Craigslist: “Dirty Little Secrets”

The Pitfalls of Using Craigslist

Craigslist is a classified advertisements website where people sell everything from clothes to furniture, even cars.

It can be a great way to turn your things back into cash. But if you don’t know what you’re doing or who you’re dealing with, it can be a great place to get taken by thieves.

Nancy Oliver of Onalaska felt lucky when she found out she could pick up a china cabinet for free to display all her keepsakes. But first, she had to get rid of her old china hutch and thought she would try Craigslist for the first time to find a buyer.

“We put it on Craiglist for $250,” said Nancy.

So after a couple clicks on her tablet, she had what appeared to be a legitimate offer. “And so this gentleman had e-mailed me and said he was interested in it.”

But for whatever reason he didn’t want to say where he was from.

Oliver said, “A big red flag, but then when he said he was going to send a cashier’s check, come certified mail, those are all things that you think are going to be good.”

And the next day, Nancy got an express package in the mail with the check that was promised. However, she only asked $250 for the old hutch, but the check they sent was for $1,530.

“Why would anyone send that much money? Because he wanted me to cash the check, take my $250 for myself for the china cabinet. So what I was supposed to do is cash the check, call the movers, send them the money and they were going to come and get the china cabinet, although now I doubt they were going to come and get the china cabinet,” said Nancy.

“We always say overpayment is fraud for sure. And never send any money back and we always recommend going cash, never check,” said Mary Isaacs the CFO at Altra Federal Credit Union.

In fact, Altra has seen a lot of this kind of fraud through these Craigslist transactions, it actually has a fraud department dedicated to scrutinizing these bad checks so their customers don’t get taken.”

“When I look at this check, to me it seems like it’s a bonafide check, it’s got all the printing on the back ,it looks real to me and has verified authenticity. I just thought it was a good check,” said Nancy.

To the untrained eye, it does look authentic. But to someone who sees these all the time, there are some signs this one is fraudulent

“One of the things our fraud department mentioned is this kind of paper is used in a lot of fraudulent checks. So this one would be suspicious just for that. And this mark here, if you blow on it or put heat on it, it should fade,” said Isaacs.

And even though Nancy thought a cashier’s check made her buyer seem legit. Fraud experts say that’s just not the case anymore.

“A cashier’s check, a lot of people think those are as good as gold and we know they can be altered, they can be stolen and so they’re not always good. And we also always say Western Union is not a good way to send money either, I mean they’re a great company, but the problem is on the other end, the person can be anonymous and scammers like to be anonymous,” said Isaacs.

And making sure you get paid for your property isn’t the only thing at risk, the other one is your safety. That’s why communities like Holmen have just recently set-up “Safe Zones” to give people a place to make these exchanges safely.

“You see a lot of different stories of items that happen on Craigslist when people meet, whether it’s from an extreme case of homicide or just somebody trying to rip you off. It’s a secure location, it’s well lit, we’ve got a security camera out there, hopefully it helps people feel safe and secure,” said Holmen Police Chief Shane Collins.

And it’s a good idea not to go by yourself whether you are the buyer or seller.

In the end, Nancy did find a buyer for her hutch. She says she’s glad she has this new cabinet to keep all her favorite things, and if she ever uses Craigslist again, “But if I do I’m for sure going to say it has to be cash and local.”

And finally, Isaacs wanted to reinforce not giving people you are buying from or selling to any personal information, like bank account numbers.

She herself uses Craigslist and also insists on cash and only deals with locals.