10 ways to stay safe while using Craigslist

Craigslist might be called the internet’s yard sale – you can find anything in any condition. But you can also get ripped off. Here are 10 tips on Craigslist transactions that can help your transactions succeed.

1. Read the ad

When a listing is riddled with poor English – typos, grammatical errors, poor punctuation – it’s a sign that either an overseas scammer posted the ad, or the lister isn’t invested in the transaction. Both are conditions you want to stay away from.

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2. Check the photos

Generic product photos can be stolen from any site online. Look for “homemade” photos – the product is being used (not by models), or is clearly being photographed in someone’s home. Not many people will have the photography skills to make an product photo look like it was taken for Amazon, so if you see one, that’s a red flag.

3. Ads posted in multiple cities

Sellers are only allowed to post in one city, so if you find the same ad posted word-for-word in several areas, it’s time to find another seller. You can search all Craigslist sites through Search All Craig’s or Craiggers. There’s also Craigslist Scammers, which is dedicated to ferreting out these ads.

4. Ask questions

Once you make contact with the seller, ask detailed questions. What does the apartment rent include? What amenities are nearby (which you can double-check with Google Maps)? What’s the model number of the item being sold? Why are you selling it? Questions like this give you more information about it and shows the seller actually has firsthand knowledge.

5. Google them

It may sound creepy, but with blind transactions like this, it never hurts to Google someone’s email address and phone number just to make sure they are who they say they are. You can also check Facebook or use White Pages. If they give you an address, you can search most tax assessor’s records online to make sure they do live there.

6. Meet in a public place

Meet somewhere with a lot of witnesses, lights and security cameras. The safest option is a police station or sheriff’s office – especially one participating in a Safe Trade initiative. Hundreds of departments are allowing people to use their lobbies and parking lots as safe trading areas. Visit safetradestations.com/wheretotrade to learn more and see a list of participating departments.

7. Bring a friend

It never hurts to bring some company – even if they aren’t invested in what you’re buying, having someone to back up your story and keep an eye out for strange activity is a good idea.

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8. Do not pay anyone online

This seems like the most basic common sense, but sometimes that is the most necessary. If you haven’t met them in person, do not pay them. Don’t wire funds, either – that’s a classic scammer trick. Be very cautious when accepting cashier’s checks – they can be faked. And never, ever give out account numbers.

9. Test it out

As nice and honest as your seller may be, don’t take their word that something works. Test everything out – for electronics, check the ports and make sure the specs match. For cars, make sure all the papers are in order and make sure it runs.

10. Too good to be true

Really, if it seems like the deal is too good to be true, it probably is. Use your common sense and shop carefully. If you do end up running into trouble, you can contact the FTC at 877-382-4357 or the Internet Fraud Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov.

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