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Avoid online classifieds scams

Avoid online classifieds scams

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  • Stay local. Craigslist and other online classifieds markets are designed to be local, which is why the site is divided into regional and city-specific listings. Never do business with anyone in another state or country or anyone who makes a lot of excuses about why they can't meet you in person. Scammers frequently lie about being missionaries, being in the military, taking care of a sick elderly relative, or working for a multinational corporation to "explain" why they’re abroad.  Don't believe their stories. 
  • Avoid gift cards, wire transfers, cashier's checks, and money orders as payment methods.  Also avoid P2P payments such as Zelle, Venmo, and others unless you know the seller and can trust them. It's a huge red flag if someone wants to send or receive payment through the mail or via mobile apps. Anyone who suggests a wire transfer (like Western Union or MoneyGram), a cashier’s check or a money order is most likely trying to scam you.  When you conduct a transaction using one of these methods, you’re not protected if things go south. If you’re buying an item that proves to be defective (or even nonexistent), you won’t be able to get your money back after it’s sent.  Also, if you accept a cashier's check or money order as payment for a sale and it doesn’t clear, you will be held liable to pay your bank or credit union the full amount — plus any fees. Even worse, you may even face legal problems.
  • Cash is the only secure currency for online marketplace transactions. If you're dealing with a large amount of money and the buyer or seller isn’t comfortable handling so much cash in a public place, meet at a bank or credit union and make the transaction inside the building. The money can be withdrawn and then deposited right there in the bank or credit union.
  • Be cautious when using online escrow. Be cautious when the buyer or seller wants to use an online escrow service. Many scammers use fake escrow sites that may look like the real thing. Watch out for red flags such as poor spelling and domain spoofing. Never send financial information online unless the website displays a secure "https://" URL.
  • Don't commit without seeing goods in person. You might end up with an item that’s broken, not as described or doesn’t exist at all. 
  • If you’re selling, be very cautious of a buyer who is eager to purchase your items sight unseen. This is a big flag, especially if you’re selling something really valuable. One common Craigslist scam involves a "buyer" who sends you a money order or cashier's check, which is much higher than the agreed-upon price because they "made a mistake." The scammer asks you to deposit it and send them the price difference via Western Union. After you've wired the money, the bank or credit union discovers it's a counterfeit check and you're responsible for paying it. By then, your own money is long gone.
  • Don't fall for job scams. If you're looking for a job on Craigslist, you should be very careful about anyone who's willing to hire you without an interview. Even if you’re applying for jobs that involve telecommuting, research the company just to be safe. Make sure they have a physical location near you and visit their offices before you provide any private information for a credit/background check.  Never accept a job on any online classifieds website for secret shopping, international shipping management, foreign financial transfers, survey-taking, anything that requires you to pay money, or anything that simply involves "working from home" without going into greater detail. These types of "jobs" are almost always a scam.
  • Use a counterfeit detection pen. A counterfeit detection pen will allow you to find out if someone is trying to pay you in phony bills. These pens use a special iodine ink that changes color when applied to wood-based paper (real money is printed on fiber-based paper used exclusively by the government). You can find counterfeit detection pens at most office supply stores, or online, for around $5.
  • Most online marketplaces do not certify listings. Sites like Craigslist have no verification or screening process for transactions. If anyone claims to be "certified" or "guaranteed" by Craigslist, they're almost certainly trying to scam you. Scammers frequently lie to get you to trust them.  There is no such thing as "Craigslist buyer protection," "Craigslist seller certification" or "Craigslist payment services." Avoid anyone who uses these phrases or similar language on any online site.
  • Research the buyer or seller. Search for their name, email address, business, or any other personal information they’ve provided. If this person has ever scammed anyone (or attempted to scam anyone) using the same information, it’s probably been reported online.  Just remember that scammers often use many different aliases.  
  • Don't give out personal information. When you sell online, don't include any personal information (name, address, phone number) in your public listing. No one needs to know anything about you unless they're buying whatever you’re selling.  Then, after you’ve agreed to the transaction, it’s unlikely that you’ll need to share more than your phone number. 
  • For extra protection, create a free disposable phone number using Google Voice:  When conducting business online, there are some circumstances where you may need to give out your phone number. Sign up for Gmail and get a free Google Voice number, which you can use to forward calls to your cell phone or landline. You'll be able to give this secondary number to someone you meet online without revealing your primary contact info. Then, if something goes wrong, you’ll be able to block them or just drop the Google number. It’s an easy way to protect your privacy and your existing phone lines.
  • Never invite the buyer to your home unless it’s absolutely necessary. If they need to come to your home to pick up a large piece of furniture, for example, move the furniture to your front lawn or open garage and don’t let them inside. Make sure you're not home alone and tell your neighbors you're expecting a buyer.
  • Trust your instincts. Always follow your instincts. If something seems like it's not right, or someone makes you uncomfortable for any reason, just walk away.

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