How can you avoid some common Craigslist & PayPal scams?

As selling your used stuff online has become commonplace, so have scams taking advantage of people by using the names of reputable online companies.

Here are some of the most common PayPal scams out there so you can play it safe — especially if you’re selling large items (refrigerator, furniture, car, boat, RV) that the seller wants to pick up locally.

Adapted from an article by Christina Tusan – Attorney, FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection

Tips that someone’s trying to steal from you or rip you off

One reader writes: “Within an hour of posting our RV for sale on Craigslist, we got a text from a deaf woman who wanted to buy it as a gift for her son at asking price, sight unseen, via PayPal. We texted her back to say we’d take a cashier’s check only, and that we won’t sell it to anyone sight unseen.

“She wrote back that her job and disability kept her from coming to see it or go to the bank, but she’s ready to pay right now — and if he doesn’t have a PayPal account, it’s really easy to set one up.”

Sadly, this type of scenario isn’t uncommon. What’s really going on? It’s often a ruse to steal your personal information, money and/or merchandise.

The scam generally goes like this: You post a high-value item, like a used car, for sale online — such as on Craigslist. In no time at all, you get an email from a buyer willing to pay full price — or more! They don’t even need to see the item in person.

However, he or she sets conditions: they are only willing to pay by PayPal, and/or insists the sale must happen right away.

A note about using Paypal to sell to local buyers

An important note to begin: PayPal is a reliable service — but only for certain types of transactions.

Some key points from the PayPal terms: Seller Protection doesn’t apply to items picked up locally or in person.

To qualify for Seller Protection, whatever you’re selling must be a physical, tangible item that can be shipped and you must ship to the address on the Transaction Details page — and you must have proof of shipment.

These rules also mean that intangible items, such as services and downloads/digital goods, are not covered.

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How to avoid some common Craigslist & PayPal scams

Here are a few of the suspicious situations to look for and steps to safe selling online:

PayPal scam scenario 1:

The buyer claims he can only pay via PayPal. Don’t have a PayPal account? No problem, he says. He’ll send you an email with a link so you can set one up.

What should you do? Don’t take the bait. The link will send you to a website masquerading as PayPal. Any information you enter will be collected by the bogus buyer, and may be used to commit fraud. If you need to set up an account, go directly to

PayPal scam scenario 2:

“Check your email!” The buyer claims he has sent payment to your PayPal account with additional funds so you can ship the merchandise ASAP… but oops — he sent too much money. He asks you to return the extra money via a money wiring service. If the buyer claims to have sent extra money, and asks for some back, that’s a big red flag that you’re being played.)

It’s all a lie.

What should you do? Log into your PayPal account. Make sure you’ve been paid before you ship. Never click or follow links in emails from people you don’t know.

The safest approach is to open a new browser window, navigate to, and log in yourself.

PayPal scam scenario 3:

The buyer sends you real money through a real PayPal account, and you ship him the car. Problem is — as you find out later — the account belongs to someone else!

You might need to return the money — even though the scammer has your wheels.

What to do if you’ve been scammed

Contact PayPal and ask them to open an investigation, and file a complaint with the FTC and your local police department. Then, if you can bring yourself to do it, tell your friends and family about what happened. Hopefully, you can help keep the same thing from happening to them.

Newer scams: Don’t pay for things with gift cards

If someone calls you with something for sale, urgent news or a convincing story, and then pressures you to pay them with a gift card — like an iTunes, Google Play, Steam, Kroger, Walgreens, BestBuy, Amazon, CVS or Rite Aid gift card –and then tells you to give them the codes on the back of the card, stop. It’s almost certainly a scam.

These cards are like giving cash – and that money is practically untraceable, unless you are lucky enough to be able to act immediately.

The FTC says that as of 2018, gift cards are the number one payment method that imposters demand. They might pose as IRS officials and say you’re in trouble for not paying taxes; or a family member with an emergency; or a public utility company threatening to shut off your water; or even a servicemember selling something before deployment.

They might even call with great news – you’ve won a contest or a prize! But to get it, you need to pay fees with a gift card.

Scammers will say anything to get your money. And they know how to play into your good nature, desire to help, hopes, fears and sympathies. They like gift cards because, once they’ve got the code on the back, the money is gone and almost impossible to trace.

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If you bought a gift card and lost money to a scammer, immediately contact the company who issued the card. Call or email iTunes, Target, Amazon or whatever merchant it was from, and tell them that one or more of their gift cards were used in a scam.

Have all of the code numbers available. If you act quickly enough, they might be able to stop the redemption and get you your money back.

Bottom line: If someone says that to get money or payment you have to first give them money — or merchandise or a gift card or your car — it’s a scam.

How can you avoid some common Craigslist and PayPal scams

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4 Responses

  1. Yeah I’ve had a few of these scammers try to rip me off, I’ve always followed the rule when it sounds to good to be true it deffintly is, no ones going to pay higher asking price and shipping.

  2. Example of scam (I received this email in response to my craigslist (I didn’t do this!)

    Thanks for your response, I am sorry I am not available to view due to the nature of my job, I am in the United States Army and serve as a CBRN Specialist (74D). I want to buy this for my Son as a Birthday Surprise gift and he doesn’t know about it, .I am currently deployed wont be back till November. What is your asking price? and if you don’t mind, I can only pay through PayPal at the moment because its the most secure way to make or receive payment online this is why I’ll prefer using PayPal to pay you, all I need is your PayPal email to make the payment and if you don’t have a PayPal account, its pretty easy to set up at I also have a few questions for you.

    Whats its condition, any damages? Are you the original owner and Why are you selling it?
    and last asking price?

    I hope you consider my offer. I am ready to buy, so you can take the add off .
    I’ll have a courier person come for pick up and storage after I make payment and money is in your
    hand. Thanks for understanding, hope to read from you soon

  3. I had one of these scammers try to do exactly what is described relating to Craigslist. I had a high priced item posted for an hour maybe two and someone from Illinois area code wanted to pay full price for my item. Then proceeded to ask if I had a PayPal account, and wanted to be sent item one day priority mail USPS. Spent more interest and energy on how they wanted me to ship my item to them and wanted it quickly too. I read this information on this site and wss floored. I immediately texted this scammer back stating I was sorry but hava a local buyer paying cash and not in such a rush to make the transaction. I received no reply to the text. A legitimate buyer would have been disappointd and let me know that if the deal didn’t happen with local buyer that they were still interested. I am so glad I found this blog before I did anything with this scammer.

  4. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!!!!!!

    I almost just got scammed. Posted a high priced item and was contacted almost immediately, offered asking price and was going to send an additional $450 for their agent’s fees. So the agent is supposed to come and pick up the item. They are paying me through paypal but wanted me to wire the extra 400 ($50 was for the wiring fees) via money gram to the “agent”. No thank you!!!!!!

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