch that advertise a bike with 'power seats, fits 7, third row seating and sunroof'.

    The CL email is safe - ish. With the usual caveats of dealing with any email from anyone. Turn off HTML, don't click their links, etc.

  • Agammamon

    If you don't meet face-to-face you're not going to sell anything. They buyer doesn't just look at your pictures and call you up and say "I'll bite'. He's going to want to see the merch in person. Walk around it. Poke it. Start it up if it has a motor.

    Also, its the seller *and* buyer that dictate the terms of any sale - well, and the government wants its say too. It takes two to tango.

  • mx

    Honestly, face to face is the way to go for most stuff on Craigslist. There's a reason every single item for sale on Craigslist says "Avoid scams, deal locally Beware wiring (e.g. Western Union), cashier checks, money orders, shipping." They mean it.

    Trying to sell remotely will lead to scams like the one Warren got here, fake checks, fake overpayments (here's a (fake) check for $1,000, keep the purchase price plus an extra $200 for your troubles and send me back a (real) check for the difference), and all sorts of other nonsense. Selling in person and accepting cash, there's always the limited risk the buyer is just going to punch you out and run off with the goods (meeting at a police station or other public place helps here), but your risk is limited to violent thugs in your area who peruse Craigslist, rather than every scammer in the known universe.

    Set your terms and stick to them. If you say cash only and in person, anybody who emails demanding to have the stuff shipped and pay by Western Union is on insta-ignore.

  • Mercury

    Common sense goes a long way in these situations. In a pinch: "First one here with cash takes it".

    Trust between people or between people and entities controlled by people is what digital platforms seek to circumvent with technology. If they succeed all kinds of inefficiencies and redundancies can be realized (and thus, margins fattened, throughput increased etc.)

    But it tuns out it's not that easy. Amazon has been successful because it is basically a virtual store tied into all kinds of existing, trusted systems and recourse mechanisms for the consumer (credit cards, FedEx, brand reputation of 3rd party sellers and products, etc.)

    Crypto-currencies, not so much. Many of the schemes floated to institutionalize and mainstream Bitcoin (for instance) layer on all kinds of intermediary authorities and processes which re-create much of the (suddenly necessary) infrastructure that digital currencies promised to eliminate in the first place.

  • marque2

    I like that a - motor bike with a sun roof. Can it be closed? 😛

  • CapitalistRoader

    I always click "no emails", put my phone number in, and write "No texts; phone calls only." in the ad.

    Not a big CL seller but I've probably sold ten things a year for the last fifteen years and never had a professional scammer hit me up. Sure, I get dopes who ask "What's the lowest you'll take for your dealy-bob?" but that's no big deal.

    And so far I haven't been put on any call lists since I don't get even one junk call per month. CL hiding the phone number until the reply box is clicked must help.

  • Brad Warbiany

    I generally try to avoid CL, but sometimes if I'm having trouble selling things other ways I'll still use it.

    But yeah, it's kinda a "first one here with cash on the barrelhead takes it". I completely ignore the obvious scammers, people who want to do things remote, etc.

    The worst is posting things "free". Man, the freaks come out of the woodwork for that. If I *ever* do that, I basically put the item on the curb and tell people "if you message me, the best I can do is tell you if it's still there. I will not hold it for anyone." I've actually taken to posting things with nominal dollar values. I once had a broken DLP TV that I simply wanted to disappear, but I listed it for $20 so at least someone who believed they could fix it and derive value from it showed up. Not sure if I even ended up taking his money or just gave it to him; the key was having a non-zero list price to keep the freaks away.

    I have found that Facebook has been supplanting Craigslist for classifieds. They have local buy/sell groups, and you know at least there is a reputational factor there. I still follow the same rules (cash only, in person pickup/dropoff, etc), but they are relying on an network of trust that Craigslist can't replicate. Note: this is only for the LOCAL buy/sell groups, which are usually moderated and private or "secret", accessible by invitation. I think the Facebook "Marketplace" has all the same issues that Craigslist has.

  • Brad Warbiany

    The "always meet in a public place" means less to me, being 6'5" and 260# lol... I would NOT have my girlfriend conduct any CL transactions without me present, though.

    It's not that I think the likelihood is high of something happening, but the reward for selling a $20 trinket is not worth the risk of what could happen.

  • Swami

    I have been using CL several times a year and have had good luck. Granted I delete the few obviously spam emails.

  • irandom419

    Weird, that is actually better than my first experience. A guy was selling a small flat screen TV, but didn't seem to understand he had to provide some contact information and the listing is still there. I generally just give away anything I don't want to charity or friends.

  • Mercury

    BTW...
    "I so far have gotten 8 responses, and all 8 have turned out to be scams."

    So what? That's like getting and deleting 8 spam or BS emails you don't want. Would you rather have listed and paid for a classified in a newspaper?

    Sounds like whatever you're selling is priced too high...

  • Bongo McBongo

    wait what? face to face dangerous? Not if you're strapped!

  • CapitalistRoader

    Freecycle is an excellent alternative to CL's free section. My local chapter is a tightly run operation; I've never had a single scam attempt after giving away ~50 items over the years.

  • mx

    You're so right about the free section. I've been literally cursed out when I've told people (on the phone) that whatever they wanted was already gone. I'm giving away free stuff on the internet, and you're that mad at me about it?

  • Brian Martinez

    My experience doesn't match yours, but I try to limit my exposure on Craigslist. Most recently I sold my old Toyota and a pair of concert tickets, and both went relatively smoothly. Somehow I managed to get contacted only once by an obvious scammer (via text message). Stipulating a cash-only deal for the car and ignoring anyone who wasn't local helped avoid the major problems with CL scams. The concert tickets were a bit more of a headache but it did save me 10% by not going through the Flash Seats site.

  • cc

    Selling a car I got people making low offers (about $1000 less than ask) just based on the picture and ad. Tried to incentivize it by saying they would pay cash. I said everyone has to pay cash. I asked these people if they would like to see the car and only one responded. Gave up for the moment. However, I have sold 3 cars with CL over the years and those went pretty smoothly.
    For lower priced items like a table, I've gotten lots of people who ask is it still available and when I say yes and give my phone # they don't respond. I don't know what that is about.

  • Douglas McKinnie

    I made extensive use of the local Freecycle group when I left the UK a dozen years ago, and it was a great experience other than a few needy people who REALLY WANTED something that I'd already agreed to give to another pending pickup. In the other places I've lived, I've found groups that were not tightly run, and eventually gave them up as pointless.
    Like others here, I've found setting a nominal low price on craigslist items works better than "free". As a buyer I'm a little annoyed by those who never respond nor remove the ad, but I don't get bent out of shape about it. My wife is big into the local facebook free group.

    I just purchased some outdoor furniture on Sunday from a nice elderly couple who gave me directions to their house after I responded to their craigslist ad.

  • CapitalistRoader

    ...and it was a great experience other than a few needy people who REALLY WANTED something that I'd already agreed to give to another pending pickup.

    I sidestep that issue. First response gets the item. I'm not a social service agency. Additionally, my local group specifically states that sob stories aren't allowed for WANTED posts e.g., you can't say why you need item X, you can only post that you want item X.

  • herdgadfly
  • Bongo McBongo

    I meant in the context of firearms, strapped is a type of sling or harness designed to allow a shooter to carry a firearm (usually a long gun such as a rifle, carbine, shotgun, or submachine gun) on his/her person and/or aid in greater hit probability with that firearm.

  • rosetta_stoned

    Sorry you've had these experiences, but I buy a LOT of things off CL.

    I make sure it's local, the transaction takes place during daylight hours - if possible, a neutral location - and always cash.
    I'll use CL long before I use eBay simply because of these conditions and requirements.

    Edit - and I never use the phone or text. Ever. E-mail only, through the CL reply button.

  • rosetta_stoned

    I always click "no emails", put my phone number in, and write "No texts; phone calls only." in the ad.

    Interesting. I do the opposite. I don't need people calling me when an e-mail works more into my schedule.
    To each his/her own.

  • ffarkle

    I think we should just block all IP addresses from China, Russia, and Nigeria, for starters. When the perps clean up their act, that country can join the internet again.

  • alancc

    I use NextDoor. It's not great for selling stuff because it's your local neighborhood so you don't have a big enough market, but often times I am just looking to get rid of it to someone who can benefit.

    They use verified identities, hence the signal-to-noise ratio is extra clear.

  • Johnathan Stiner

    You forgot the rest of the scam........They send you a check for twice the amount promised, then ask you to send back the difference as it will be a couple of weeks before the employee can pick up the item. You deposit the check, see that it is credited to your acount, foolishly in good faith mail back the difference thinking all is well, then, 10 days later their "bank check" turns out to be fake and your checking acount reverses the deposit.

  • armst

    I have had no problems with CL. Sold quite a few large ticket items, furniture, unneeded lawn/farm equipment. Have delivered stuff on a trailer at a common parking lot halfway meetups and had folks out to the place. Not worried as the large number of German Shepherds on hand are a visual and audio deterrent. Also openly carry a weapon, hey this is a rural area. And have a back up person heavily armed just inside the door listening and watching. So far anyone coming to house doesn't even bat an eye or comment on the weapon. One part that bugs me are the idiots that want to trade....my response, sure, I'll trade the item for cash.

  • BART SIMPSONSON

    I find you need to deal (either by email, text, or phone call) with 6 or more inquiries before you actually meet 1 potential buyer, whether or not a sale eventuates. The price of the ad, however, is right and it reaches more eyeballs than ANY print ad ever does or could. As a buyer OR seller I would never try to negotiate $$$ any way other than in person, as it is just blather.

  • BART SIMPSONSON

    I still find craigs useful, both for buying and selling. That said, you do have to recognize an attempted scam when you see one. Robbery attempts perhaps a bit more difficult to recognize, at first. I often go visibly armed to meet potential buyers (where legal) for my own self-preservation.

  • Quaint Bebe

    Given the fact that I basically furnish my home and indulge my hobby of rehabilitating and rehoming antique sewing machines via Craigslist--as well as FB groups, FB Marketplace, and eBay--I'm going to have to disagree with your take on CL. I'm sorry you've had that experience, but I have to wonder if your intermediary site is the issue. I've only run into a handful of scams in my years of selling on there, and zero as a buyer. Of course, you have to use common sense. Cash and carry only, etc. As a woman, that includes taking along a male friend or my six foot, ex-football player son for *every* transaction. If it's a large item that cannot be easily transported, it's also a good idea to not give out your address until the buyer is ready to head your way. In general, folks are a flaky lot these days, and you have to be prepared to deal with that. More so when selling than buying, in my experience.