How to Avoid Fake Ads on Craigslist

By Geoff Whiting

Scammers often target Craigslist to steal bank and personal information.
i Creatas/Creatas/Getty Images

Craigslist is a treasure trove of jobs, apartments, goods for sale and even potential dates, but not all of the people posting ads on Craigslist have the best intentions. The service struggles with fake advertisements that are hoping to get your email account, personal information or even your money. To parse out the good, safe bets from the potential scams, you’ll need to be on your toes and keep your wits about you.

Always Stay Local

Craigslist staff suggests you only deal with local advertisers in order to avoid the large amount of scams and fake ads on its site. Dealing locally gives you a chance to physically view any goods you’re purchasing or inspect property you’re interested in. Staying local also applies to personal ads you may want to answer -- stick to areas you’re comfortable with and initially meet in public spaces. Requesting an in-person meeting with other people around is a smart initial move for verifying any Craigslist ad, including personals.

Cash Is King

Potential scams on Craigslist can also be found out by looking at the preferred payment of the vendor. If someone is asking you to pay through a money wiring service like Western Union or MoneyGram and doesn’t want to take cash or a personal check, Craigslist’s staff says you should completely avoid this ad because it is likely a fake. The site recommends that you don’t use any third-party payment or escrow service and notes that it does not handle any payments, so ads saying they use Craigslist as a money holder are also likely scams.

Use Common Sense

If it looks too good to be true, it probably is. Exercise your common sense when it comes to Craigslist ads, but also heed any instincts you have that say something isn’t right. A legitimate business won’t be shy about telling you who they are in a job advertisement. Postings that provide very little information and then ask you to click a link are also troubling because they can either link to malware or are simply hoping to drive traffic to a website without providing you any true service.

Personals Safety

Craigslist is infamous for its personals, both the sections looking for dates or friends and the sections discussing more explicit activities. Craigslist personals are often used for prostitution, and the police even use them to bust prostitution rings, so avoid posts featuring explicit photos and that ask you to call a phone number to meet someone. Again, stick to your common sense and always meet people in public spaces -- meeting for a casual encounter at a stranger's home or hotel room can put you in significant danger. People have been killed when responding to Craigslist ads.

Avoid Random Words

If an ad looks pretty good but you’re still uncertain, check the posting for strings of words that don’t fit, either because of sentence structure or because they’re a list that doesn’t apply to the ad. These sets of words are often used to avoid spam filters that Craigslist employs, and legitimate posts won’t need this string. This is the same tactic that many email scams rely on in hopes of beating a spam filter.