How to Buy and Sell Safely on Craigslist

Tips for a profitable and safe experience

Craigslist is all about no-frills buying and selling. As with any internet service, especially one used by millions of people, caution and common sense are called for.

Screenshot of the Craigslist Chicago homepage

Here's a look at safety tips that will help make your Craigslist experience a safe and profitable one.

For more Craigslist online safety tips, visit the service's Avoiding Scams page.

Never Use Your Real Email Address

When posting an ad on Craigslist, you have the option of using your real email address or a Craigslist-provided proxy email address. Protect your real email address from spammers and scammers by opting for the Craigslist address.

While the anonymized Craigslist email address is great for posting ads on the site, this option doesn't exist for users responding to an ad. To protect your real email address when responding to an ad, consider a disposable e-mail address, such as one from Mailinator or GishPuppy, to conceal your identity. This preserves anonymity throughout the entire transaction.

Shop Locally When Possible

Craigslist advises: "Deal locally with folks you can meet in person." This eliminates much of your risk of being scammed. But this advice comes with its own security risks; it's important to take precautions (see below).

Meet in a Public Place and Don't Go Alone

For your own personal safety, always meet the buyer or seller in a public place, such as a coffee shop. Bring a friend to witness the transaction and keep an eye out for your safety.

Craigslist also recommends:

  • Don't meet in a secluded place.
  • Never invite strangers into your home.
  • Always take your cell phone along with you.
  • Never go alone.

Never Give out Any Personal or Financial Information

Some scammers post job listings on Craigslist and say they need to run a "credit check" on responders. This is a ploy to steal your personal information in order to obtain credit cards in your name or conduct some other kind of identity fraud.

In any Craigslist transaction, never give out any personal or financial information. Always meet in person, bring a friend, and deal in cash or use a secured/proxied form of payment such as PayPal to avoid giving your credit card information to the seller.

Avoid Using Money-Wiring Services

Craigslist warns that anyone who asks you to use a money-wiring service is likely trying to scam you. Wire transfers seem to be the service of choice for criminals (especially foreign ones) perpetrating shipping fraud and other online scams.

If a buyer or seller mentions using a wire service for payment, consider this a huge red flag.

Never Buy Something Without Seeing It in Person First

When purchasing an item, don't trust the picture posted on Craigslist. Sellers sometimes use a picture grabbed from the internet to misrepresent the product being sold. If you really want to purchase the item, check it out in person before making a deal, and follow the above safety tips for meeting a seller in person.

Remove Geotags From Pictures Before You Post Them

If you take a photo of an item to be sold on Craigslist, be careful. Photos taken with a GPS-enabled smartphone may have the physical location of where you took the picture embedded in the EXIF metadata, which is part of the picture's file header.

While you can't see the GPS geotag information in the picture, thieves using an EXIF metadata viewer application might be able to read the location information to help locate the item.

Craigslist isn't clear on whether or not it removes geotags, as some online sites do, so it's wise to remove geotag information from your photos before uploading them to Craigslist.

Use an EXIF geotag removal app to remove the geotag information from your pictures before you post them online.