You can avoid would-be scammers by following these common-sense rules:
DEAL LOCALLY WITH FOLKS YOU CAN MEET IN PERSON - follow this one rule and avoid 99% of scam attempts.
NEVER WIRE FUNDS VIA WESTERN UNION, MONEYGRAM or other wire service - anyone who asks you to do so is likely a scammer.
FAKE CASHIER CHECKS & MONEY ORDERS ARE COMMON - Banks will hold you RESPONSIBLE when the fake is discovered weeks later.
CRAIGSLIST IS NOT INVOLVED IN ANY TRANSACTION, and does not handle payments, provide escrow, "buyer protection" or "seller certification."
NEVER GIVE OUT FINANCIAL INFORMATION (bank account number, social security number, eBay/PayPal info, etc.).
AVOID DEALS INVOLVING SHIPPING OR ESCROW SERVICES and know that ONLY A SCAMMER WILL "GUARANTEE" YOUR TRANSACTION.
DO NOT RENT HOUSING OR PURCHASE GOODS SIGHT-UNSEEN - that amazing rental or cheap item may not exist.
DO NOT SUBMIT TO CREDIT OR BACKGROUND CHECKS until you have met the job interviewer or landlord/agent in person.
Most scams involve one or more of the following:
Inquiry from someone far away, often in another country.
Western Union, Money Gram, cashier's check, money order, shipping, escrow service, or a "guarantee."
Inability or refusal to meet face-to-face before consumating transaction.
Examples of Scams:
1. Someone claims craigslist will guarantee a transaction, certify a buyer/seller, OR will handle or provide protection for a payment:
These claims are fraudulent, as craigslist does not have any role in any transaction.
The scammer will often send an official looking (but fake) email that appears to come from craigslist, offering a guarantee, certifying a seller, handle payments.
2. Distant person offers a genuine-looking (but fake) cashier's check:
You receive an email (examples below) offering to buy your item, or rent your apartment, sight unseen.
A cashier's check is offered for your sale item as a deposit for an apartment or for your services.
Value of cashier's check often far exceeds your item—scammer offers to "trust" you, and asks you to wire the balance via money transfer service.
Banks will often cash fake checks AND THEN HOLD YOU RESPONSIBLE WHEN THE CHECK FAILS TO CLEAR, sometimes including criminal prosecution. These scams often involve a 3rd party (shipping agent, business associate owing buyer money, etc.).
3. Someone requests wire service payment via Western Union or MoneyGram:
Scam "bait" items include apartments, laptops, TVs, cell phones, tickets, and other high value items.
These scams often claim that an MTCN or confirmation code is needed before he can withdraw your money—this is FALSE, once you've wired money, it is GONE.
Common countries currently include: Nigeria, Romania, United Kingdom, Ukraine, Spain, Italy, Netherlands—but could be anywhere.
An apartment listing may be local, but landlord/owner is "travelling" or "relocating" and needs you to wire money to them abroad. Deal often seems too good to be true, price is too low, or rent is below market, etc.
4. Distant person offers to send you a money order and then have you wire money:
This is ALWAYS a scam in our experience—the cashier's check is FAKE.
Sometimes accompanies an offer of merchandise, sometimes not. Scammer often asks for your name, address, etc. for printing on the fake check. Deal often seems too good to be true.
5. Distant seller suggests use of an online escrow service:
Most online escrow sites are FRAUDULENT and operated by scammers.
For more info, do a google search on "fake escrow" or "escrow fraud."
6. Distant seller asks for a partial payment upfront, after which he will ship goods:
He says he trusts you with the partial payment.
He may say he has already shipped the goods.
Deal often sounds too good to be true.
7. Foreign company offers you a job receiving payments from customers, then wiring funds:
Foreign company may claim it is unable to receive payments from its customers directly.
You are typically offered a percentage of payments received. This kind of "position" may be posted as a job, or offered to you via email.