Is Craigslist Safe, Reliable, and Legitimate?

We’ve told you a bit about Craigslist and how it works in our introduction to Craigslist, but you may be wondering if it’s a good idea to use it. With this article, we hope to be able to answer that question for you! We’re going to answer your questions about Craigslist’s safety, reliability, and legitimacy, and then give you some helpful safety tips for shopping on Craigslist.

How safe is Craigslist?

Craigslist is safe if you use it wisely. Pretty much anyone can post an ad on Craigslist, and unless their account or ad is flagged, or doesn’t meet Craigslist’s terms of use, they can post an ad for pretty much anything. But you should be cautious about making deals with people through Craigslist.

What about it’s reliability when making purchases?

Craigslist is reliable when it comes to always having new ads and interesting things to offer. However, the reliability of the individual ads and offers is the responsibility of the users who post listings on the site. There is always a chance that someone could be lying about their Craigslist ad.

Chat with a seller first before agreeing to pay for something so you can determine for yourself whether you think they’re reliable and trustworthy.

Overall, is Craigslist legitimate?

Craigslist is a legitimate website, and most of the ads you see on Craigslist are legit as well. Unfortunately, not all the listings on Craigslist are legitimate. Some disingenuous people post ads on Craigslist with the intention of scamming people. Be on the lookout for scams when browsing Craigslist.

Craiglist advice on common scams

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 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.

In addition, 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; better yet, bring a friend or someone else whom you trust with you to the meeting.

Craigslist personal safety advice

2. Never trust third parties to verify your transactions.

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 might 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 through 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 something 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, or 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 article that outlines common Craigslist scams.


Craigslist Review

Thinking of buying, selling, hiring, or dating close to home on Craigslist?  Before you get started, we'll give you an overview of some of the things we like and don't like about the website.

Pros

  • Put your wallet away — With a few exceptions, most advertisements on Craigslist are free to post.  This means that you aren't losing money while you're waiting to buy or sell an item.

  • Deal close to home — By default, Craigslist organizes its advertisements by geographical location, so it's easier to do business with someone who lives near you!

  • Email verification helps curb spam and scams — Craigslist requires all advertisements posted to be confirmed via a hyperlink in an email.  This makes it difficult for troublemakers to post fake advertisements en masse or while pretending to be someone else.  Craigslist also partially anonymizes your email address when dealing with potential buyers or sellers, so they don't flood you with unrelated emails.

  • Stay and have a chat — You can also simply use Craigslist to hold discussions with other users on different topics, such as beauty, celebrities, gardening, marriage, pets, and more!

Cons

  • What am I supposed to be looking at? — The simple user interface on Craigslist is overly simple; it's cramped and not very visually appealing.  This may make it difficult to navigate the website.

  • No safety net — Unlike conventional e-commerce websites, Craigslist doesn't facilitate transactions between the people who post listings and those looking to buy, rent, or hire.  This means that buyers and sellers have to work out the details of their deals on their own, and that Craigslist won't intervene if a dispute arises.  This makes Craigslist users more vulnerable to scammers, so you'll have to take extra precautions to make sure that you're getting a square deal from your opposite number.  We'll help you out with these in our Craigslist Scams article.

  • Forget me not — Craigslist doesn't have any mechanisms that allow you to easily delete your account if you want to stop using it.  Your best bet is to delete or anonymize as much information associated with your account as possible, and then contact Craigslist directly and hope that they'll be nice enough to close your account for you.

The bottom line: 7/10

The main draw of Craigslist is its simplicity and flexibility.  Most advertisements that you post on it are free, and it doesn't play man-in-the-middle with your transactions over it by showing you unwanted advertisements or driving up the cost of your business with service fees.  Another major point for it is the fact that it groups ads into local areas by default, so it's easy to find what you're looking for nearby instead of having to sort through where your goods or services are coming from or going to.  The fact that you can use it as a general discussion forum, and don't have to use it for advertising, is also a plus.

The main knock against Craigslist is that, because it doesn't mediate transactions, you're left to deal with anyone who wants to buy from you (or sell to you) on your own.  This means that it's much easier to get scammed over Craigslist than it is over a traditional e-commerce website, so you're going to have to take some extra precautions in order to keep yourself safe.  Another point against it is the bizarre fact that it doesn't include a mechanism for deleting your account if you want to stop using it.  The best that you can do is delete or randomize as much of your information as you can, and maybe contact Craigslist customer service and see if they'll get rid of your account if you ask nicely.

If you are confident in your business skills, Craigslist is a simple, low-cost way to buy or sell goods or services in your local area.  However, we'd recommend having some experience using traditional e-commerce websites, such as Amazon and eBay, before you give Craigslist a try.


What Craigslist Is and How Its Online Classifieds Work

Have you heard of the Craigslist website? Want to learn more about what it is and how the site works? If so, you’re in luck. In this article, we’ll be telling you all about Craigslist to introduce you to the site and kick off our Craigslist course. Here’s what you’ll learn:

  • What Craigslist is
  • How safe it is to use
  • The three best features of Craigslist
  • The history of Craigslist
  • Its pros and cons
  • Alternatives to Craigslist

Let’s start off by talking about what exactly Craigslist is.

What is Craigslist?

Craigslist is a classifieds website – the online version of the classifieds section in a newspaper. It allows people to post ads to sell their goods and/or services, for local companies looking to hire, and to advertise local events. Other Craigslist users can respond to these ads if they’re interested.

When you open up the Craigslist website, you can choose your city so that you’re only viewing ads from your own area. Craigslist sorts ads into various categories, like housing, jobs, pets, and more, which makes it easy to browse classifieds ads around topics and categories that interest you.

Choose location for Craigslist

You might be wondering, is Craigslist safe to use? We’re going to answer that next.

Is Craigslist safe?

Craigslist is safe to use if you’re careful about using it properly. Some people may post listings on Craigslist with the intention of scamming people, so you do need to be cautious. If a post violates Craigslist’s terms of service, it will be flagged. Just make sure you trust someone before making a deal.

If you want to read more about this topic, check out our article on Craigslist safety. Now, we’ll get into how Craigslist works.

How does Craigslist work? 4 best features of Craigslist

1. A focus on the local

As we just mentioned, the unique thing about Craigslist is that it isn't just one website. It's split into over 700 websites that serve advertisements in major cities and urban areas around the world. This makes it easier to find what (or who) you want closer to home.

Craigslist homepage

2. Simple and free

Besides what its users post, Craigslist doesn't allow any other advertising on its websites. In addition, most advertisements are free to post, even without a Craigslist account. The main exceptions are for companies looking to hire or sell expensive items, such as event tickets or cars and trucks.

Craigslist also doesn't take a cut whenever a purchase or sale is made over the website. However, this also means that buyers and sellers are left to hash out a transaction's details on their own. This is why it's important to include at least some contact details with an advertisement, whether that's an email address, phone number, or something else.

Example of a listing for a clock on Craigslist

3. Cheap prices

When buying things on Craigslist, you’re usually going to find lower prices than you would on normal online shopping sites or in stores. Many things being advertised and sold through Craigslist are used, end of season, extra stock, etc., so you’re likely to be able to save yourself some money.

4. What's the word?

If you don't feel like using Craigslist for its advertisements, it also includes discussion forums where you can chat with other Craigslist users on topics ranging from arts and beauty to travel and writing.

Discussion forums

Those are three of Craigslist’s best features. In the next section, we’ll get into the history of the website.

History of Craigslist

Named after founder Craig Newark, Craigslist began in 1995 as an email distribution service, letting people know about upcoming local events in his hometown of San Francisco. Incorporated in 1999, Craigslist has expanded beyond event listings and now features listings for job openings, available housing, goods for sale, services for hire, relationship seeking, and general topics of discussion.

Craigslist now has local websites for over 700 cities or general urban areas in 70 countries around the world, and is available in 13 different languages.

Now that we’ve told you a little about the history of the site, let’s talk about some of Craigslist’s pros and cons.

Pros and cons of Craigslist

Pros

  • You can post ads for free
  • Ads you’ll see on the site are also based on your location, so they should all be available close to home
  • You can also use the site to chat with other users about all kinds of topics!

Cons

  • The site’s interface is almost too simple – it’s not overly professional or attractive to look at.
  • Since Craigslist only acts as a connection between sellers and buyers, it doesn’t give you any of the safety or guarantees that most online shopping sites would.

Does Craigslist not sound like your cup of tea? Don’t worry – there are lots of other alternatives available, and we’ll tell you about a few of our favorites next.

Alternatives to Craigslist

If you aren’t interested in using Craigslist, there are some other similar sites you might want to try instead. One of them is Kijiji, which is set up quite similar to Craigslist, but is only available in Canada. Another is eBay, which is a popular online auction and e-commerce website. A newer Craigslist alternative is LetGo, which is a mobile app for people to buy and sell items. Read about these websites and more in our Craigslist alternatives article.

 

Craigslist is one of the most popular online classifieds websites in the world – and there’s good reason for it. So, if you think you may have a need to buy or sell something you have lying around at home, or you are seeking a handyman, a new employee, want to meet someone, or just want to talk, Craigslist might be for you. Make sure you move on to the next article in our Craigslist course for our full review of the website, so you can learn about how to use it, and more importantly – how to use it safely.