Craigslist scams avoidable with caution

By Cheryl Parson Better Business Bureau

August 9, 2014

At the BBB, we constantly tell folks if it seems too good to be true, it probably is and to be wary. There are seemingly scammers ready to rip us off in every aspect of daily life. From someone going door-to-door selling cheap tree removal to bogus emails saying you owe taxes or even people claiming their child has a serious disease, the list of cons mounts daily.

The classified ad website, Craigslist, is no exception. With hundreds of Craigslist categories in which to advertise for free, scammers have found an easy outlet to take advantage of the unsuspecting.

The Home or Apartment Rental Hoax

Recently we received a call from a local homeowner alerting us to a scam taking place here in our area. It seems one afternoon there was a knock at the caller’s door. At the door was an anxious couple saying they were the ones that had rented the caller’s house and wanted to move in as soon as possible.

This came as a complete surprise to the caller because her home wasn’t for rent! The folks at the door were from out of town, had seen the house listed on Craigslist, called the number in the ad, talked with the “owner” and, anxious to not lose the place to another renter, sent the bogus landlord a security deposit as well as the first and last month’s rent. This is a popular scam nationally. In one case, the “landlord” conned more than $60,000 from would-be renters.

As a possible renter, how can you protect yourself from this scam?

• As simple as it sounds, just making sure the one you’re dealing with is actually the owner or property management company is your best protection. If you’re renting an apartment or condo, call area real estate companies or condo associations to verify you are renting from a legitimate owner. If renting a home, search local online or courthouse property records. If names don’t match up, you’re most likely being scammed.

• Ask for a copy of the landlord’s ID, then call local officials to make sure it’s legit.

• Use Google to search the owner’s name and address. If the property or “landlord” has been involved in a scam, you’ll probably see info about it.

• Be wary if the potential landlord doesn’t ask you to fill out an application. Unscrupulous landlords do everything possible to make things easy so they can get your cash!

The Accidental Check Scam

This occurs when you sell items on Craigslist. For example, you list your car; a “buyer” calls, comes to see it and says he’ll bring back a cashier’s check or money order for the sale price. Good to his word, he returns with a check and leaves with your car. Scammers today can produce incredibly realistic fraudulent documents, such as checks, and the scammer has done just that. You deposit the check, it bounces, and you have lost your car.

In a variation of this, the con man gives you a check for an amount higher than the agreed price, then realizing his mistake, asks you to give him cash or a check for the difference. So when the check bounces, in addition to your car being gone, so is your cash!

Protect yourself by refusing to release the merchandise until the check clears the bank or accept cash only.

There are good deals on Craigslist, but being cautious and aware is your best insurance that what you think is a good deal, really is.