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Safety and Security Tips for Craigslist

Craigslist security tipsMillions of people worldwide use Craigslist to buy and sell products and services – from appliances to zombie preparedness products, visitors can also find services such as housekeepers, babysitters, and job opportunities. While most transactions occur safely and legitimately, criminals may use Craigslist as a vehicle to commit a wide range of crimes, including robbery, identify theft, sexual assault and even murder.

About Craigslist

Craigslist is a classified advertisements website with sections devoted to jobs, housing, personals, items for sale, items wanted, services, and discussion forums. Craigslist became a web-based service in 1996 and expanded into other classified categories. It started expanding to other U.S. cities in 2000, and now covers 50 countries.

Craigslist was founded by Craig Newmark in 1995 as an email distribution list to friends, featuring local events in the San Francisco Bay Area.

A Few Interesting Craigslist Stats:

  •  Total number of local Craigslist sites – 700
  •  Number of countries that have a local Craigslist site – 70
  •  Number of Craigslist daily queries worldwide – 50,000,000
  •  Total percentage of all Craigslist revenue that comes from adult service ads – 33 %
  •  Number of new classified ads that are published on Craiglist every month – 40 million
  •  Number of used car ads viewed on Craigslist – 9.2 million
  •  Number of page views Craigslist gets every month – 20 billion
  •  Number of Americans who use Craigslist each year – 50 million
  •  Number of job listings posted to Craigslist each month – 1 million

Craigslist Safety and Security Tips

I have purchased and sold several items on Craigslist with never a problem. But that doesn’t mean that the bad guys are not out there on Craigslist looking to take advantage of you. So here are some safety and security tips for you and your family to consider when using Craigslist:

  •  Deal with only local persons that you will be able to meet in person
  •  Accept payment in CASH only! If someone wants to give you a check or other form of payment, be firm and decline!
  •  Beware of offers involving shipping – again, deal with locals you can meet in person.
  •  Never wire funds (e.g. Western Union)
  •  Never send any money abroad
  •  Never accept personal checks; if you can’t get them to pay cash, consider payment through Pay Pal
  •  Never use any insurance that the seller offers
  •  Don’t accept cashier/certified checks or money orders – they could be fakes.
  •  Transactions need to be between users only; no third parties providing a “guarantee”.
  •  Don’t rent or purchase anything sight-unseen—that amazing “deal” may not really be amazing or even exist!
  •  For apartments or places to rent, refuse background/credit checks until you have met landlord/employer in person.
  •  When in doubt…always trust your gut; if it sounds too good to be true, it is! Get a second opinion from a friend
  •  Create an email address specifically for Craigslist.
  •  If you post a “For Sale” ad, use the anonymous email address that Craigslist offers as opposed to posting your own email address.
  •  Remove the Geotag from pictures before you post them on Craigslist. If you take a photo with a GPS-enabled smartphone, the photo may indicate the physical location of where the photo was taken (like your basement, garage or living room). If the GPS geotag information is attached to the photo and this is posted, a sophisticated criminal will be able to read the exact location of where the item is located (this information is hidden in the photo’s file header) by using a metadata viewer application!
  •  NEVER provide your SS#, bank account number, Paypal account, birthday, employer name, address or other sensitive information

I would ALWAYS meet the other party in a neutral, highly visible area. This is especially true if you are buying or selling high end, expensive items. In those cases, I would consider meeting them at the local police station or Sheriff’s office. Consider taking a friend or family member with you.

I would let a friend or family member know exactly when and where you are headed, what you are selling, and all the information you have on the other party. And always take your cell phone with you. Get their full name and phone number, and call them back later in the day to verify their information.

I would NEVER meet the party at a place they designate and never invite a person into your home (or give them your address) if you can avoid doing so.

However, this could be tricky if you are buying or selling large items, like furniture. In that case, I would have friends and family members present, and I would already have the items in your garage or front porch. I would not let the other party enter your home.

A Few Other Tips when Meeting

  • Wear inexpensive clothing; comfortable shoes; leave the jewelry at home
  • Take a minimum wallet if you need to with limited cash, one credit card and your ID; never keep your Social Security card in a wallet or purse
  • Trust your instincts.
  •  If you can legally carry a concealed weapon, do so. But keep it concealed and be discreet. The other party may be taking the same precautions as you, so don’t freak them out!

Recognizing scams

Criminals who target Craigslist will use scams and schemes that many times have warning signs
and other signals that could tip you off that the transaction is probably not legitimate. Here are some things you should look for and AVOID!

  • · Email or text from someone that is not local to your area.
  •  Vague initial inquiry, e.g. asking about “the item” as opposed to the “TV listed in the ad”.
  •  Poor grammar/spelling.
  •  Broken English; many scammers are from foreign countries
  •  Watch for flowery language such as apologies or rambling about family problems; this is used to “sucker you in” and play on your emotions. Don’t be a sucker!
  •  Watch out for the sweet talk as well; they will use this so they can avoid meeting you in person
  •  Any mention of Western Union, Money Gram, cashier check, money order, paypal, shipping, escrow service, or a “guarantee.”
  •  Inability or refusal to meet face-to-face to complete the transaction.
  •  Seller asking for a partial payment upfront (especially an online payment) to “hold the item for you”

Job listings are another source of fraud, and you need to be careful there as well. About a year ago, I had a family member looking for a part time job to help supplement her income. She responded to an ad on Craigslist seeking a part time assistant. The man claimed he sold art and antiques, and spent a lot of time in Europe buying and selling those items. (Clue #1 – he was out of the country.)

The ad made it sound like she would be working in an office 10-12 hours a week, doing some filing and accounts receivable type work. She could pick her own hours, as long as she made it in 3-4 times a week and was available one or two days week to run some errands. It sounded too good to be true for a single mom with kids. (Clue #2 – too good to be true.)

She and this man exchanged a few emails, and she was thrilled when she was quickly hired. (Clue #3 – hired WITHOUT a face to face meeting.)

Fortunately, the alarm bells in her head went off when two or three days later, she received a “Money Order” in the mail for $6500 from this guy. The man apologized, saying that he had not yet had time to set her up on HIS bank account (Clue #4), but that he needed her to deposit it into her account, and then wire it to him ASAP. For her troubles, he said she could keep $1000 for herself and send him the rest.

She brought it to me, asking if that seemed legit.

“Hell NO!” I replied. “Please tell me you have not sent him anything!?”

I was relieved when she said she didn’t. I told her to contact her local police department, and to contact Craigslist.

She claims this man only had her name and address. I was worried she might have sent him her social security number and more. I told her to keep an eye on her credit, and immediately report any suspicious activity.


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