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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Selling on Craigslist

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The vast majority of personal finance websites(including this one) focus on reducing your bottom line–cutting costs.   The other end of the budget is at least as important. Have you tried raising your top line lately?   Have you picked up a side hustle, sold an article, put ads on a website, or even sold some of your stuff?  After we had our garage sale a few weeks ago, we were left with some furniture that was too nice to donate or discard, so we decided to sell it on Craigslist.

The key to selling your stuff on Craigslist is taking pictures.   They don’t have to be good pictures, just something to let your customers know what they are getting.  Take pictures, post the measurements and, if it’s electronic, the model number. Beyond that, a simple description will suffice.

Be safe when you are posting the listing.  Don’t give your address and don’t post when you will be home.   That’s just a job offer for burglars.   When you talk to a potential buyer, never tell them there is nobody home.  Tell them your roommate is the only one home and he doesn’t want to deal with the sale.   Don’t give strangers on the internet an opportunity to rob you.

When you are meeting a buyer, pick a public place away from home, if at all possible.   If you are selling furniture, it may not be possible, but it is for smaller items.   Meeting in a busy gas station parking lot or even in front of the police department is a good way to stay safe.   Secondary crime scenes are nasty things and inviting the wrong stranger in is offering one ready-made.

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="196" caption=" "] [/caption]Bring a friend.  Preferably, an intimidating friend. Crime is less likely to happen if there is more than one person there.    Bring a friend to a public place to meet the buyer to maximize your safety.

Don’t get ripped off.   Craigslist scams abound. Bad checks, forged checks, and shipping scams are just some of the problems.

Only accept cash. It’s hard to forge a greenback.

One of the most common scams, after a bounced check, is the cashier’s check scam. You’ll get an email saying the item is great and payment is on the way.  When the check clears, a relative of the buyer will come to pick up the item.  Then, oops, their secretary made the check out for $3000, instead of $300.  Would you mind sending the overpayment back by Western Union, minus $100 for your troubles?   First sign of trouble:  over-complicating a simple transaction.   Second sign:  not using cash.   The cashier’s check will be forged.   There is no way to verify funds on a cashier’s check, and the bank will post it as available well before it comes back bad.   You will be able to spend the money, only to have the money disappear later. That means you can’t wait to see if the check clears before wiring back the overpayment.  There is no way to recover your money.

If you get a response that includes a link, do not click it!  Ever.  No matter what the link looks like.  Ever.  No clickyclicky. It may be an innocuous link to your ad, but the link can be masked.  Any other link is almost definitely a link to a virus-ridden website.  Repeat after me: No clickyclicky.

If you get an email about Craigslist transaction protection or escrow, you are being scammed. Run away.

Craigslist can be great way to turn your junk into cash, but only if you actually get the cash.  Keep yourself safe and scam-free.

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I Smell a Scam

I hate scammers. Whether it’s the garage-sale shoplifter, telemarketing “charities” with 99% overhead, 3-card-monte

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shell game (Photo credit: mixatal (Clive Power))

dealers, or the guy who begs Grandma for cash every week, they all need to be strung up.  Since vigilante justice is generally illegal and occasionally immoral, it’s best to just avoid the problems from the start.  Here are some scams to watch out for.

Pyramid Scams – All of the little parties people throw to earn free items at the expense of their friends are pyramid schemes.  Most of those are legitimate money-sinks.  A few, however, exist solely to get their “consultants” to bring in more consultants.  The sales aren’t the actual way to make money.  If you don’t have anyone “downstream” you won’t make any money.  If the focus isn’t on selling an actual product or service, but is instead on bringing in people under you, you have entered the world of pyramid scams. Generally illegal and always immoral.  Don’t sign up and, if you do, don’t ask me to participate.

Advance Fees and Expensive Prizes – If you win a contest and you are expected to send money to claim your prize, it is a scam.  You don’t have to pay sales tax in advance.  You don’t have to pay transfer fees.  Real prizes are delivered free, accompanied by a 1099, because prizes are income.   No prize requires pre-payment. No loan service requires “finder’s fees”.   If it doesn’t sound right, don’t pay it and certainly don’t give your bank information to anyone you can’t verify.

Work at Home – The most common work-at-home job I’ve found is stuffing envelopes.  You see the signs on telephone poles all over the city.  “Make $10/hour stuffing envelopes from the comfort of your own home!  Just send $50 to….”   When you get the instructions, you are told to hand up signs telling people to send you $50 for instructions on how to make $10/hour stuffing envelopes.  Everybody is feeding off of everybody else.

Charity – Never give money to a charity over the phone.  Always take the time to verify where you are sending your money.  Some freak may call to tug on your heartstrings with a sob story, but you don’t have to give them money.  At least ask them to send it in writing so you can do some checking, first.

Phishing – Simply put, don’t click on any link in any email, unless you know where it is going.  If it is a link to a financial institution, go enter the address into the address bar yourself.   If you find yourself on a site you don’t recognize, don’t give them your personal information and don’t ever reuse your usernames and passwords.   If you do, one bad site could get access to everything you do online.

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="196" caption=" "] [/caption]Foreign Lottery – To be clear, Spain did not just hold a international lottery and randomly draw your email address. No lottery in the world works that way.  If you didn’t enter the lottery while you were in Spain, you aren’t going to win it.   The scam is that you need to provide your bank information, including a number of release forms so the scammers can transfer money to you.  In reality, you are signing over control of your account and will be wiped out.

Nigerian/419 Emails – Ex-Prince WhateverHisNameIs wants your help to get his fortune out of WhereverHeIsFrom.   The New Widow Ima F. Raud has an inheritence that she won’t live long enough to spend.  They’ve both been given your name as a trustworthy person to handle the transactions in exchange for a mere $10 million.   What friends do you have that would make this seem legitimate? Once again, they will get your bank information and take your money.  At a minimum, they will try to get you to pay a few thousand dollars for “Transfer fees”.  Don’t do it.

Overpayment by Wire – I had this one attempted on my last week.  You sell something online.  A potential buyer agrees to purchase the item, sight-unseen.  They’ll send a cashier’s check and, after it clears, one of their agents will pick it up.  Unfortunately, the buyer’s secretary screwed up and added a zero to the check.  Would you mind wiring the overpayment back, minus a small fee for the hassle?  The check is bogus and there is no way to verify it.   You’ll deposit the check and it will be assumed to be real.  The bank will make the funds available well before it comes back as fraud.  You’ll see the available funds and send the money by non-refundable Western Union and some thug in Nigeria gets a new iPhone.

Foreclosure Scams – Some scammers try to prey on the vulnerable because they are, well, vulnerable.   If you are facing foreclosure, be very careful about where you turn for help.   One scam is to get you to sign over your home “temporarily” to clear the title.  That doesn’t work, but you won’t find that out until you are handed an eviction notice and told you still owe the money.

Stranded Friends – You get an email from a friend saying he’s in London/Moscow/Sydney/Wherever, and he’s been mugged.   He’s got nothing and needs $2500 to get home.  Can you help?   Do you really have friends close enough to ask for a $2500 international bailout, but not so close they tell you about the vacation ahead of time? Would they really be too timid to call you collect instead of begging for change to use an internet cafe?

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Nigerian Phishing Scams


Noun: The fraudulent practice of sending e-mails purporting to be from legitimate companies in order to induce individuals to reveal personal information, such as credit-card numbers, online.

Have you ever gotten an email from someone claiming to be a Nigerian prince trying to smuggle money out of the country, or the administrator of the South Sudanese lottery commission?

The emails tend to be similar.   You’ve won the lottery, but need to pay the transfer fee and applicable taxes before the money can be sent, and by the way, they need your checking account information to transfer the money  out of your account.   Or, the elderly wife of the Reverend Saint Whateverhisnameis has the entireGDPof some small African country in her bank account that her dear, departed husband stole honestly, and she needs a trustworthy soul in the States to accept the transfer and your reputation proceeds you.

Yeah, people still fall for it.   It’s called Financial Darwinism.  Only the strong shall retire.

Yesterday(as of this writing, not as of your reading), I got my first-ever phishing phone call.

The conversation went something like this:

Worthless scum scammer: Hello, you’re schedule to receive a delivery at10:30 this morning and I need to verify your information.

Me: What delivery?

WSS: Is this Linda, L-I-N-D-A?

Me: Yes.  (Please note, I am very much a guy and clearly sound like it.)

WSS: You buy international.   I’m scheduling delivery.   Are you at (lists house number correctly, but no street or city).

Me:  What’s getting delivered?

WSS: A brand new Mercedes.

At this point, I wanted to play, but I had to get to work, so I hung up.

Worried that I may have made the wrong decision, I called my wife to see if she made a side trip to buy a luxury car while she was running errands last week, but she said she didn’t.   I’m not sure I believe her.  I think that it may have just slipped her mind.

It’s worrisome that some scammer call-center in Nigeria is buying lists of potential marks in theUS and calling them.  I much prefer my scammers to send emails.

Have you ever gotten a 419 phone call?