Shopping via online classifieds can be intimidating, especially if you’re of a more paranoid composition like myself. For buyers and sellers alike: how can you trust that the person behind an ad or responding to one is sincere? How can you stay safe online? While we may try everything in our power to find those seedy listings, they can sneak through. The nature of community classifieds, online or not, means that your safety can’t be fully guaranteed, but there are many precautions that you can take to help protect yourself and others from scams, pranks, and fraud.
- Trust your instincts: first and foremost, the age-old saying “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is” holds strong. Your instincts are often the best indicator if something is amiss. Use common sense.
- Report abuse: don’t be afraid to make use of the“Report Ad” link if you feel that an ad is fishy. As a community-based site, we rely on you to alert us when scammers are lurking.
- Never give out personal information: beyond your phone number or email (so that you can contact sellers and vice versa), never give out any personal information such as your credit card number, your social insurance number, birthday and so on. If you have to give out your address, only do so if you think the person is legitÂ (if you are still uneasy, meet in public #8).
- Talk on the phone: while email may be the most convenient, especially for initiating transactions, when possible try to speak over the phone before agreeing to meet. If they refuse, excuses are often very revealing. Again, go with your gut.
- Deal only in cash: never wire money, send advance payments, or use your credit card. This also helps you to avoid any deals done through mail – a notorious method for running scams.
- Keep it local: you can reduce your risk by keeping all transactions local. This also eliminates the need to use anything other than cash when buying or selling.
- Inspect before you buy: never buy something that you can’t check out in-person first – not only can you assess it’s quality (and thus, pricing) for yourself, but you can meet the seller in-person.
- Meet in public: when possible, always meet to exchange in a public place. Not only does this protect you by not revealing your address, but also makes it less likely that someone will steal from you. Better yet, have a friend accompany you.
- Don’t go to the car: do not accompany the person to their car for any reason, and, of course, do not let them go to the car with items in hand if they haven’t paid for them yet!
- Ask questions: don’t be afraid to ask questions! Ask sellers why they are selling their item and about it’s condition. And sellers – don’t be afraid to ask buyers what their intentions are. If something sounds shady, remember you don’t owe anyone anything and you can always back out of a transaction before any money is exchanged.
- Research the item: where appropriate, research the item you are planning on buying beforehand so that you know what you are buying, how much it should cost, and what shape it should be in. If you are selling something, you can protect yourself by always providing correct and as detailed information as possible.
- Keep records: especially if you buy and sell often – keep some sort of record of what you have bought and/or sold, where you met, and who you bought from or sold to.