The internet has become our one-stop shop for jobs, tickets, items for sale, and more. The convenience of buying anything you need from the comfort of your own home at a moment’s notice is something we’ve all come to love and appreciate. However, with anyone being able to access the internet, it’s easy for scammers to weasel their way into our favorite purchasing portals like Craigslist. In this article, we’ll tell you how to either get your money back after being scammed on Craigslist, or at least decrease the likelihood that someone else will get scammed by the same person.
I Got Scammed on Craigslist. What Are My Options?
There are many things you can do if you’ve been scammed on Craigslist, but the best option for you is contingent on your situation. Minor issues may be handled by contacting the seller, but in some cases, it’s best to seek legal assistance and make formal fraud reports. It may take some time, but you can get your money back in many instances. We advise that you assess all of your options and select the best solution(s) for your particular scenario.
Contact the Seller
Trying to solve the dispute directly with the seller can help you get your money back faster if the seller is cooperative, but you should exercise caution when choosing this option. Sellers who intentionally defraud you are likely to refuse contact or, if you can contact them, may react severely and put you in an unsafe situation. If you’ve been seriously defrauded, it’s important to report the scam, contact the appropriate authorities, and avoid directly confronting the seller, for your own safety. However, some sellers may be willing to work with you if you, for example, buy an item locally that breaks a few days later. (Unfortunately, if the seller is uncooperative, they may not legally be required to give you a refund in some states since Craigslist transactions are generally conducted between individuals rather than a buyer and a merchant.)
Report the Scam to Craigslist
This is usually suggested as the first order of business, so as to ensure that the post and potentially the user are removed from the site. If you need to report a scam or suspect that a current posting might be connected to scam, you can reach out to Craigslist directly. Additionally, if the listing is still active, you may flag it by clicking the link at the top of the post that reads “prohibited,” at which point it’s susceptible to automatic deletion.
Contact your Credit Card Company or Bank
If you used your credit card or bank information as a form of payment to a potential scammer, it’s advised that you reach out to your credit card company or bank immediately to put a stop on the payment or put a hold on your account to cease any additional charges against it. Depending on your particular situation, your bank or credit card company and credit agencies may require you to file a report to the police –(more on this later). Banks and credit card companies deal with this sort of thing all the time, so they’ll do everything they can to help you out.
File an Extended Fraud Alert with the Three Major Credit Bureaus
File alerts with Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax. This step is recommended if you did in fact pay using a credit card and worry that the scammer may use your information to open additional credit card accounts. Essentially what filing a fraud alert means is that a note is added to your credit file and explains that you’ve been a victim of fraud. Any business pulling a credit report should notify you via the contact information you provided when you filed the fraud alert. Should a request for a new account go into effect, the business should contact you and from there you can let them know if you did or didn’t make the request.
Place a “Security Freeze” on Your Credit Reports
This is an extension of the recommendation above. If you have reason to believe that scammers have all the necessary information to obtain a credit card or a loan in your name, you may consider reaching out to the credit bureaus — Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax — to ask them to put a “security freeze” on your credit reports. This helps keep identity thieves or scammers from activating accounts using your stolen information. When in a freeze, the credit reporting agency is required to ask the requester for a PIN or password that you have provided, meaning that the scammer won’t be able to give your credit information to lenders.
Report the Scam to Local Law Enforcement
If you’ve been scammed by someone you met in person or who lives near you, we recommend contacting your local police department. Police will only look into activity that fails to comply with state criminal law, so before filing a report, you should search your state’s criminal fraud law to make sure it lines up with the status of your case. Cornell Law is a good resource for browsing statutes, or you can run searches specific to your state to find laws. Once you’ve determined that your situation constitutes an investigation, you should gather all of the information you have regarding the scam (emails, receipts, exchanges, etc.) and go to the nearest police station or call the non-emergency number to report the activity.
After you present all of the information to the police and the official report is filed, be sure to get copies of the report in case you need them for other reports (i.e., when filing a loss to a bank or credit card company). From there, it’s important to cooperate with investigators while they examine your case.
File for Small Claims Court
If contacting the seller or working with local law enforcement doesn’t resolve the issue, you may file for small claims court. Small claims courts hear cases between two parties without the need for expensive, drawn-out lawsuits. You don’t need an attorney in small claims court; rather, you must file your case and defend it yourself.
Before you can file for small claims court, you must double check that the debt is below a specified amount decided by your state. When you’re ready to file a complaint, head to your county’s civil courthouse to fill out the necessary paperwork and pay the fee for filing. Then, an officer of the court will serve a summons on the other party in your case (i.e., official way of letting the scammer know you’re taking the case to court), and a date for your case will be set.
Before your hearing, make sure you’re well prepared with all necessary information that proves you’ve been scammed. If you present the correct documents, the court will likely award you the judgment, which means the scammer will be ordered to pay back what he or she took from you. If this is the case, you may have to go back to the court to get a lien on the other party’s property or to request a wage garnishment to ensure you get what you’re owed.
Small claims court is a simple process, but it takes time and a little money, so make sure you’re ready for the commitment should you choose to go this route.
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Report the Scam to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
The FTC is an easy way to file a complaint about fraud internet activity. You can file a complaint on its website, which also has substantial information regarding how to get your money back and avoid scams down the road. Keep in mind that although the FTC does not settle individual reports, it will assess your information and place it in the Consumer Sentinel Network, that gives registered federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies the ability to review your case. You don’t have to provide your personal contact information, but it’s advised that you do so that the FTC or other agencies are able to connect with you in the event of a further investigation.
Report the Scam to the FBI
This option should be reserved for select situations (i.e., you are in danger, or other options have not proved satisfactory). We say this because it is important to remember that you will be required to accept the FBI’s privacy policies. This means that if you provide any false information in your complaint, you could be criminally liable under federal law and potentially have to pay fines or serve jail time.
You can file a complaint to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3). You’ll need to provide as many details as possible regarding your situation; if you’ve already filed a report with local law enforcement, that same information can be used here. Once you’ve submitted your complaint, the IC3 will review your information and pass it along to local, state, or federal agencies that have jurisdiction over the content of your complaint. From there, the agencies will further investigate and make the decision about whether or not to press charges. The IC3 itself does not perform investigations, but you can log in to your complaint account to check the status. Should a law enforcement agency take on your case, an officer will contact you directly.
Scan Your Computer and Update Your Anti-malware Software
It’s possible that the scammer embedded links to malware within your email exchange which could affect your computer, so it is suggested that you check that your anti-malware software is up to date and perform a complete scan of your computer for any viruses. This will help ensure that your computer is not at risk for any additional hacking by the scammers.
Additional Options of Whom to Contact About Fraud and Scams
- Consumer Sentinel/Military (for armed service members and families)
- Internet Fraud Complaint Center
- SIIA Software and Content Piracy reporting
- Your state’s Attorney General or consumer protection bureau
To avoid being scammed in the future, see Craigslist’s tips for how to recognize scams.
Being scammed on Craigslist can be scary, but if you examine all of your choices and evaluate which option makes the most sense for you, a solution can be found. Consider the payment used, the location of the scammer, and the severity of damage (money lost, job lost, etc.). In the future, you can avoid scams on Craigslist by never wiring funds, not giving out payment to anybody you haven’t met in person (if a local transaction), and not giving out financial or personal information.