It’s easy to feel anxious coming face-to-face with a stranger you met on the internet — especially when you’re expected to give them cash.
So how do you buy something on Craigslist without getting scammed, or worse, robbed?
Craigslist states that by dealing locally and meeting in person, you’ll “avoid 99% of scam attempts” — but how do you stay safe when meeting a total stranger?
These seven tips will help you avoid sketchy Craigslist deals and stay safe.
1. Always Meet in a Public Place
This one might seem a bit obvious, but make sure to choose a public place with other people around.
Coffee shops or fast food joints work well, and you can find one on practically every corner.
Anywhere that’s busy and well-lit works; I once met up with a guy in a Winghouse parking lot to purchase a guitar.
Because Craigslist deals are becoming so common, your local police station might even be able to help: SafeTrade lists police stations nationwide where you can safely meet up for your online deal.
Whatever you do, don’t give a stranger your address and invite them to your house — and don’t go to their home either.
2. Make Sure the Product Works
If you’re buying electronics or something that could be broken, don’t buy it without testing it.
By meeting up at a coffee shop, you can easily plug in the device to make sure everything works.
Because remember: Once you give the seller the cash and leave, there aren’t any refunds.
3. Bring a Friend
Don’t meet this stranger alone; try to bring a friend or family member with you.
If no one’s available, make sure to let them know where — and who — you’re meeting.
Having another person with you reduces your chances of being robbed, and also provides a safety net.
4. Use Cash — But Not Too Much
If the seller insists on some type of money transfer or online payment, don’t do it.
Only purchase items from sellers who will meet in person and accept a cash payment. You won’t be protected if you send money for an item and never get anything in return.
That being said, don’t carry large amounts of cash, as it makes you more susceptible to being robbed. If you’re purchasing a big-ticket item — like a car — tell the seller that if you like what you see, you’ll go withdraw cash from the ATM and bring it back.
Another idea is to meet at your bank.
This “takes care of the cash problem,” explains Gizmodo. “You don’t have to carry a huge wad of bills in or out of the branch. Neither does your counterpart.”
Not to mention, continues Gizmodo, “the bank setting also alleviates secondary concerns, like being intimidated into accepting worse-than-promised gear, or a lower-than-discussed price.”
5. Get a Detailed Receipt
Purchasing an expensive product? Ask the seller for a detailed receipt. If something goes wrong with the product, this will be your only proof of purchase.
If you’re purchasing a used car, have a mechanic inspect it before you buy it. Also make sure the seller provides paperwork that proves they’re the owner of the car — or you might have trouble registering it in your name.
6. Don’t Give Out Personal Info
Since you’ll be meeting the seller in person, there’s no reason to give out any of your personal information.
You don’t even have to use your real email address: You can communicate through the Craigslist proxy email, which forwards to your personal email.
You can agree on a time and place via email, or if you feel comfortable after asking questions and confirming everything seems to be legit, you can give the seller your phone number. It’s even recommended to use a phone number that isn’t linked to your home address just in case.
Cell phones are usually linked to your home address, but you can easily download an app that provides a temporary and untraceable phone number. Burner provides a free 7-day trial — this way, the app’s services won’t cost anything if you’re just making a quick Craigslist transaction.
7. Trust Your Instincts
Lastly, go with your gut. It’s a red flag if the seller doesn’t want to meet you in certain places or won’t give you further details on the product.
And if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.
Your Turn: What kind of awesome deals have you scored on Craigslist? Have you ever purchased an item that ended up not being what was advertised?
Jacquelyn Pica, an editorial intern at The Penny Hoarder, always brings her dad for protection when handling Craigslist deals.