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If you’re looking for a place to rent, a used car to buy, or discounted event tickets, chances are good that one of the first places you’ll check is Craigslist, the online classified ads website with dozens of categories of used goods, rentals, and services. The Internet has made it easy to buy and barter online, and Craigslist was one of the earliest websites to specialize in online marketplaces.
It remains the most popular site of its kind, but recent years have seen a rise in the prevalence of online scammers who are looking to make a quick buck from unsuspecting Craigslist users. Their ruses, both simple and sophisticated, cheat people out of their money every day. To avoid getting taken advantage of on Craigslist, read through this list of common scams you should be wary of. And remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!
The Non-Existent Rental Property Scam
There are many variations on this scam, but it is essentially perpetrated by scammers who rent out properties that they don’t even own or manage. Often, they are targeting renters who are moving to a new city and can’t physically visit the property prior to their move-in date.
This works perfectly for the scammers, who know very well that the real property the pictures belong to is not for rent. By appropriating pictures available online (sometimes from real rental properties posted months earlier) the scammers create a fake rental ad offering a nice rental home or apartment at an unbelievably good price. Then, they collect a deposit and first month’s rent from eager renters – and are never heard from again!
Always gather information from a potential landlord, such as a copy of their driver’s license, so you know who you’re dealing with. A legitimate landlord won’t hesitate to provide their information. Most counties will allow you to look up property ownership at the website for the county property appraisal district, so you can confirm who is the owner of record. If you must rent a property sight-unseen, the safest way is to go through an established rental agency or apartment management company.
The Car They Don’t Own Scam
This one is similar to the rental scam, in that the scammer is selling something they don’t really own. It’s possible to save thousands of dollars buying a used vehicle on Craigslist instead of paying the dealer markup at a used car lot. However, the car ads are a place scammers love to post “great deals.” In one of the most common scams, a seller is offering an unbelievably good deal on a used vehicle. Unfortunately, the buyer finds out later on that they didn’t receive a real title document and the car was actually reported stolen. Some scammers do this repeatedly, using sophisticated documents that look very much like car titles.
To avoid falling for this scam, never purchase a used vehicle without calling the non-emergency number for police and asking them to run a search on the vehicle’s VIN (vehicle identification number) and license plate to confirm that the car has not been reported stolen. Also, a sincere seller should not have a problem giving you a copy of their driver’s license so you can confirm their identity. Make sure you match their name to who is listed on the title document as the owner of the vehicle.
The Worthless Tickets Scam
Craigslist is a wonderful place to score a good deal on tickets to events, or to find tickets that have sold out completely. Often peoples’ plans change unexpectedly and in-demand tickets are then unloaded through Craigslist. But despite the many legitimate ticket sellers on the site, this is yet another category where nasty scams are abound. Some of the more sophisticated and expensive printers can now produce ticket replicas that are difficult to distinguish from real tickets. And many buyers don’t even know what an official ticket for certain events are supposed to look like – therefore, they have no reference to notice defects or inconsistencies in replica tickets promoted by scammers.
All too often, a Craigslist buyer pays hundreds or even thousands of dollars for what they think is a valuable ticket to a sold-out concert or sporting event, only to be turned away at the gate when they are told the ticket isn’t real. At that point, they rarely have any recourse. The event venue isn’t liable since they didn’t sell the fake ticket, and whoever did sell the ticket on Craigslist is never heard from again.
Protect yourself from ticket scams by treading very carefully. Never pay for a ticket without thoroughly inspecting it – if it looks like it was printed on a home printer, chances are it isn’t real. And even when a ticket looks and feels authentic, you shouldn’t purchase it without calling up the venue or the company and asking them to confirm the identification number over the phone. If they have no record of that ticket number being sold, you’ll know you’re likely dealing with a scammer.
Craigslist is an amazing online marketplace, and there are certainly great deals to be had there. While you shouldn’t let the threat of scammers prevent you from taking advantage of those legitimate deals, you do need to be aware of the many types of scams and protect yourself. When something feels fishy or you feel like the seller is anxious or rushing you, that’s a sign something is wrong. Trust your instincts and remember to check out and confirm information before you buy anything!
Author: Jeff Gitlen