Depending on whom you ask, Craigslist is either a fantastic place to buy stuff that’s hard to find, or an unregulated online bazaar filled with people trying to scam you. I’m a big fan. I’ve bought and sold everything from used cars to event tickets using the site.
If you think about it, Craigslist is almost a perfect marketplace. In addition to having an incredibly wide variety of items, you’re generally dealing directly with the seller, who is likely willing to make a deal. I like to think of it as a digital yard sale. You don’t have to pay fees or shipping costs, and you can find stuff that might not be available in stores anymore, all for a decent price.
That said, it can be a little unnerving and there are people who might try to take advantage of you. If you’re on the fence about using the service, below are a few tips to make sure your transaction runs smoothly.
- NEVER, NEVER, NEVER pre-pay for an item you buy on Craigslist. Most of the scams you’ll hear about will involve someone paying for an item before they get it, only to be duped at the last minute. Legitimate sellers would never expect you to pre-pay for something. Craigslist is all about collect on delivery (COD).
- Use cash only. Scammers will try to pay you with a bad check or other form of worthless tender. Insist on cash, or if you must, a confirmed PayPal transaction. Never accept personal checks or money orders.
- Meet at a safe location. When you’re buying something from someone you don’t know, you’ll probably have to meet somewhere to complete the transaction. That can be a little unsettling. If the item you’re purchasing is small, suggest you meet in the parking lot of a local police station or a very public place. Unless the item you’re buying is very large and must be moved, don’t offer to pick it up at the seller’s house. Bringing a friend or two makes it even safer.
- Negotiate and settle ahead of time. When you’re buying and selling on Craigslist, negotiation is expected. Don’t be afraid to counter-offer the asking price. When a price is agreed to, make sure the buyer sticks to it. A common tactic among shady Craigslist dealers is to get you to the point of exchange and then try to change the price. Don’t be afraid to walk away. You might be inconvenienced, but so are they.
- Use the Craigslist anonymous email and link it to a separate email account. People that you’re buying or selling items from don’t need to know anything more about you than they have to. Using a work email or an email address with your name on it isn’t necessary and probably not a great idea. Create a free email account that doesn’t contain your name and use that for all your Craigslist transactions. You don’t need to be shadowy, but you also don’t need to let the other party into your life completely.
- Sellers, be reasonable. You may think that chipped art deco end table is a steal for a would-be buyer at $400, but supply and demand might disagree. Be reasonable with your prices and your willingness to bargain, and you’ll come to a fair price.
“If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.” This guiding principal works very well with Craigslist, as with life in general. The tips above, coupled with trusting your instincts should result in a good experience for both buyer and seller.
Are you a Craigslist veteran with some additional suggestions for ensuring everyone walks away satisfied? Tell us all about them in the comments!