You use Craigslist and are wondering how to identify a craigslist scammer. Let me share our own craigslist scam experience, and tips for protecting yourself.

young woman with black glasses staring at laptop with text overlay "how do you identify a craigslist scammer?"We've dabbled in selling things on Craigslist over the years, and have become really good at how to identify a Craigslist scammer.

Mostly because — people have tried to scam us directly!

I want to share with you a real Craigslist scam we played out (yes — we continued to play along with the scam so that I could write about it to educate people on how it works!), as well as what to do if you've been scammed on Craigslist, and how to avoid getting scammed on Craigslist altogether.

Add this to the Craigslist Scammer List – Our Experience

We’ve been scammed!

Thank goodness we did not send any money.

It started innocently enough: we listed our item on Craigslist (we were trying to sell my beater car — hint, if you're trying to sell a beater car, you should go through Peddle.com) at a starting price of $500. I expected to snag a few interested buyers before zeroing in on the one who would play the negotiation dance to a price we could both agree on.

There was one interested buyer the first day, but nothing materialized.

And then she came along – the Craigslist Scammer, Mary Hudson.

My first impression was that the name was very platonic and American-sounding…almost contrived. Her first email to me was very cordial and normal. In good textbook grammar and English she asked if the item was still available. When I responded that it was, several hours later she wrote again to say she wanted to know its condition. Once I responded, the trouble began. Her next email to me was not the Mary I had grown to love; it was blemished with a few small but distinct grammatical errors and smelled of secondhand English (this would have been fine, except that her first email was impeccable — by her English becoming worse and worse, it indicated that she had used a form email in our beginning discussions to try to appear to be someone who she is not). Perhaps it was written in an excited slurry of typing? Second red flag: why was a shipping company involved? Turns out Mary lives in New Hampshire.

Response Email, 6/14/2011: “Thank you very much for the response. I will be happy to buy it. Note that you will not be responsible for shipping and handling. My shipping company will come to your location for pick up. Kindly provide me your name and full address so i can forward it to the shipping company to calculate the cost of pick up for me. Do get back to me as soon as possible.”

Mary was anxious to get this transaction going, but before continuing with this courtship I wanted to discuss my apprehensions with Paul. We decided that we would play along awhile longer because it could still be a real deal at this point. We gave her our address, as this is a necessity for the shipping company but also for anyone completing this item as they had to come and pick it up from us. However, I did not give her my last name. I also gave her the stipulation that she needed to pay in full, having cleared the bank, before her shipping company was allowed on our property. Her grammar and English continued to worsen from there.

These terms were satisfactory to her and she reassured me that she would pay through PayPal because it is fast and secure. Paul and I still wanted to entertain this further, but we both felt something was not right so we took precautions by setting up a brand new PayPal account just for our Mary. We figured we would never hear from her again because she would hack the account and figure out that our credit cards and bank account were not connected with it. However, the scam continued in a different way.

The next email we received was from ®[email protected] and [email protected]. The email stated that we had received a PayPal payment of “$900:00 USD” from Mary Hudson, and that a temporary hold had been placed on the transaction in order to protect both buyer and seller from online fraud (ha!).

The email went on to explain that this was a new PayPal Payment policy. We were advised to go to the nearest Western Union Office and send $400 USD (the cost of the buyer’s shipper’s pick up fees) to the Transport Agent (a man in Maryland). PayPal would release the funds to our account once they received a scanned copy of the Western Union receipt.

Seriously — I could not make this up if I tried.

Our next email came from “Shipping Agent”, who “specialize in looking after your belongings by securely packing them with our unique export packing system, offering full marine insurance which is underwritten by Royal & Sun Alliance.” Apparently they had successfully calculated the shipping costs: lo and behold, they came out to $400 USD. All we need to do is send that money to that man in Maryland, and they would pick up the unit. We also received a plea from “the president of PayPal” to send this money (he referred to himself in the email as Mr. Richard Wright and signed the email as Scott Thompson). After several hours of us not sending this money, we got one more email from Mary Hudson.

Email from Mary, 6/15/2011: “Hey,what is going on over there i have made payment for the item and i haven’t hear anything back from you concerning the Western Union Money Transfer Please i will like to know what is going on because i am taking the step to contact the Authorities for there investigation on this transaction because i am getting worried,and i hope i have not gotten scam by you i will not accept this and PayPal and the Authority will be aware of this if you fail to get back to me now to know what is going on,i will urge you to go and made the transfer now so the transaction can be completed.waiting for your urgent reply..”

Too bad for you Mary. It seems the tables have turned and we are turning you into the authorities.

The next day, we reported “Mary” to the PayPal Fraud Department.

How do You Know if You're Getting Scammed on Craigslist?

My naiveté that all people are good coupled with our eagerness to sell this item led me to give out more information than I should have. Fortunately, we had enough sense to put safeguards into place, as well as to check our PayPal account for ourselves to verify what was going on. Did these people honestly think I would send them $400 by Western Union?

There were several clues that added to my initial gut instinct about this transaction.

  • Clue #1: She did not formally capitalize her name
  • Clue #2: After I was interested in her as a buyer, she responded almost instantaneously; I type incredibly fast but there is no way I could have responded that quickly without using a form email
  • Clue #3: She stated twice that she would use PayPal because it is ‘a secure payment system’ (almost an admission of guilt)
  • Clue #4: Her English and grammar worsened with each email she sent (a sign that she was not who she said she was, and that she had been using form emails in the beginning correspondence)
  • Clue #5: She involved a shipping company.
  • Clue #6: She did not try to negotiate the price and was happy to pay shipping and handling fees on a very heavy item.
  • Clue #7: Mention of Western Union and money transfer. Period.
  • Clue #8: She sent more money than we asked for. Who would do that?

How to Avoid Getting Ripped Off on Craigslist

Craigslist does not appear to have a fraud department. However, they do offer tips on how to avoid scams on their website, which I’ve summarized below:

  • Only deal with people locally (not in New Hampshire, like in my case, when I live in Texas)
  • Only deal in cash
  • Never wire funds
  • Fake cashier checks and Moneygrams are common and if they are discovered weeks later, you will still be held accountable by your bank
  • You will not see an email from a Craigslist person so if you do, it is an impersonation
  • Never give out financial information
  • No transactions are guaranteed (if someone guarantees a transaction, take it as a red flag)
  • Avoid transactions that involve shipping and escrow services
  • Do not purchase or rent things sight unseen
  • Do not submit to credit checks or background checks

Pssst: don't forget you can get scammed by text, too! Here's more information on text spamming and how to report it. Also, beware of the Vehicle Car Wrap scam, which can occur on Craigslist, through text, or by email.

Is it Safe to Reply to Craigslist Email?

You might be wondering if it's safe to reply to a Craigslist Email. Well…that depends on whether or not you're talking to an actual person or to a Craigslist scammer.

The good news is that Craigslist has a way to combat scammers and protect both sellers AND buyers (that's you) by encrypting your email address (as long as you fill it out right).

A seller or poster on Craigslist has protection against others seeing their email address by giving them an encrypted email address that then forwards to their personal address. That's why you will see all seller addresses look something like this [email protected]

But what about you – can Craigslist sellers (and possible scammers) see YOUR actual email address?

Not with Craigslist's encrypted solution. HOWEVER, that does not mean that the scammer can't get your information. Let me explain.

How to Reply to Craigslist Email Anonymously

When you reply to a Craigslist posting by copying/pasting the reply email they give you, or by clicking one of the buttons, YOUR email will be encrypted and will look something like this to the seller: [email protected]

That's great!

BUT, what if you have an email signature, or what if your email provider automatically populates your name to recipients? Then, you will likely pass on some of your personal information.

Craigslist themselves say,

“The “real name” field (e.g. Jane Doe) in your email program is passed through to the recipient. Any contact information in the body of your message will pass through unaltered.”

This means that you'll want to delete your email signature after it automatically populates into your email (if you use an email signature), and you'll want to make sure your “real name” field in your email service provider only has your first name and not your middle or last name.

Another solution to avoid this altogether? If you shop on Craigslist frequently, then you'll want to sign up for a free email account that will automatically hide your email address. Here are several good options plus instructions for how to do this.

How to Report a Craigslist Scammer – I Got Scammed on Craigslist, What are My Options?

What to do after being scammed on craigslist? It's a great idea to report craigslist scammers (and any scammers) to help the authorities — whether that's the website they're using, the internet, the police, the government, etc. — try to catch them.

You don't want other's lives devastated because of these people.

Here's how to report a craigslist scammer to the proper people:

Have you ever been a victim of a scam? What happened? Did you lose anything?

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Amanda L. Grossman is a Certified Financial Education Instructor, Plutus Foundation Grant Recipient, and founder of Frugal Confessions. Over the last 10 years, her money work helping people with how to save money and how to manage money has been featured in Kiplinger, Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report, Business Insider, LifeHacker, Woman's World, Woman's Day, ABC 13 Houston, Keybank, and more. Read more here.
42 replies
  1. AVR
    AVR says:

    I’ll tell you – this is what I do:

    I am (to a fault, admittedly) huge on justice for things like this. It burns me that people would take advantage of the less informed or desperate like this, so I string them along as long as possible when they contact me – I figure the longer I waste their time, the less time they have to scam others.

    I use google voice and alternate email addresses, so they don’t get my real information, and I am very careful to be as vague as possible while continuing the conversation.

    I’m in the middle of one right now, shipping fraud, and I’ve actually got my “lawyer” involved (alternate google voice number) because I’ve charged the other party “Laurel” (no last name) with breech of contract. For some reason they are still communicating and trying to “smooth it over, all I have to do is agree to cash their check for the moving company”

    Asinine.

    It’s quite entertaining.

    Reply
  2. Mel
    Mel says:

    Thank you for your story. My husband and I use Craigslist all the time to either sell items or looking for an apartment/house, it wasn’t until recently I have noticed multiple emails or texts about someone being interested in “your item” wanting to pay with either personal checks or bank checks. When we email or write back for cash deals only they discontinue communicating. My husband and I know better then to deal with anything but cash when selling an item and when it comes to apartment finding we avoid posts without pictures of the properties interior and exterior. It is sad that there is no filter for scammers and protection for honest people.

    Reply
  3. Jeff
    Jeff says:

    Thanks for the great information! I got the same e-mail, almost word-for word for a craigslist post. Your post helped me decide not to engage this person. This time the sender was Amanda Latrisha Collins offering a Cashiers Check and a mover to pick up a small boat motor. And yes, the English and typing got worse each e-mail. email address given was: [email protected] .

    Reply
  4. Judy
    Judy says:

    I have been applying for jobs on Craig’s List and I got an email from a Mary Madamski wanting a personal assistant and she says that she will pay me $40.00 an hour. She is an artist and travels a lot but she needs some information from me and she gives me a list of questions. I have gotten 3 of those emails today but all from different people. Each one of them is worded about the same. I know it is a scam, seems kinda of stupid on their part…I mean who wants somebody’s information that isn’t even working, obviously I don’t have money!!!

    Reply
  5. Michael
    Michael says:

    Heres one I played around with knowing it was to good to be true. About a month ago i was looking for a job on craigslist and I seen a posting looking for warehouse/manager position. The job was to be local and send out supplies for the people on safari. I did my research. They did have a website. The info on it was the same. I looked a little deeper and seen another website these scammers were piggy backing from. I let the ligit website know their site was being used in a scam and i was following through so i can see where this was going.
    I responded to the craigslist post. A few day later
    I got an email telling me I was a good match for the job and I had to perform a few tasks before my interview. (There is a lot more to this story. Im skipping all the run around stuff.) In short… they sent me a cashiers check for $2700. I too had to let them know when I got the check. I did. I took it to the bank. Told them what was going on. My bank and I are real close and they truely look out for me. We photocopied the check and clearly seen it was fake. The tracking numbers came up at some bank branch it Washington. They gave me a few war stories of other customers and other scams. Thanking me for bringing it to thier attention.
    I didn’t respond to the one that sent me the check. I waited. The next day, email after email came in insisting i send the money . If i didn’t the police were going to be called. Well… i told the police about it. Gave them all of the correspondence. In the end… if you find yourself is simular situations, put all emotional thinking aside and allow logical thinking to take over. You’ll see little signs that tell you something isn’t right.

    On two occasions about a year apart from one onother i was going to buy another vehicle. I came across two more scams. They were both the same only bifferent vehicles. A woman claims she’s in the military and selling her awesome vehicle that used to belong to her now dead husband. She can’t get away because she’s in training and getting ready to be deployed overseas. She was going to have the vehicle delivered to my address. I get to test drive it for 7 days and if i liked it send her the money. Again, in short… she wanted a down deposit just in case anything happened and to help cover the costs of having it delivered.
    I can’t help but wonder how many people fall for these scams. I fill sorry for the victims mainly because they don’t any justice. Reporting them doesn’t do any good. There are to many scams and not enough resourses to presue them. The majority of these scams come from overseas where they know they won’t get any repercussions. You know the saying… If it’s to good to be true… stay sharp. Tgink logically.

    Reply
  6. Carol
    Carol says:

    Thanks for sharing! It just happened to me yesterday!
    I was selling a dining set for $700. And that same night a receive an e-mail from Nancy Michelle, claiming she was a flight attendant at AA, wanting to buy my furniture right away, sending a mover to pick up the item the next day. I gave my Paypal email and of course no payment came; instead, hours later I received a fake “you’ve got cash” email from a fake Paypal email, along with a request for freight of $580 to be sent via Money Gram. She sent me $1280 and the paypal email said that It couldn’t be released until they received the confirmation number from Money Gram. BIG SCAM!! I immediately searched on google and it seems like a lot of people receive emails from this nancy michelle. PLEASE NOTE: These emails look just like they send them from PayPal but are totally fake! Please be careful! They are still sending me emails saying that I’ll be reported to the autorities if I dont do the transfer in 24 hours. HA! Please don’t stop sharing.

    Reply
    • vicki
      vicki says:

      I had a weird feeling about a buyer for a dining set as well! Her area code was for Detroit. and I’m in California..
      “Hi, my name is Lisa, I found your listing on Craigslist, I’m very interested and would like to know the present condition. Thanks. …Thanks, am just trying to make sure its in a good condition, I would love to purchase the item, I’m satisfied with your price, and am requesting this transaction should be done via PayPal. …. I’m a Flight Attendant at AA and because I’m away most of the time I will not be able to deal in person but i have a pick up agent that will be coming for the pickup after the payment has been made and cleared.”

      so glad I came across this website!! Don’t get scammed! Cash only for craigslist!

      Reply
  7. Jacquie
    Jacquie says:

    OK, thank you very much HT and IW, because this scam continues. I knew something was up when they asked for my personal information. However, I had no idea that I was being scammed until I saw your experiences. I am glad I saw your notes, otherwise, I may have fallen prey. The new addresses are:

    “smith Rose”
    “Emmanuela Wilson”

    Thanks again for the head up. I will be reporting these to the Internet Fraud Complaint Center, if it does any good:

    http://www.ic3.gov/default.aspx

    Jacquie

    Reply
  8. IW
    IW says:

    Well, over a year later this scam is still alive! I posted an ad to craigslist, furniture, $500. Thanks, HT, for posting the email addys, as that’s how I found this article. My first email came from Stephen McIntyre [email protected] asking “for how long have you been using it?” Second from Mary Rose Wright [email protected] with the verbatim message as above. As HT said, my spidey sense was tingling! Thanks, Amanda, for posting this article!

    Reply
  9. HT
    HT says:

    Thank you for your post and warning about Mary. I posted furniture for sale last night and by this morning had VERBATIM the same messages you describe above from MARY. Only exception is the first message came from :[email protected] and then it was followed by the one from Mary at Mary Rose Wright [email protected]. (i’m including the email addresses so that someone else may find them if they do the search that I did)

    Had it not been for the “spidey senses tingling” and finding your post, I may have gone down the same path you did. I hope others find this as well. The scam must be working, or they wouldn’t still be doing it.

    Reply
  10. Alasia
    Alasia says:

    I recently was scammed on craigslist for about $800.0 for a babysitting offer. My bank told me the check had cleared when it hadn’t,and now we are held responsible for the check. Watch out!

    Reply
  11. Jacob @ My Personal Finance Journey
    Jacob @ My Personal Finance Journey says:

    Wow! It really upsets me how intricate this scam artist deals are becoming these days! The CCD camera scam I fell for several years ago involved payment using Western Union. Apparently, that is the preferred form of payment for scammers, probably because there is no way to get the money back.

    Reply
    • Amanda L. Grossman
      Amanda L. Grossman says:

      Darn…I just tried to post a comment on your 4th of July tee-shirt post. What happens (and this is what happens at work also) is I put in my name/URl, then click “post comment”, and a red dot shows up underneath the comment. When I scroll up, there are still 0 comments on the post/mine doesn’t show up.

      Sorry you are having trouble with this! You might want to post it on the Yakezie forums and ask for help from someone. They might know what is going on.

      Reply
  12. Maggie@SquarePennies
    [email protected] says:

    Thanks! I was wondering if I had just been too paranoid. I guess not.

    I don’t know why Blogger won’t let you comment. Other people have been able to leave a comment as well as linking to their blogs with it. I wonder how many others have had this problem. Very discouraging.

    Reply
    • FruGal
      FruGal says:

      Let me try to comment on your site from my home computer (the one I am now); I think I have only been trying at work. I’ll email you if it doesn’t work.

      Reply
  13. Maggie@SquarePennies
    [email protected] says:

    This is all very interesting. Someone I found via website advice was willing to perform a service to my blog. They wanted my PayPal account information before performing the service. I did nothing as I was worried about giving out PayPal info. What do you think?

    Reply
    • Amanda L. Grossman
      Amanda L. Grossman says:

      Hi Maggie! I am so glad you commented because I keep trying to comment on your blog but it does not allow me to (and I wanted to contact you and let you know this).

      As for your experience, I think it was smart because you would be paying this person money, not the other way around. So why would this person need your paypal account info? Good job!

      Reply
  14. Miss T @ Prairie Eco-Thrifter
    Miss T @ Prairie Eco-Thrifter says:

    Sorry to hear about your negative experience. I have actually never bought anything from Craig’s list before but I have considered it. Thanks for the heads up.

    Reply
  15. Car Negotiation Coach
    Car Negotiation Coach says:

    I hadn’t heard about this particular scam, but it’s scary to think there are so many unscrupulous people out there…..and i’m sure many people are not as smart as you were about this so i bet there are quite a few people that actually fall for this.

    Reply
  16. Untemplater
    Untemplater says:

    I try not to hate too many things in life but scammers are one of the few I despise. Every time I post an ad on craigslist I get at least one scam email back. Luckily I haven’t lost any money yet. And you’re exactly right – if you start a dialogue with a scammer most of the time the English will get worse and worse.

    Reply
  17. Sara
    Sara says:

    My husband fell victim to an ebay scam. For a while we had a sailboat dream. We were going to buy a sailboat and live on it and sail around and stuff. We researched floor plans and looked at all kinds of boats for sale. He bid on a sailboat and was outbid. A few days later he received a “second chance” email. He was so excited that he didn’t think logically and sent $1100 to England. Western Union. Well, we don’t have a boat, and that was many years ago.

    We are in the process of buying a house, though! Yay us! I will be utilizing a lot of the things I’ve gleaned from your blog when we move.

    Reply
    • Amanda L Grossman
      Amanda L Grossman says:

      Oh my goodness–I am so sorry to hear that! Thank you for sharing this so that others can not fall victim.

      Also, fantastic on your home! I am glad to hear that you are finding my blog useful:)

      Reply
      • Rebecca Newberry
        Rebecca Newberry says:

        The dates were different (01-24-2014)—(01-27-2014) the name was the same these people were fast they had that fake check at my door in three days.the only thing that saved me is it was an out of state check and my bank put a 10 day hold on it. I didn’t have the money to send to these scammers or I would have because I really wanted to have my truck (wrapped) please read the message posted on line and don’t send your money when ever it says to do it fast!!! Rely on your bank these scammers out of business

        Reply
  18. cashflowmantra
    cashflowmantra says:

    Very interesting. I haven’t sold anything using Craigslist yet but am thinking about it. I have a heavy item in the garage to get rid of so it is useful to know that avoiding a shipping company is a recommendation. Sounds like cash in hand is the way to go.

    Reply
    • Sloopy
      Sloopy says:

      Same thing happened to me when I was selling my sailboat. Got email asking me to confirm boat was in good condition. He’d pay full asking price and would use PayPal for funds transfer. He’d also add several thousand dollars for his agent to pick the boat up. Of course, I had to send the $3,000 to his agent in Maryland first before the PayPal funds were released to me. Seems like I got a lot of these type scam emails from that ad.

      Reply

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Frugal Moneygram Paypal | newmoneys.com says:

    […] We Were Scammed on Craigslist: How to Protect Yourself … – We’ve been scammed! Thank goodness we did not send any money. It started innocently enough: we listed our item on Craigslist at a starting price of $500…. […]

  2. […] Frugal Confessions brings us We Were Scammed on Craigslist: How to Protect Yourself from Fraud, saying, “After snagging an interested buyer, Mary Hudson, for our $500 item we listed on […]

  3. […] two years ago I published a post detailing how someone tried to scam us out of money on Craigslist. We had listed an item for sale and were approached by a buyer who was going to have their freight […]

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