How to avoid some common Craigslist & PayPal scams

As selling your used stuff online has become commonplace, so have scams taking advantage of the good 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 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! But he sets conditions: he is only willing to pay by PayPal, or insists the sale must happen right away.

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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, the 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. (This also means that intangible items, such as services and downloads/digital goods, are not covered.)

Here are some 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.)

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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.

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