Craiglist Safety 101: Ways to avoid spam, scams, and crazy people on Craigslist.
As a followup to my last Technology post, this post is going to focus more specifically on using Craigslist safely... by safely, I mean avoiding technology-related problems.
To begin with, here's a copy of what I wrote in my Dear Mom: Email Safety 101 Post:
(Common Scam) Someone asks for your Paypal account after you post a Craigslist ad. They don't want to see the item. They hired a go between to pick up item. They're deaf/blind/etc. Basically they're trying to present an "weakness" (that you won't ask questions about) to tap into your empathy so they can take advantage of you. This really ticks me off. Anyways- my father-in-law asked about setting up a PayPal because someone wanted to buy their used car using PayPal- guy couldn't get it himself because he was deaf or something to that effect. I started answering about how to setup Paypal, then suddenly asked about what buyer said in email. "Oooohhh..." A quick web search and I was able to find multiple hits about this scam and various versions of it. It's not to say Paypal isn't safe, but there are apparently ways to run scams using it. That's all you need to know. I use Paypal all the time, safely, via stores online and people I know. It generally works out fine. You just need to sniff out the cons. When I post Craiglist ads, I find it's helpful to look for "humanness" in the responses I get to the ad- the person asks questions about the product, they say they can meet me somewhere public, they say they can't make it until after the kids get out of school. More on Craigslist on another post.
Okay so that's the scam piece. Please don't fall for suspicious stuff. I KNOW that my mom and father-in-law had alarms going off in their heads, just based on how they mentioned the topic to me. But I sense that due to their comfort level with the technology, they dismissed those warning bells as themselves just being uncomfortable with the technology. LISTEN TO YOUR WARNING BELLS.
Okay so here's two scam emails that I received (cross posted on my Email Safety 101) post. The pink is my own writing and the yellow-ed out is just private information that I chose to "white out."
Warning Signs with these two emails:
- Saying Craiglists isn't relaying an email... in the email that they emailed me and I received.
- The person doesn't ask any questions about the product.
- The person doesn't reference the item itself in their email at all.
- The person has this mysterious person who picks items up for them... the person isn't a family member or friend, just a "mover."
- The person immediately begins asking for your confidential information: PayPal, Email Address, Full Name, Cell Phone, etc.
- The person has some really unusual excuse for not being able to come see the product you're selling.
Below is a real email for a sound system that I sold on Craigslist. I love Craigslist, when it's used safely. There are a number of factors that made this what I see as a "legitimate email." I can't promise a "real life" buyer isn't a bad person to have come over your house or even that a scammer can't do these things, but this amount of detail in the email tends to bode well towards telling you that the person is a legitimately interested buyer. I use Freecycle as well and I find that replies that are more detailed like this tend to get more replies from me (or from them to me).
Good Signs of the Above Email:
- The potential buyer references the item specifically (in this case, the model number of the sound system).
- The potential buyer asks questions that make sense for the item you're selling- in this case, is it working, is it available, and how good of condition it is in.
- The potential buyer adds some personal detail that makes sense in context... in this case, the person mentions their location which I'm familiar with.
IF YOU ARE A BUYER on Craigslist or would like an item off Freecycle, please note these good qualities in a "real" email... many sellers are trying to sift through vast amounts of fake emails to get to "real" people so try to look real when you email them. Usually I add some personal tidbit like vague location I'm coming from, where I'd prefer to meet to exchange, "Oh I've been looking for one of these for my son!", etc.
I can't speak as much to personal safety when dealing with Craigslist exchanges, although I generally will only meet in public. I like to swap off in busy parking lots (ie. Target) so that it's easy for both of us, but I don't have to stress about going to people's house. If I'm going alone, I let my husband know where I'm meeting someone and make sure the person's information is on my computer. I don't carry extra cash. I carry only the amount that's needed... if I happen to have more than needed, I separate it out ahead of time so I'm not showing how much I have in my wallet. I leave my wallet elsewhere during the exchange. Keep my phone and/or keys in my hands or close by (you can always press the alarm button if you feel uncomfortable).
If I do end up picking up at someone's house, I can scope out the address on the computer beforehand to see how safe the neighborhood looks... I don't go too far out so usually I have a pretty good idea how my local area is. But if I had to pick something up in Baltimore, I might see if I can find pictures of the location in advance.. Google Maps allows you to see a street view of an address sometimes (not always). If it feels wrong, listen to your warning bells. Don't do anything that makes you uncomfortable or deal with people who make you feel uncomfortable online (can you imagine how much more uncomfortable they'll make you feel in person?!).
If I have someone pick up an item from my house, I don't mention good times we're home or not home. We just find a time that works for both of us... ie. "Oh 9am won't work, but I can do 4pm." They don't need to know what your typical schedule for being home is. I also try to make sure I schedule a time when other people are home- we have a roommate and my husband of course so I make sure one or both of them is around.
The Internet is an awesome wonderful thing to use, it's just important to use these resources carefully so that you can safely get the information that you want and need. You don't need to be scared of it or of other people on it, you just need to be cautious as you would be if you were walking alone in an unknown area.