Is Craigslist Safe?

Last updated: August 17, 2015 - 4:10pm EDT

Is Craigslist safe?

The best answer that we can give to that question is "yes, if you know how to use it properly". 

The thing about Craigslist is that it's not like more conventional e-commerce websites, where the company that owns the website facilitates the transactions and can step in if a dispute arises.  Instead, Craigslist is merely a website for posting advertisements about items and services to be bought or sold.  The exact details of the transaction have to be worked out by the buyer and seller on their own.

This unfortunately means that Craigslist is much more prone to scams than websites such as Amazon or eBay.  On the bright side, Craigslist does have a series of guidelines that can help you spot people attempting fraudulent activity, and avoid them in favour of people who are looking to deal fair and square.  We've made detailed summaries of the 5 most important guidelines below.

Top 5 Craigslist safety tips

1. Always deal as personally as you can, and as close to home as you can.

Craigslist pegs this as its #1 safety tip for using the website.  Insist on meeting all buyers or sellers in person; nearly all of the scams that occur on Craigslist involve an impersonal (and often long-distance) transaction over email or text message.  This could include filling out a fake check, or sending a money order for a product or service that doesn't exist.  Also, whether posting advertisements as a seller or looking for items as a buyer, stick to doing so on Craigslist sub-sites for cities or areas that you know relatively well.  This gives you the advantage of knowing whether a deal is taking place in a bad part of town or not, as well as knowing where to go for help if something goes wrong.

Also, remember to take common-sense precautions when meeting face-to-face with Craigslist users with whom you want to do business, especially for the first time.  Meet in a crowded, open area, as opposed to a secluded place such as your home.  You may even want to meet somewhere where there are authority figures nearby (such as at a police station) in case something goes wrong.  Tell someone where you're going and what you're doing, and bring a mobile phone so that you can get in touch with them if need be.  Or, better yet, bring a friend or someone else whom you trust with you to the meeting.

2. Never trust third parties to verify your Craigslist transactions for you.

Some buyers or sellers may try to reassure you during a transaction by claiming that Craigslist or a third party has accredited them as a certified legitimate businessperson.  They may also claim that they have a third party set up to securely handle, verify, or guarantee your transaction.  They may even send you an official-looking email allegedly from Craigslist or the third party who will be overseeing the deal.

Don't let any of these things lull you into a false sense of security.  Craigslist's policies state that transactions initiated as a result of its services are meant to between the buyer and the seller only.  This means that the person on the other end shouldn't need to have somebody else guarantee that they're dealing in good faith.  If they do, then it's a red flag that their intentions may not be honest.  And often, the alleged "guarantor" is, in reality, facilitating the scam.

3. Never accept or send money to other Craigslist users through cashier's checks or money orders.

As we mentioned in our first tip, impersonal, long-distance transactions are one of the easiest ways to get scammed on Craigslist.  Cashier's checks sent by Craigslist buyers are often fake, and sending checks or money orders to a buyer or seller whom you've never met before -- especially after they've sent you a (likely) fake one -- is the equivalent of giving away your money to a stranger.  They may not even have the item or service that you're supposedly purchasing at all.  This is why it's important to insist on meeting all potential business partners from Craigslist in person.

4. Never pay for an item or service listed on Craigslist in advance.

As we mentioned in the previous tip, this is a very easy way to get scammed, as the product or service may not even exist at all.  Always wait until you've received the item (or at least inspected it in person) before releasing payment to the seller.  This is another reason why it's important to meet the other person in your transaction face-to-face, and to not pay (or accept payment) for items or services using cashier's checks or money orders.

5. Never send personal information to a Craigslist user over email, or otherwise allow them access to it.

Some buyers or sellers on Craigslist may request things such as your address or banking information in order to write up a check for you, or otherwise process a payment.  Or, someone on Craigslist looking to hire you or allow you to rent property may request a background or credit check.

However, you should be very careful about giving out this information, especially if it is asked for over email or text message.  Again, insist on meeting the person face-to-face, and work out the conditions under which you will release this information (if at all).  Otherwise, you may end up allowing a stranger to use your information to impersonate you, steal your money, or worse.


Those are some general precautions that you can take to stay safe on Craigslist.  For more information about specific scams that people attempt on Craigslist, and how to identify and avoid them, head over to our Craigslist Scams article.

For more general tips on keeping your Internet-related activities safe (both online and off), visit our Internet Safety course.  We recommend looking specifically at the articles in the "Email Safety" and "Safety Tips for the World Wide Web" sections.


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