Safety First When Using Craigslist

When I closed my printing brokerage business three years ago, I used Craigslist to sell my office furniture and equipment.  More recently, Rosa and I sold a portable, console air conditioner on Craigslist.  We’ve found Craigslist to be an effective and convenient way to sell items to a local market that are too big or cumbersome to ship, or items we want to move quickly.  However, Craigslist is no eBay when it comes to protection for the buyer and seller.  There is none.  Craigslist is not involved in the transaction in any way.  They merely provide a platform for free classified advertising on the internet.  That’s it.  You, then, have to take responsibility for your safety and protection when using Craigslist.

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Most Craigslist transactions go smoothly and without incident, but you can’t assume you will be dealing with a honest seller or buyer.  You need to keep your guard up.  There are lots of scammers and criminals who take advantage of Craigslist to rip off the unsuspecting.  Here are some suggestions to help you stay safe when dealing with people you encounter on Craigslist:

  • Deal face-to-face with local buyers or sellers only.  Never do business with anyone from out of town by phone, over the internet, or by mail.
  • When buying, ask a lot of questions about the item for sale before meeting with the seller.  If the seller can’t answer your questions, he or she may not actually have the item advertised for sale and could be setting you up.
  • Do not give out any personal or financial information, including your street address, Social Security number, eBay/PayPal info, etc., to anyone you meet on Craigslist.  Use a cell phone number rather than your land line number and/or the anonymous email address that Craigslist offers sellers rather than your own email address for contact in your listing so your identity cannot be traced.  Never include your street address in a listing.
  • Transact business in a public place, if possible.  Always take someone with you.  If you choose to go alone, make sure you have a cell phone with you.  Let someone know where you are going and why.
  • Arrive at the meeting place early so you can observe the surroundings and the other person when they arrive.  If you have any misgivings about the situation or person, leave without acknowledging him or her.
  • If, after meeting at the agreed upon location, the other party suggests that you go a second location, do not go.  You are probably being set up.
  • If the item is too big to bring to a public location and you must meet at a residence, conduct the transaction outside on a porch, in a driveway or open garage, or in a lobby or common use area (if the location is an apartment building).  Have someone with you.  Never invite strangers into your home.  Never meet with strangers in their homes.
  • Deal only in cash.  Fraudulent cashier’s checks and money orders are common scams on Craigslist.
  • Never accept a check or money order of any kind for more than the amount of the purchase.  This is a scam.
  • Never use wire services such as Moneygram or Western Union or escrow services to transfer money to a seller, these are scams.
  • Use extra caution when buying or selling an item of high value.  Never buy a big-ticket item without seeing it first.  It may not exist.  Carefully examine big-ticket items in person and satisfy yourself that the seller is the legal owner of the item and has the right to sell it before handing over payment.  Thieves often sell stolen property on Craigslist.
  • Do not rent housing without seeing the interior.  The housing unit may not actually be for rent.
  • When applying for a job or rental housing on Craigslist, meet  with the interviewer or landlord/agent to whom you are making application first and satisfy yourself that he or she is legitimate before divulging any personal information or agreeing to credit or background checks.
  • Use the website to screen potential buyers or sellers.
  • Greed and impatience play into the hands of scammers and criminals.  If your gut tells you a buyer or seller is suspicious, go with your gut.  Be willing to walk away from a deal.  Don’t let greed or impatience put you in danger or get you ripped off.  Remember, if it’s too good to be true, it probably is.

The suggestions outlined above are designed to reduce your risk of being ripped off or becoming the victim of a crime.  They do not guarantee an incident-free transaction.  You are, after all, dealing with people when you use Craigslist.  However, scammers and criminals look for easy targets.  Taking precautions makes you problematic to them, which greatly limits your exposure to criminal acts.

Take responsibility for your safety when using Craigslist, exercise caution at all times, and you can enjoy many successful transactions.

K.C. Knouse is the author of True Prosperity: Your Guide to a Cash-Based LifestyleDouble-Dome Publications, 224 pages


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