The Safest Way to Buy on Craigslist

Safely buy items on Craigslist

Craigslist is great for a lot of things – you can buy and sell almost anything and you can typically get a great price.  Sellers get more than they would if they took their items to a pawn shop or dealership and buyers pay far less than they would at those same places.  Craigslist cuts out the middleman.  Unfortunately, you do have to be alert and aware of potential scams, therein is the downfall of Craigslist. However, despite the reputation Craigslist may have earned itself, it really can be a great tool as long as it is used with some degree of caution. 

A few weeks ago, we wrote The Safest Way to Sell on Craigslist – check it out if you are planning to sell something on Craigslist! On the flip side, this week’s post focuses on the buyer’s guide to Craigslist safety.

Vet Your Seller in Advance

If you know who the seller is, do some research on them. Any information that they give you – phone number, email address, etc. can be searched to see if you can find any information about them. If the seller is using Trusted.Sale, we verify their identity for you.

How to Spot a Scam

Is the deal way too good to be true? Hey, it may just be one heck of a steal – it happens! Or, it could be a scam. Sometimes Craigslist scams are easy to spot but sometimes they aren’t; that’s why it is so important to be on your game.  Treat each of the items below as a red flag. If the red flags start adding up, there’s probably something fishy going on.

  • Is the item listed for an unbelievably low price? They may just really want to get rid of it. Ask yourself, though, is there a big market for this product? If there’s a lot of demand for this item and it is still priced incredibly low, either they don’t know what they have or it should be considered a red flag.
  • Why are they selling it? Why don’t they want it anymore?
  • How do they want to be paid? It’s a huge red flag if they want you to wire money or use Paypal. Although a cashless transaction is ideal, both of those options provide ways for the seller to keep your money and the product. Trusted.Sale is a great option for a cashless transaction if you prefer not to carry cash on your person to the sale.
  • Are there good pictures of the item for sale? If the pictures in the listing are clearly stock photos from the manufacturer, that’s a red flag. Ask for actual photos of the item in question before agreeing to meet.
  • Is the post riddled with spelling and grammar errors? There’s a chance it may be an overseas / automated scam-bot (yes, I made that word up but I think it has a real ring to it, no?).
  • Does the item function properly? Can they prove it either prior to, or at, your meet up?

If you have any questions about the product, ask them in advance. That way you can save yourself the time of meeting if something is amiss.

Trust Your Intuition

Sometimes you just know when something doesn’t feel right. Trust your gut, even if they can check all the boxes in the section above. 

If something feels strange, ask yourself – does their story add up?  For example, most people don’t sell a brand new Xbox, still in the box, unless there is something strange going on. Why buy it in the first place if you didn’t want it? And why not return it to the store?

It is easy to get carried away when excited about a deal. Sometimes we don’t think objectively because we want to believe the deal is as good as we’ve been led to believe. If you have a bad feeling about it either don’t go or exercise additional precaution.

The Meet Up

This goes for buyers and sellers. Find a busy, public area to make the transaction. If you’re buying a car, you may want to meet near a trusted mechanic of some sort to have them take a look at the car. If you’re selling something else, it might make sense to meet in front of or at a police station.  Wherever you meet, make sure it is in a well-lit area during the day, preferably in a place with security cameras.

Avoid going to a stranger’s home, if at all possible. Understandably, some items can’t easily be moved to a public location – like a hot tub. All the more reason to ensure that you’ve vetted the seller before showing up on their doorstep. If you’re buying electronics, do some research in advance to find a place with outlets. There’s a common misconception that you must go to someone’s home in order to see if an electronic works, or invite them to your home. Typically you can find a spot in the mall, Starbucks, McDonald's, or possibly a public library where there are outlets available for public use. If you contact your local police department, they may have a place at the station where items can be tested. If you want to test a gaming console, you can sometimes find a small television on the cheap to carry with you.

Most cities have dedicated “safe spaces” for transactions that stem from online marketplaces, such as Craigslist. Trusted.Sale users can receive recommendations for safe spaces in their area.

Take a Friend Along

It is always a good idea to bring a friend along. For extra caution, I also tend to have a point person off-site. I share the name of the person you are meeting and where I am meeting them. Then I simply let the person know when I arrive and contact them as soon as I leave.