How to Not Get Scammed on Craigslist

by Becky BlantonDecember 13, 2017

It’s getting harder and harder to find good, yet affordable housing, so when you do, it might almost seem too good to be true. That’s because it probably is. According to researchers, up to 25% of all home or apartment rental listings on Craigslist are scams.

Understanding how rental and property scams work and how to avoid them can help you spot a crook before you’re taken for an expensive ride. Studies show that Craigslist filters less than half of the scams posted, so don’t depend on any site to protect you. They do all they can to warn visitors about scams, but it’s up to you to do your due diligence before handing over your money or filling out paperwork asking for your private information. Only 6% of all rental ads are flagged for removal from Craigslist, but considering the number of ads on the site, that 6% means there are hundreds of thousands of scam ads overall.
craigstlist scams

The most common scams to beware of…

  1. The “I’m out of town/traveling” scam.

    Many bogus ads claim that the owner can’t meet you at the house or apartment because “they’re out of town,” on a trip, on business, or are at work out of the area, etc. When meeting an owner away from a property itself, ask to see their driver’s license or ID. Take a photo if possible, or remember and write down the name and address later. Before meeting them, go to your county assessor’s office to verify the home’s legal owner. However, if the landlord refuses or absolutely can’t meet you, or is in another country, it’s 99.999 % likely you’re being scammed.

  2. The Credit Report scam.

    Scammers will post a housing list, then tell you they need your credit report to evaluate your credit first. They send you to a legitimate credit reporting site and when you pay to get your credit report, they collect an affiliate fee for the referral, but you don’t get the rental. According to researchers who checked the affiliate program of Rental Verified, a company used by one of the credit report scams they found, Rental Verified pays up to $18 per customer who buys a credit report from them. If a landlord insists on a credit report, run your own for free and bring it with you.

  3. Clone scams.

    Scammers take legitimate ads for a rental property, including the address, name, phone numbers, etc., but then they lower the price in their ad, pretend to be the realtor or owner and ask you to fill out an application that asks for sensitive information like your Social Security number. Look out for ads featuring a drastically lower price and a different contact number than you find in other ads with the same house. You can find those ads by using Google’s reverse image search.

  4. Realtor Service scam.

    Not every scam happens before a sale. The Realtor Service scam happens after you purchase a home and is not exactly illegal, but is a scam. What happens in this scam is shortly after a sale the new homeowners are contacted by a company or agency offering to send them a copy of their property deed and other information for a cost, usually less than $100. The problem is, those documents are mailed to you for free after a sale or transfer. Most homeowners don’t realize this and buy the copies before finding out they’ve been scammed. If in doubt about any additional paper someone says must be purchased, ask your realtor, lawyer, or mortgage company about it first.

  5. Departing tenant scam.

    This scam is hard to spot. What happens is a departing tenant, someone who is legitimately vacating his/her apartment, or an accomplice, pretends to be the landlord. They have the key, show you the apartment, have you fill out paperwork, etc, and take your security deposit and first month’s rent, usually in cash or a check made out to cash. They then give you their key and leave, disappearing with your money and personal information while you move in, thinking the apartment is yours. In this scam, the scammer may have several interested parties give him their money upfront, and then disappear leaving everyone scammed.

  6. Great apartment photos, but no real apartment scam.

    The photos of the apartment or house you want look awesome – both inside and out. The price is right, but the landlord says he only gives out the address after people fill out a credit report, or other papers, or even after posting a deposit. Before agreeing to anything, visit the any apartment or property you’re considering renting or buying. According to a warning on Craigslist, not following this one rule accounts for 99% of successful scam attempts.

avoiding craigstlist scams

How to protect yourself

Find out who the established property manager or homeowner is by conducting an online records search, or go to your local courthouse and look it up. There are clerks who can help you navigate the records room or electronic data search options. Or, use a site like Court House Direct to find property ownership anywhere in the USA.

What to do when you think something is a scam

If you think a listing you’re looking at is a scam, flag it and report it to Craigslist or to the webmaster of the site you’re on.

Craigslist tips for not getting scammed

  • Do not extend or give any kind of payment to anyone you have not met in person.
  • Don’t use an online escrow service – Craigslist experts say most online escrow services are fraudulent and scams.
  • Beware offers involving shipping – deal with locals you can meet in person.
  • Never wire funds (e.g. Western Union) – anyone who asks you to is a scammer.
  • Don’t accept cashier/certified checks or money orders – banks will cash the fake checks, then hold you responsible when they bounce.
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About The Author
Becky Blanton
Becky Blanton is a full-time ghostwriter and writing coach for Fortune 500 companies, CEOs, and business speakers. In 2009 she spoke at TED Global at Oxford University, her first ever public speaking gig. When she's not writing, she's kayaking in the Chesapeake Bay. Her dream home is to live aboard a sailing or houseboat.