Help-Key: How to Buy and Sell on Craigslist Without Being an Idiot


Back in the day, Craigslist dot org was just for us geeks, a marketplace where those in-the-know bought and sold gear with other tech elitists. Now my mother uses it to get pretty much any household or electronic doo-dads she needs. But as the popularity and exposure of the site grows, so do the dangers. Shysters are always looking for new paces and ways to steal your hard-earned dollars, and Craigslist is very tempting hunting ground. This guide will help you to keep it from also being fertile.

We’d like to help make Craigslist trouble-free, but that’s not really realistic. Instead, this guide is to help you with your decision making process. Not only are we going to help you keep your guard up when faced with crooked buyers or sellers, we’re going to help you make the right buying choice to avoid buyer’s remorse.

The easiest way to keep things straight when using CL is with common sense. If a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. A 42-inch Samsung Plasma HDTV for $200 is either fake or has a catch the size of Jaws attached. Stay away.

Likewise, it’s your duty to help others out. Craigslist has some handy flag links at the top that allows you to flag a post. A flagged post will be reviewed by the site moderators, and if it’s indeed spam or a rip-off, they’ll take it down. It’s good to be one of the good guys.

If you do find a good deal, and there are tons of them, then you’ve got to qualify your potential purchase. Most transactions of CL are done via email, and that’s a great way to start. But if you’re going to fork over more than a couple hundred dollars for anything you might find, make sure you get a phone number. This make the transaction faster, and gives you contact information for the person you’re dealing with. Don’t forget, emails can be hacked, spoofed, or generated and dumped easily. Phone numbers always have bills attached, and those bills have someone’s name.

When you’ve found what you’re looking for, meet someplace in public. This means shopping locally. While certain areas have better deals on certain items, it’s much safer to have a face-to-face deal. Besides insuring you’re not ripped off by a mail scam, it gives you a chance to inspect the merchandise before giving up any cash.

That’s brings about another point worth mentioning: you don’t have to say yes. If you plan to meet someone to buy something, be clear that you’d like to inspect the item or items, and that if they’re in bad shape, or not as advertised, you’ll be walking away. This is your right, and if a seller has a problem with it, you probably don’t want to be dealing with them, anyway.

This goes for sellers as well. Just because someone meets you at the local Starbucks, it doesn’t mean it’s a done deal. If your listing was accurate, then chances are you’ll have some cash. But don’t be upset if someone changes their mind upon seeing what you have to offer, it’s on you to be up-front and honest.

If the person’s good and the item’s as described, then by all means make the purchase. But use cash. It’s the best way to keep things honest, easy, and equitable. If you’re selling, don’t accept any checks, even cashier’s checks or money orders, as these are easy to fake. Your bank will hold you accountable if you deposit a false check. Also, stay away from wire services, as there are a number of scams that utilize these services to rob you blind.

In addition to meeting in person and dealing in cash, you should do your homework. If you’re buying a cellphone, you should use Google to check the phone’s stats and make sure it works with your carrier. It’s amazing how many people buy phones only to find they’re incompatible with their network. A T-Mobile phone won’t work on Verizon’s network, and so on. Once you’ve figured out the basics, make sure it’s a good price. You can search eBay for the same item to get a feel for what the current average used price is for the item, from iPods to cars. This is a great way to see if you’re getting a deal or getting hosed.

When you’ve found your item, ask detailed questions about its condition and any accessories it might have or need. For example, asking “Does it come with everything?” isn’t as precise as “What accessories are included?” The first question is fairly objective, the second is subjective, which is in your favor. Also, feel free to be skeptical. Everything on Craigslist is something someone else doesn’t want. Why not? Make sure to ask why the seller’s selling it. Have they ever had any problems with it?

So now you’ve got the right item, the right price, and the right seller. There’s nothing wrong with asking if there’s anything else? If a guy has an iPod for sale, he might have extra cables, docks, cases, or other things that could go with it. Usually a seller will throw these in for a few extra bucks, and sometimes for free. It’s a great way to maximize your ROI (return on investment, smarty).

Now that we know what to do, let’s talk about what not to do. Don’t show up late without calling. Don’t stand your buyer or seller up, that’s just awful. Don’t give your seller grief if they make a mistake, they’re not pros. It happens. Don’t worry about getting down on someone who’s ripping you off, though. There’s nothing wrong with that.

While this isn’t meant to be the most detailed guide, it’s full of good points to keep in mind to make sure you’re not ripped off. Seasoned buyers will have other tips, and are more than welcome to leave them in the comments, as that’s what they’re for. New-to-Craiglisters will want to keep this guide in mind when they voyage out to the great classifieds site.

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