How to Buy and Sell Safely on Craigslist

Tips for a profitable and safe experience

What to Know

  • Don't use personal email address; try to shop locally; meet in public and don't go alone; avoid money-wiring services.
  • Don't give out personal or financial information. See item in person before buying; remove geotags from photos.

This article provides safety tips for buying and selling items on Craigslist. For more Craigslist online safety tips, visit the service's Avoiding Scams page.

Never Use Your Real Email Address

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

The anonymized Craigslist email address is great for posting ads on the site without revealing any identifying information beyond your first name. However, even if you opt for the proxy email when responding to an ad, the seller still sees your real name and any personal details listed in your email signature.

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. Using one of these alternative email services preserves anonymity throughout the entire transaction.

Shop Locally When Possible

Craigslist advises: "Deal locally with folks you can meet in person." This approach 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 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.

Some police departments provide a designated area in their parking lots where you can meet a buyer or seller. These areas are video taped and monitored by police officers.

Craigslist also recommends following these rules:

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

Never Give Out 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 to obtain credit cards in your name or conduct some other kind of identity fraud.

In any Craigslist transaction, never give out personal or financial information. Always meet in person, bring a friend, and deal in cash or use a secured or 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 an image from the internet to misrepresent the product they're selling.

If you 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 sell 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 doesn't specify 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.

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