Following in the footsteps of eBay, Craigslist is a free website geared at providing a location for average people to buy and sell goods. Essentially, the site is one big garage sale. It provides anonymity to protect the users, but that anonymity has also led to some aspiring criminals to use it as a place to steal your money, steal your identity, and in a small percentage of cases, steal your life.
There are warning signs, though, that the deal might be shady. These range from language used, to how they want payment or how they want to pay you. Here are some tips for how to keep yourself and your wallet safe when using Craigslist:
Don’t Give Out Personal Information
If you’re buying a lawnmower, is there any need for the seller to have your full name and address? The answer is no. Ideally, you don’t need to give out even your first name to people you encounter on Craigslist, and contact details should be kept to a minimum. Email is usually the best bet for contact because you can easily block them. For added security, make a disposable email account through Yahoo, Google, or Live that you only use when dealing with Craigslist.
Pay Cash Whenever Possible
To further your own anonymity, don’t hand over a check listing your full name, bank account information, and address. That’s asking for disaster. Even though credit card scanners can now be hooked-up to tablets and cell phones, those should be avoided as well. Instead, pay cold hard cash for what you buy.
Similarly, when you are selling something it’s good to insist on the money being cash only. Because you sign your name on checks, money orders, and the like some scammers have been known to add a small print contract on these that can end up ruining you. Everything from ‘By signing this check you are affirming you owe the seller an additional $10,000 to be paid within 7 days’ to ‘By endorsing this check you affirm that the entire debt is paid in full’ when dealing with payment plans. Both of these can leave you high and dry, and in most places are perfectly legal. In some states, though, contracts require what’s called a ‘meeting of the minds’, which means both parties must fully comprehend what the contract says and intends to enforce for the contract to be valid. Don’t rely on this, but if caught in that situation it’s something to look into in your jurisdiction.
Meet in Neutral Territory
Whenever possible avoid meeting someone from Craigslist at either your home or theirs. Instead, parking lots can be a good location. It may be tempting to meeting a parking lot off in an empty corner, but I’d suggest that instead you meet in a busy part. This provides strangers in the area that will see if anything goes wrong, as well as plenty of light and perhaps even video recordings.
Craigslist – Scams
U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission
Federal Trade Commission
Federal Bureau of Investigation