Buying on Craigslist

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On Friday, I talked about selling safely on Craigslist.  Today, I’m going to talk about buying safely and getting a good deal.

I love Craiglist.  It’s safe to say I’m a fan. We’ve refurnished most of our house for 10-15% of retail by being patient and persistent there.   We scored a $1200 oak entertainment center for $200, a beautiful oak headboard/storage thingy for $150, a nice china cabinet for $70 and much, much more.   There are a lot of deals to be had, but you have to be careful.

I never buy anything without either a picture or a model number. Stock photos do not count.  I want to see an actual picture of the actual item.   With electronics, I want the model number so I can tell exactly what features it has.    If I can’t positively identify the item, the seller gets an email.  If I don’t know what it is, I’m not interested.

Once I have the item identified, it’s time to hit Amazon and Google for a quick price check.   Acceptable prices vary, but I’m generally looking for 25% of retail for items that aren’t collectible or antique.

While it’s not a common occurrence for the things I buy, some sellers do lie. The technical term for this is “fraud”.   Fraudulent sellers needs to be kicked in the shins.   Before I go to actually see an item, I do enough research that I will hopefully be able to pick out a fraud or forgery.   The easiest way to tell if the backstory is a lie?  If you are given a backstory, it’s probably a lie.  Never assume that the seller is telling the truth about the little old lady who only drove her TiVo to church on Thursdays in the summer and never went above channel 10.  The story is always a lie. Check the condition yourself.  Check the value yourself.   If you can’t verify it, it isn’t true.

If you are buying tickets or documents, know what you are looking for to tell if it is a forgery.  If you can’t tell, ask the seller to meet with someone you trust who can verify it.   Ticketmaster tickets are laminated, so they glare slightly in the light. If you hold the tickets up to a strong light, the white parts will glow blue.    Finally, if the ticket looks like it was printed at home, don’t trust it.

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="196" caption=" "] [/caption]A few months ago, a local couple was trying to buy a car on Craigslist.   When they met the buyer, he took their cash and their car and left them on the sidewalk in an unfamiliar neighborhood.    The moral of the story?   Ride the bus. That, and always meet in a public, well-traveled spot.

If the seller suggest escrow, he’s probably actually the deposed ruler of Nigeria in need of someone to help him get his fortune safely out of the country.  You should immediately give him your name, address, social security number, PIN, place of business, all of your bank accounts, and the kidneys of your first-born.  He’ll hook you up. Really.

Don’t do that.   On the internet, escrow=fraud, almost every time.

Rental fraud is an issue I have absolutely no experience with, but it’s common in places with a competitive housing market.  The felonious candidates for extremely prejudiced termination will scan the real estate listings, and post some on Craigslist as a rental unit with a low-ball price.   People get excited for the extreme deal, shut off their critical thinking skills, and hand their nest-egg over to someone they’ve never met so they can keep the scam from being snatched up by some sucker who’s just a little bit slower at dumping his wallet into a crowded room on con-artists.   It’s a big decision, so take the time to research it and do it right. Find the ownership records and the owner.   If you’re buying, get an actual realtor to help you.  They are worth the money.

Tips for Buying Safely on Craigslist

Don’t wire money. Ever.   If someone suggests that for an internet sale, ask for their address and send a leg-breaker their way.  They are trying to steal from you.

Trust your gut.  If something smells fishy, it probably is.  Walk away.

Don’t ever give out personal information.  Nevernevernever.  Not your address, not your favorite flavor of chewing-cud, nothing.   Keep it private.[caption id="" align="alignright" width="196" caption=" "] [/caption]

Meet in a public place.  Criminals tend to dislike witnesses, so go somewhere that has them by the score.

Bring a friend. I may be a bit of a chauvinist or over-protective, but my wife doesn’t bring money to go meet strangers on the internet without me.  If your local laws allow it, consider bringing some form of protection with you.

Craigslist can save you a ton of money, but it brings some risk with it.   Keep yourself safe.

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    1. I’d also suggest only doing business with cash. Cashier’s checks and money orders are being faked on a regular basis on Craigslist…

      Some people don’t lie (like me…I give 100% of all the details I have on whatever I’m selling), but you won’t know which ones. Research is just a smart way to go.

    2. From the buyer’s end, I don’t think using cash is much of a concern. As a seller, it’s cash or go home.

    3. I would emphasize the research that might be needed when buying on Craigslist. If you walk into a potential buy and you can seem like you have a general or technical knowledge of the product, you’re much less likely to get scammed. I do research every time I think about contacting a seller, just to be safe.

    4. Asim from Content Infantry says:

      excellent guide to buying not just from craigslist but any online classified. We have OLX here, a local equivalent.

      However Jason, I must say you went over the top with a few of the points there. the story isn’t ALWAYS a lie. Iv sold ton of stuff with a TRUE back story and Iv bought both good and bad stuff with a back story. I’v observed that the story always helps buyers make sense of why im selling and does the same for me when im buying. When im the buy, the 1st question I usually ask is “why you’re selling.”

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