Scammers are using Craigslist.org, and similar websites, along with fake escrow websites to con people into buying high-value items that never arrive. Major items are susceptible to this scam, including used cars, boats, electronics and appliances.
Prices are often lower than average. Sellers may offer the excuse that they inherited the unneeded item from a relative who has died, or a similar story. They will insist on using an escrow company to handle the transfer of money and title or deed and the shipping logistics. The escrow company has a website that looks official. But once the buyer has paid and filled out the forms, the company and seller stop responding and disappear.
The Better Business Bureau offers the following tips to avoid scams on Craigslist.org and other websites providing online classified ads for sellers and buyers:
• Focus on local, cash deals. You can meet the seller and see the item for sale before purchasing. Most Craigslist scams can be thwarted this way. However, beware of sellers looking to steal the cash from an unsuspecting buyer in an in-person transaction. Consider taking one or more friends to the transaction.
• Avoid deals involving shipping or escrow services. Craigslist and other similar websites don’t offer buyer protection for transactions. Before using an escrow service, check them out at www.bbb.org or by calling (509) 455-4200.
• If a buyer or seller insists on using PayPal, consider carefully. PayPal will guarantee eBay sales but not others. Scammers have been known to hijack PayPal accounts, ask for an item to be shipped to a non-verified address, and spoof the PayPal website and emails.
• Never give out financial information.
• Be on the lookout for fake checks and money orders. Banks will accept these and then investigate legitimacy. If a check or money order is fake, you are responsible for the amount deposited in your account.
• Never wire funds or use a prepaid debit card to send money to someone you don’t know or just met. Once sent, the money is gone for good.
For more tips you can trust, visit the BBB Consumer News and Opinion Blog at www.bbb.org/blog/.
By Erin T. Dodge, BBB editor