Use Phone Numbers, Not Emails

This is probably the simplest tip that you can follow to avoid wasting your time with scammers.  Whether you are buying or selling an item on Craigslist, always deal with people over the phone to avoid most problems.  The people who put up fake advertisements and listings will want you to email them.  After you make contact with someone you want to buy an item from, get their phone number and give them a call.  If they won't give you their phone number, they aren't worth your time.  Anyone that isn't willing to talk over the phone isn't serious about selling their stuff and will be more trouble than they're worth.

Talk on the phone

If you are selling an item, avoid email scammers by putting your phone number in the ad.  Most people prefer to text you, but simply reply to them saying if they are serious about buying to call you.  In addition, put in the ad that you do not respond to emails.  Overall, this will knock out most scammers.

Furthermore, learn to recognize spam and generic template emails.  If you receive an email or text message from someone and they want to know if your item is still for sale, be wary.  If their message has your listing title copied exactly, word for word, then they are not worth your time.  It is a generic message spammed out to all listings.  Craigslist is getting better at preventing such things, but it still isn't perfect.

Deal Locally and in Cash

Sometimes when you post a listing on Craigslist you will get people from a long distance away that see your item and want to purchase it.  This is because sometimes when you search your local Craigslist for an item that isn't very common, long distance results will show if no local items are found.  And so, it is technically possible that someone legitimate finds your item for sale even though they might live 200 miles away.

Unfortunately, you want to avoid dealing with long distance buyers.  Most of them scams and will result in a lot of headaches and lost money.  If your item is something common like an iPhone they are almost certainly a scam.  If it's something more niche, they might be legitimate, but you probably don't want to risk it.  The general rule of thumb with Craigslist is that you should never ship any items.  It's best to stick to it.

cash is king

Another thing you may run into with selling locally is buyers wanting to pay you with PayPal or with a check.  These should all be avoided if at all possible.  PayPal should never be used, because the buyer can just charge back the purchase and end up with their money and your item.

Checks have their obvious drawback- it could bounce and you're screwed.  If you are dealing with really expensive items, such as a laptop, you may feel uncomfortable dealing with lots of cash.  A check is acceptable in this situation, but then you want to meet right at your local bank so you can cash it before you hand over the item.  If the buyer doesn't agree with this, he is either being a bonehead and not worth your time, or he is attempting to scam you.

Additionally, you may run into a buyer that wants to trade your item for a gift card he has.  In this case, it is best to meet at the store for which the gift card is for.  You can go to a cashier and have them verify the amount they claim is on the card.

Really though, all of these problems can all be avoided by following the big rule on Craigslist- cash is king.


Avoiding Scams When Buying Items

Most of the safety tips or advice for avoiding scammers is for sellers.  And that's all well and good.  But Craigslist is also a brilliant resource for buying locally.  You can get great deals and don't have to worry about shipping.  Just as with selling though, there are some things you want to watch out for.

First of all is pictures.  These can tell you a whole lot, and show just how serious a seller is about getting rid of an item.  There are two things you want to watch out for.  The first is if there are no pictures at all.  This raises a big and obvious red flag.  Don't take someone's word for a refrigerator looking "good and clean", and drive 30 minutes to find it filthy and sitting in a gross basement.  Another thing is crappy pictures in dull lighting.  It's hard to tell details from most cell phone pictures, especially when it's dim.  Often times people will do this to avoid showing the flaws of an item.  Never be afraid to ask the seller for better quality pictures of an item.  If they refuse to provide more pictures, or give excuses like "not having a picture" they almost certainly have something to hide.


The other big thing to watch out for is some of the wording you see in ads.  A lot of times you will have scammers that like to justify their actions by using strange descriptions.  For instance, if you see someone selling an Xbox and a bunch of games and he says it's "as-is" then the item probably is broken, as are the games.  If they were working, he'd tell you.  After all, working condition is a big selling point!

For bigger items like cars, Craigslist is even trickier.  You should always bring a mechanically inclined friend along for checking out cars you found on CL.  If an ad says something like "Works great just has 1 small problem..." then be very wary.  "Easy, cheap fix" is another one to watch for.  If the car only needed a simple, easy-to-do $30 repair, then why wouldn't the seller do it themselves?  Then they could say the car is running perfect and get more money.  Generally when an item "just needs xyz part" it means it is on the brink of needing tons of repairs.  Buyer beware.

The last thing that you should always remember as a buyer is that it's okay to say "NO".  If you meet up with a seller and find the item is not in the condition you expected, don't be afraid to say something.  Speak up, and maybe you'll be able to barter the price down (a common Craigslist tactic.)  And if it's truly in shabby shape, it's okay to walk away.  Do not feel obligated to buy something just because you meet the seller.   Obviously you shouldn't waste peoples time, but if they don't respect you enough to tell you the true condition of an item, then there's no reason to feel obliged to give them your money.

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Making Money with Craigslist
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