Conmen Seeking Suckers: Beware of Stolen Merchandise on Craigslist


How to Avoid the Hot Items Scam

Whether you’re buying a TV, a car or just an old piece of furniture, remember the golden rule of buying stuff on Craigslist: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

A selling price way below what you’d be willing to pay should automatically raise some red flags, and could indicate a lot of things. Perhaps the item is actually broken or defective, and you won’t discover you’ve been scammed until you get home. Perhaps it’s just a bait-and-switch, and the seller will either jack up the price or swap in an inferior product once you get in touch. And it could even be an attempt to lure an unsuspecting buyer into an armed robbery.

But there’s another possibility if a posting seems to good to be true: You could be buying stolen goods.

Yes, Craigslist can serve the same function as a pawn shop when it comes to unloading merchandise that fell off the back of a truck. And the last thing you want to do is unwittingly something “hot”: If the stolen item is traced to you, at best you’re losing your new TV and at worst you’re facing legal consequences.

The Council of Better Business Bureaus has some basic guidelines for making sure you don’t buy stolen items from the site, including checking the serial number with the manufacturer and asking the seller why the item is so inexpensive. For more helpful tips, check out the video above.

  • Topping the list of the states to visit if you want your identity stolen is Florida, where 69,795 cases of ID theft were reported last year. That’s 361.3 persons out of every 100,000 residents. (Other flavors of fraud complaints were nearly twice as frequent.) What’s more, residents were nearly twice as likely to have their identity stolen in Florida as in the next most targeted state, which was …

    Photo: Carlos Granier,


  • With only 19,232 instances of reported identity theft in 2012, Georgia looks like a comparatively safe place to live, next to the criminal playground that is the Sunshine State. But Georgia also has only half as many people as its neighbor to the south, so that’s still 193.9 victims per 100,000 people, easily earning it the No. 2. spot.

    Photo: C. Ellie,


  • Since it’s the most populous state in the nation, you might expect California to lead this list as the place where you’re most likely to get victimized by ID theft. But in fact, Californians reported “only” 46,658 instances of ID theft in 2012. That’s twice as many cases as were reported in Georgia, but still far fewer than we saw in Florida. And as a percentage of the population, California was a much safer place to live than its Southeastern brethren. Only 122.7 instances of ID theft were recorded per 100,000 population, a rate almost identical to what we saw in…

    Photo: Wouter Kiel,


  • With only 12,075 reported ID thefts, not many residents of the Great Lake State got soaked by that variety of scammer last year (although other forms of fraud were four times more frequent). By population, Michiganians were roughly one-half of one person (per 100,000) less likely to get scammed than their warm-weather cousins in Cali.

    Photo: Richard Yuan,


  • Home to NYC, the model for crime-ridden Gotham City, New York state may not have the most savory of reputations — and yet, it ranks as only the fifth-worst in the nation for identify theft. The state with the nation’s most populous city reported only 21,538 cases of ID theft last year, or just a hair above 110 cases per 100,000 residents.

    Photo: Paul Robinson,

    New York

  • Home to Las Vegas — Sin City itself — Nevada seems like another likely target for ID thieves. And yet, judging from FTC records, there’s really not a lot happening in Vegas that scammers would want to stay in Vegas. The entire state of Nevada recorded only 3,032 cases of ID theft last year, although other types of fraud were five times more frequent.

    Photo: Rick Cooper,


  • Cybercriminals and other ID theft artists messed with 28,299 Texans last year — 108.6 victims per 100,000 state residents. That made identity theft one of the most popular forms of fraud in the state, just ahead of abusive debt collectors.

    Photo: Brandon Watts,


  • Arizona takes the eighth slot in the FTC’s survey, two slots behind Nevada despite recording twice as many (7,032) instances of ID theft in 2012. That worked out to 107.3 cases per 100,000 residents. ID theft derived from government documents or benefits fraud was the most popular scam here, followed closely by employment-related fraud.

    Photo: Raymond Bucko, SJ,


  • Whether inside or outside the Beltway, Marylanders aren’t free of the scourge of scammers willing to work outside the legal boundaries: 6,178 cases of ID theft were reported there last year, about 105 instances per 100,000 residents. Per capita, the state’s also the No. 3 place for fraud scams not specifically tagged “ID theft” — just behind Florida and Georgia.

    Photo: Doug Kerr,


  • Rounding out the list of the top 10 places to move if you want your identity stolen is Alabama, with 104.9 cases of ID theft per 100,000 population (essentially tied with Maryland), and 5,060 cases of ID theft, total. Fun fact about the Yellowhammer State: More than half of its ID theft cases (52 percent) involved government documents or benefits fraud.

    Photo: Terry McCombs,


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