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10 ways to protect yourself on Craigslist

By Guest Blogger(view all posts by Rick.Broida)
at 8:30AM Tuesday March 5, 2013
under Shop Smarter

Whether you're looking to unload an old TV, scoop up free goodies, or score a MacBook on the cheap, it's hard to beat Craigslist. The service lets you browse and create local classified ads, all free of charge.

That said, Craigslist can be dangerous. If you're not careful, you could encounter fraud, robbery, identity theft, or worse. While the vast majority of transactions proceed safely, legally, and beneficially, there's always the chance you're dealing with a scam artist.

With that in mind, the folks at Scambook--a complaint-resolution service--have put together some tips for staying safe on Craigslist, which I've tweaked and listed below:

1. Trust your instincts
The number-one rule is to trust your gut going into any transaction. If a Craigslist ad seems phony, or too good to be true, don't bother with it.

2. Stay local
Craigslist is designed to be city/region specific. If someone makes up excuses for why they can't meet in person, it's a red flag.

3. Avoid cashiers checks, money orders, and wire transfers
If something goes awry when making a wire transfer (through Western Union or MoneyGram, for example), the money will not be protected. Exchange cash instead, with large transactions being safely performed in a bank.

4. Never use online escrow
If someone insists on using an escrow Web site, cancel the transaction immediately. These sites are frequently run by scammers.

5. Don't commit without seeing the goods in person
Make sure an item meets your standards, and be cautious of those willing to buy an item without seeing it first.

6. Don't fall for job scams
Be wary of "employer" who don't require an interview, and make sure to visit the job's physical location prior to sending personal information, like for a credit or background check. Scambook offers more info about job scams.

7. Use a counterfeit-detection pen
This pen's ink will change color on wood-based paper, allowing consumers to detect fake bills (because real money is printed on fiber-based paper). You can buy one of these from your local office-supply store, or order one online for as little as $3.

8. Craigslist doesn't certify listings
Anyone who claims to be "certified" or "guaranteed" by Craigslist is likely a scammer.

9. Research the buyer/seller
Use both Scambook and Google to search someone by their name, e-mail, and/or business name. Make sure their identity is not an alias and that this person comes up clean. You might not always find useful information, but it's worth a try.

10. Don't give out more personal information than necessary
Don't release any personal information in a public listing. The only potential exception is a phone number, in which case I highly recommend a disposable phone number (for which Google Voice is ideally suited). If someone needs to retrieve an item from a home address, put the item outside and don't let the buyer in for any reason.

Scambook offers even more tips for safe selling on Craigslist. While you're at it, be sure to check out my three tips for Craigslist success.

Do you have any of your own Craigslist safety tips to share? List them in the comments!

Veteran technology writer Rick Broida is the author of numerous books, blogs, and features. He lends his money-saving expertise to CNET and, and also writes for PC World and Wired.