Last year, Tuan Ngoc Luong, was arrested in connection to an armed robbery that happened after the victim contacted him on Craigslist to purchase a car he had advertised in the San Francisco area. This past month he was found guilty and sentenced to 12 years in prison.
Luong had posted an advertisement for a used car on the online marketplace. The victim contacted him and offered to pay $1,100 for the vehicle. In the evening, the victim, his girlfriend and Luong met at a subway station. The victim then went for a test drive with Luong.
At one point both exited the vehicle, and Luong pulled a semi-automatic handgun to demand the money. Luckily for the victim, he had left his money with his girlfriend, who was still at the subway station. Luong instead took the victim's wallet and cellphone, and fled the scene in the auto.
Police were able to catch Luong in a sting operation by emailing him regarding the Craigslist post and stating their interest in the car. Luong was arrested and the victim identified him in a photo line-up.
Unfortunately, criminals and scammers do lurk on Craigslist and prey on the unsuspecting. The most common type of crime that takes place on the site is financial fraud, which come in many different forms such as:
- Writing a check or money order for too much money. The scammer will claim that they accidentally put an incorrect amount on the check or money order that they wrote. They will ask their target to pay them back the difference with cash. When the victim goes to cash the check or money order they’ll find that it bounces.
- Suggesting to use Venmo, PayPal or an escrow service. The scammer will suggest to use one of these secure methods of payment. In the case of Venmo the seller will receive a notification that the transfer has been made, but it will actually be processing. If there is insufficient funds the transaction will be cancelled, however, this takes several days to process and by then the criminal has disappeared. With PayPal and escrow services, the scammer will send fraudulent, faked emails stating that payment has been made.
- Offering something too-good-to-be-true. The scammer will post an apartment or auto for too-good-to-be-true price. The victim not wanting to miss out on the deal will send a deposit, and then the scammer will disappear. This type of scam targets individuals who are relocating to a new city and might not be able to see an apartment or car beforehand.
- Offering something that doesn't exist or is fake. The scammer posts concert, event and sometimes even airline tickets that are not real or have been canceled. When the purchaser goes to use the ticket they find themselves out of luck and unable to recuperate their money.
In order to protect yourself from Craigslist scams it's important to remember these safety tips:
- Always meet a buyer or seller in person in a public place.
- Never buy or rent something sight unseen.
- Never deal with third parties.
- Never accept checks, money orders, or use escrow type services as forms of payment.
- Never wire money to a seller.
- Never share personal or financial details.
If you're making a large purchase on Craigslist for an item such as a car, it could be worthwhile to run a background check on the other party in the pending transaction. The more you know about whom you're dealing with, the more informed decision you can make.
After all, meeting someone on Craigslist is no different than meeting a stranger on the street. Approach the situation with the same caution you would have when making a deal with someone you've never met. (The same caution is prudent when meeting someone off of the popular Personals section of Craigslist, as it is also ripe for dating app crime.)
For more information on staying safe when using Craigslist, check out the helpful tips and resources section to avoid scams on the Craigslist website.