How Craigslist Works

Craigslist Controversy

One of the biggest challenges for the craigslist community is weeding out scam artists. The site has a section describing common scam tactics and what users should do if they come across them. Scams might involve fake money orders or checks, bait-and-switch schemes (in which you think you're getting one thing but end up with another), phishing schemes designed to obtain personal information, identity theft schemes and other unethical and illegal activities.

One scam that has popped up in several craigslist communities involves a buyer overpaying for an item. In this scam, an innocent seller advertises an item on craigslist for a given amount -- say $1,500. An interested buyer contacts the seller and says he'll send a check for the item, but when the check arrives, it's written for a much larger amount. When the seller contacts the buyer to inform him of the difference, the buyer apologizes and explains that he wrote the wrong amount after confusing it with another purchase. He tells the seller to deposit the check and wire him the difference. What the seller doesn't know is that the check is a fake, so he cashes it and wires the difference to the buyer. Once the bank researches the check and discovers it's a fake, the seller is held responsible. The scam artist has his money, and the innocent seller takes the blame.

Police scan craigslist for ads soliciting illegal goods or services. Newspapers have featured several stories about cops busting prostitution rings after finding them through craigslist. Papers have also published stories about police using craigslist to find sexual predators. In October 2007, craigslist made headlines after a member posted an ad for a babysitter and then killed the young woman who responded to the ad. In craigslist's defense, Buckmaster has said that newspapers are more likely to report negative stories about the site, possibly because some business managers feel craigslist robs papers of revenue [source: The New York Times, Associated Press].

The terms of use on craigslist make it clear that the site has nothing to do with the content users post, that it will work with authorities in cases involving illegal activity and that violating the site's terms can result in stiff fines. Users posting to craigslist must first click on a button that says they understand and accept the terms of use. Even so, when members use the site for illegal or unethical purposes, some people try to hold craigslist responsible.Craigslist's terms of use include a long list of forbidden topics and language, including: Abusive, unlawful, discriminatory, harmful, harassing, defamatory or libelous language Posts that reveal someone else's private information Job posts that violate Equal Employment Opportunity laws Housing posts that violate the Fair Housing Act Posts that impersonate someone else, unless the post is a nondeceptive parody of a public figure Scam ads Ads that advertise illegal services Posts that include computer viruses or other harmful computer code

To learn more about craigslist and other topics, follow the links below.

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  • "Craigslist, Scourge of Newspaper Classifieds, Now Turns to Journalism." Associated Press. May 6, 2005.
  • "Minn. Craigslist Nanny Ad Results in Murder." October 29, 2007.
  • "Police: Online ad led to prostitution charges." Chicago Tribune. October 26, 2007.,0,3914046.story?coll=chi-entertainment-front
  • "Woman Bounces Alleged Check Scam." Fox 12 News. October 29, 2007.
  • Del Conte, Natali T. "Craigslist, Online Shopping Attracts Seniors." PC October 20, 2007.,2704,2203868,00.asp
  • Dubner, Stephen J. "Here Are the Answers to Your Craigslist Questions. "The New York Times. October 10, 2007.
  • Forliti, Amy. "Teen Charged in Craigslist Killing." Associated Press. October 30, 2007.
  • Hanley, Matt. "Caught on Craigslist." The Beacon News. October 26, 2007.,2_1_AU26_PROSTITUTE_S1.article
  • Hempel, Jessi. "A Talk with craigslist's Keeper." Business Week. September 8, 2004.
  • Lynn, Adam. "Charges filed in Craigslist house pillaging." The News Tribune. May 17, 2007.
  • Reeve, Laura. "Revenge is a dish best served on Craigslist." Daily Trojan. October 17, 2007.