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How to Safely Use Craigslist

Craigslist is a go-to resource for many people, whether they want new furniture, a new car, a new job, or a new love interest. The ad-posting process is simple, and the site gets countless visitors each day; in fact, there are about 50 billion page views per month!

As amazing as everyone’s favorite classifieds site is, however, it is also a minefield of dangers. If you don’t take steps to protect yourself, you could face financial loss or even physical harm. Here are some tips for staying safe while you’re using Craigslist.

Don’t Post Your Personal Information

When you’re posting an ad on Craigslist, the site will ask you how you want others to contact you. Don’t post your phone number or physical address. The best choice is to use the anonymous email address from Craigslist. Craigslist will automatically forward messages from interested parties to your personal or business email without exposing your inbox to a potential flood of spam or harassment.

Meet in Public

When you’re buying or selling on Craigslist and you want to do the exchange in person, arrange to meet in a public place. You could go to a local mall or a busy coffee shop. Wherever you choose, make sure that there will be lots of people around.

One good idea is to meet in the parking lot of the local police precinct. Criminals aren’t likely to show up to a place that is crawling with law enforcement.

What if you’re buying or selling a large item that can’t be easily transported to a public spot, like a bed or a sofa? Arrange to meet the other party in public first. You can get a feel for their personality and decide if you’re comfortable letting that person into your home or going into their home. If the other party feels like this extra step is too much of a hassle, forget about the deal and move on.

Stick to Your Local Area

Craigslist offers this advice to users: “Deal locally, face-to-face – follow this one rule and avoid 99% of scam attempts.”

This means you should avoid any deals where the other person asks you to send money or ship the item you’re selling. Following this rule is especially important if you’re looking for a place to rent. You might be moving from far away and be intensely interested in that cute little two-bedroom house by the river. The person who is renting it out might demand that you submit a deposit right away so you don’t lose the house. Resist the urges of your inner bargain-hunter. Don’t rent a place unless you’ve seen it in person.

Of course, if you need a place to live before you pack up and move to a new area, there are other ways to secure your new dwelling. Do you have friends in the area you’ll be moving to? Ask them to look at the place. If you don’t know anyone who can help you, restrict your search to reputable websites that focus solely on residential rentals and home buying.

Deal in Cash or Use PayPal

Cash is king, and Craigslist is no exception to that adage. If you’re selling, you should only accept cash because a crook could easily hand over a bad check or money order. If you’re buying and you write a check, the other party could use the bank information printed on the check to commit fraud.

You might also consider using PayPal. This secure online transaction service doesn’t reveal your personal information to the other party. However, the other person will need to know your email address in order to send you money. You could create an email address exclusively for PayPal.

Investigate Your Date

Your interest in the online classifieds site might lie solely with Craigslist personals. Whether you’re looking for a long-term relationship or just someone to join you for drinks on Friday night, it’s vital that you be cautious.

Before you even consider meeting the other person, do a little sleuth work. If there is a picture in their ad, scrutinize the picture. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is. Some people may enhance their photos to make them look better than they do. The picture might not even be of that person at all! To discover if the person just pulled the photo from another place on the internet, right-click on the picture and choose “Search Google for image.”

You also need to find out if your potential date has a criminal history. Google their name and then do a more formal background check that will reveal information about arrest records and criminal records.

Arrange the Date With Safety in Mind

If and when you decide to meet your Craigslist love interest, arrange the date in a way that will make you feel safe. In addition to meeting in public, you should do these things:

  • Plan on staying together for no more than one hour. If you hit it off and want to stay longer, that’s great. But keep the initial arrangement to something simple, like coffee.
  • Have an escape route. Ask a friend to call or text you partway through the date. If you don’t respond or if you send back a certain phrase, your friend will know that you might be in trouble.
  • Look out for signs that your date lied. Even if the person lied about a seemingly little thing – like their weight – it is a sign that they might be dishonest about other things as well.

The above information is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to protecting yourself on Craigslist. There are rental scams, ticket scams, and other types of scams that are posted daily on the site. If anything at all feels off about an ad, either investigate it until you find out the truth or skip it altogether.

Craigslist is a useful tool for finding bargains and connecting with other people. However, you shouldn’t use it without knowing what precautions to take.

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