Lately I have run in to a lot of people looking for a rental, a home, a way to sell or buy something. I always ask if they have gone the "normal" routes, and usually they have done that. Then I ask, "So, have you looked on Craigslist?" About half say yes, the other half say "No way, it's nothing but a scam."
Many honest people use Craigslist. I have bought and sold and I look for properties for my clients on there as well. Now either I have a great sixth sense, or maybe I am just lucky, or maybe…just maybe…I am always wary of people! I am a very generous person, sometimes to a fault, and since I believe in treating others as I want to be treated (honesty, integrity, you know, the good stuff) I treat everyone that way. And yes, in the past I have been taken advantage of more often then I like to admit. So as they say, 'Live and Learn", right?
So now I approach every offer, deal and ad with caution. Remember, even the ads from big box stores, grocery stores has fine print. So with Craigslist, you need to approach it the same way. This goes for ANY online service/sales because you cannot see, smell, or touch the item and/or salesperson. It doesn't matter if you are buying or selling, these are the same rules!
Let me give an example: just last week I posted my kiln for sale. It is a really, really big kiln, and fragile, so not something that would typically be shipped. I had a person text me and said they were interested. Great! A sale in 30 minutes after posting! How could I not be excited, right?! So the next message was, "I will mail you a certified bank check". Uh oh. I played along…which bank? The answer "Wells Fergo". Ok, so this person can't spell 'FARGO.' Then before I can type fast enough to say "go away you creep," I get another text saying "The check will be for $2900. You cash it, take the $700 out and give the rest to the shippers." This is one of the oldest scams on Craigslist. Did you know that many of these con-artists send you a check that is real, and it clears your bank, then they scam the bank on the other end, which then comes back and REMOVES the funds from your account?! Yes, this does happen. So the "shippers" are really the con-artists taking the cash that you thought was cleared and a week later the bank finds a "mistake" with the transaction and you lose your item you sold and the cash too. If I done this I would have been out $3600! I cannot stress enough, the importance of plain, good ol' COMMON SENSE. If the deal is too good to be true, it is!
Craigslist gives these tips on their website:
- Deal locally with folks you can meet in person - follow this one rule and avoid 99% of scam attempts.
- Never wire funds via Western Union, Moneygram or any other wire service - anyone who asks you to do so is likely a scammer.
- Fake cashier checks & money orders are common, and banks will cash them and then hold you responsible when the fake is discovered weeks later.
- Craigslist is not involved in any transaction, and does not handle payments, guarantee transactions, provide escrow services, or offer "buyer protection" or "seller certification"
- Never give out financial information (bank account number, social security number, eBay/PayPal info, etc.)
- Avoid deals involving shipping or escrow services and know that only a scammer will "guarantee" your transaction.
- Do not rent housing without seeing the interior, or purchase expensive items sight-unseen - in all likelihood that housing unit is not actually for rent and that cheap item does not exist.
- Do not submit to credit checks or background checks for a job or for housing until you have met the interviewer or landlord/agent in person.
What does this have to do with real estate? Well in real estate they say "location, location, location" and in today's world I say "research, research, research." But how? I know, this sounds daunting but it really isn't. Any info you want is at your finger tips, you just have to know where to go to find it.
If you think a real estate transaction is legit, go an extra step, spend 5-10 minutes on the Yavapai County website GIS Mapping Applications. There through the GIS system, click on "Interactive Map" and when that opens there is a Search Tab. Here you can search the address, parcel number and/or owner name. If the address and the person who claims to be the owner are not the same person, call the police and turn in the info you have. A friend recently responded to a rental ad, and was excited about the price and size of the offered property. She was to mail a check to the owner and sign a lease. She thought twice and checked on the Yavapai County website and found the owner on the Craigslist ad was NOT the owner of record. If she had not checked, she would have mailed her deposit and been out that money.
What con-artists do is find a real ad, copy it, reduce the rent amount and add their own contact info. When my friend checked further, she found it was listed for real by a local real estate agent, and the rent was much higher because it was at market rate, not the discounted rate the con-artist advertised. This can happen with sales as well. I have heard of several instances where the buyer bought a home, and, after closing, found out that they bought the neighboring home which was not worth what they paid, or that the money went to someone who was not the owner!
Now, more than ever, the best protection you can have is to do your homework, and work through someone who is in the real estate business if you are looking to rent, buy or sell. If you are looking to sell or purchase an item (from clothes to tools) then use your good, old-fashion, common sense and deal with someone locally if on Craigslist. If you're looking on eBay or a similar site, look for someone with many many sales.
Cheers and happy Craigslisting to you!