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Craig’s List Scam – If it seems too good to be true, it is!

If it seems too good to be true, it is too good to be true – especially when it comes to selling on Craig’s List.

Craig's List Scam

Painting for sale on Craig’s List

It started when someone expressed interest in a painting I’d listed on Craig’s List that previously had no activity. I noticed the “Buyer”  asked no questions about the painting and even though that triggered a sub-conscious warning bell, I was excited to read she was ready to proceed. I ignored my intuition but luckily suffered no financial or identity loss as a result. Unfortunately, others have not been so lucky so I began to gather additional information to help protect those who use Craig’s List and other similar online services.

So, back to the scam… The initial email was followed up with the one below which I responded to with an office address instead of my home address.

A scam on Craig's List

Ready to pay with no direct reference to the painting and no questions asked about it either.

The moment I hit “Send,” common sense trumped my desire to make an easy buck so I searched for the email address and name of the buyer online. My suspicions were instantly confirmed as I read of the diverse experiences other people had encountered with this Craig’s List Buyer. I was disappointed but not surprised so I tried to remove myself from the scam by notifying the fake buyer that the painting was no longer for sale. That email was ignored and I received the one below with detailed instructions:

Online Scams

My instructions from the Craig’s List scammer

As promised, the check arrived via FedEx the very next day. I was asking $989 for the painting but the check was written for a generous $2,894.65. ($989 for me plus $50 for my troubles. The difference ($1,855.65) was to be wired to the “shipper.” I wanted to cash it as an experiment (okay, I’ll admit, out of greed) but I knew better.

Craig's List Scam

Overnight FedEx packaging with check


Fraudulent Check

This is the check I received

I put the check aside planning to write about it in the future and then I got the email below:

Craig's List Fraud

I know you have the check, please wire me the amount over cost of painting.

Wow!  Talk about tenacious and good follow-up! I reminded myself I had lots of other things to do and this scam was not worthy of my time. I wanted to assume what was obvious to me would be obvious to others but I knew this scam wouldn’t still be going on if that was the case so I pushed my other tasks aside to investigate further. I called my local police department but there were no cyber detectives on duty. It would have been nice to hand everything over to them but I correctly suspected they didn’t have the manpower to follow up on the countless online scams occurring these days. Furthermore, I had not suffered any damage from the scam so there was no incentive to take it on. But I wanted more than that from the police department so I continued to ask questions. The policewoman explained they were aware of the scam and she advised me to cut off all contact. She said some people cashed the checks and sent the extra funds as requested but once their banks became aware of the fraud, they become liable for the funds provided by the bank.

Next I called my bank because I assumed checks such as these could be deposited with a hold but I doubted they could be cashed on the spot. I was wrong. Unless the check instantly showed up in their system as a fraudulent check, Craig’s List sellers could walk out with cash and their bank account would serve as collateral. My bank explained that they process checks at the end of the day and if they determined a check was fraudulent after I’d cashed it, I’d be responsible for the full amount. Darn! No such thing as a free lunch and getting greedy on Craig’s List clearly comes with risks!

So, per the policewoman’s suggestion, I will avoid further contact with the scammer. I wish we didn’t have to be so careful about every single thing we do online these days but that’s today’s reality. Please share this article with friends and family that use Craig’s List and if you have related experiences, please share those too. If we get the word out together, I’d like to think less people will fall prey to these prolific scams and it will become less worthwhile for these criminals to commit these crimes. That said, the reality is we need to always watch out for ourselves online.

Until next time,… Stay Cyber Safe.

14 replies
  1. Marilou
    Marilou says:

    Im so mad and dissapointed, that I am too a victim, I was giving this person a benefit of a daught that she is saying the truth. Im just trying to rent my room out, Im asking the first and last month to move in. Total $1600 but instead received a check for $3500. She want me to send $1400 to a car dealership so they can ship her car to Washington state.
    I tried to go to check and cash place, the teller said she needs to verify, there’s no phone number on the check. So I checked online for the phone number, because of time difference they are close.
    I went to my bank, a person was locking the door, so I asked him if I could ask him a quick question. Showed him the check and asked him if he thinks the check is real? He said first of all nothing is written in the memo, any company usually write something in the memo. Second it’s an out of state check.
    I emailed her a rent application, which she hasn’t send me.
    What should I do with the check?

    • Hayley Kaplan
      Hayley Kaplan says:

      Hi Marilou,
      The scam is a very common scam. You are lucky you did not deposit the check and then send the balance to the dealership because the check will definitely bounce. The bank will cash it and release the funds to you but you would be responsible for the full amount after the check bounces. So, you should just throw away the check and not waste any more of your time.

      To weed out scammers, try direct people who reach out to you to Skycount.com to get an ID verification before you go any further. This free service will verify a person is who they say they are and scammers will probably not take the time to go any further. The site will have a FAQ and a “How it works” section that should answer any questions you have. As always, when dealing with buying/selling/renting etc online, if it looks to good to be true, it probably is too good to be true.

  2. Dana
    Dana says:

    Hi Hayley:

    Very interesting article and scary what’s lurking out there in cyber space. There is a similar scam that has been tried in the psychology world where someone contacts the psychologist from another country saying that they will be coming to LA fo a short period of time and want to set up therapy treatment. They pick times and dates and then send a check for more than the treatment costs and then want the psychologist to depost the cash and hold the extra for them when they come.

  3. Christy Garrett @ Uplifting Families
    Christy Garrett @ Uplifting Families says:

    Thank you for sharing this story. Did your bank find out if it was a fraudulent check or not? I would have alerted the authorities in hopes of finding the scammers. I agree if it sounds too good to be true, then it really is. After all why would someone else want you to wire money if it wasn’t a scam, this is a fairly old trick. 🙁

    • Hayley Kaplan
      Hayley Kaplan says:

      I tried to contact the bank listed on the check and the phone numbers I located online had issues. It appears the bank name is not quite legitimate – Is National City Bank supposed to be City National Bank or Citibank? I plan to take the check into my local bank to see if it is easily identified as fraudulent or not and I’ll post an update in a reply to this comment after I do that. After reading your comment I’ve decided I will send the emails and the check to the cyber crime division of the FBI although I don’t have high hopes that they will do anything about it – especially since I had no financial losses. Thanks for your input, Christy.

  4. Faye
    Faye says:

    Wow Hayley! This all sounds so scary. I can’t believe how they even come up with these innovative way of scam plots!
    Thanks for sharing.

    • Hayley Kaplan
      Hayley Kaplan says:

      For me it’s more frustrating than scary. Between increasing loss of privacy and increasing cyber crimes and cyber scams, we have to be more careful than ever before. Thanks for commenting, Faye.

  5. Linda Feferman
    Linda Feferman says:

    Wow, Hayley. For you almost to get scammed.
    I’m sending it on to a friend of mine who regularly deals art on Craig’s List, although these scammers I’m sure are not too picky on what type of items to pull a scam on.

    Is it also safe to assume that if the scammers’ note uses tortured English that that should serve as some kind of alert to at least check further?

    All well here. Just finished a feature length film script which I’ll raise money for over the winter. You?


    • Hayley Kaplan
      Hayley Kaplan says:

      Hi Linda,
      It’s been a while – good to hear from you. You are right in assuming that they’re not picky on the items for the scam. The check was for my oil painting but I got a similar email on 4 chairs I had listed. The tactic was slightly different but the email was the same.
      Congratulations on your script and wishing you great success on the fundraising.
      – Hayley

    • Hayley Kaplan
      Hayley Kaplan says:

      I know people that have had lots of success on Craig’s List. Believe it or not we found a perfect college roommate on Craig’s list for my son. Adrian,if you have a spare moment and are willing to share your lesson, I’d be very interested to know more details. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

      • Adrian Gordon
        Adrian Gordon says:

        hmm. I guess it really depends on what you are trying to achieve with it. I, like you, have also heard of others having success with it but I personally have not (far from it).

        When I just started to write (freelance)for money
        my friend suggested that craigslist was a great place to get my feet wet. Needless to say (three scams later), I would to beg to differ.

        Actually, now that I think about it, It is actually a pretty interesting story.

        Hayley, do you accept guest posts on this blog?

        • Hayley Kaplan
          Hayley Kaplan says:

          I’d be interested in hearing about the 3 scams you encountered, Adrian. If your experiences fall within the topic ranges discussed on my blog and if others can benefit from hearing about them, I’d be happy to have you as a guest author. What-is-privacy.com brings up current problems and provides solutions related to Social Media, Internet and Technology – your Craig’s List Scams sound like they qualify.


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