Playing it Safe on Craigslist

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Your son is no longer playing the trumpet, your daughter has outgrown her bike, and you have an old couch to get rid of before the new one arrives. Craigslist is one of the most convenient ways to sell unwanted items, but meeting with a complete stranger to complete the transaction could be a bit unnerving.

First, if you're placing an ad, limit the amount of personal information you give away. Set up a dedicated e-mail account to use specifically for Craigslist, with minimal personal information. Use the Craigslist feature that forwards replies to your ad to your e-mail address, instead of directly listing your e-mail address (or any other personal contact information) in your ad. Keep in mind that as soon as you reply to anyone, you reveal your e-mail address and name, so it is important that you don't reveal anything personal about yourself when you set up your dedicated Craigslist e-mail account. For example, don't make your name part of your e-mail address, give your full name in your profile information, or include a profile picture. That way, when you reply back, you still have anonymity. Establishing a separate e-mail account is especially important if your existing e-mail account is tied to your Facebook or other social media accounts, which generally contain a lot of information about you.

When responding to interested parties, let your gut be your guide. If something seems "off," follow your instincts. "Be cautious. Never give someone personal information. They don't need that," said Holland Police Chief Bob Buursma.

Before you meet in person, speak on the phone. Potential red flags may come across more clearly when you're talking to the person, instead of only communicating via e-mail or text. To avoid using your real phone number, you could establish a Google Voice account; this has a different phone number, but channel calls to your primary phone number. If someone does turn out to be creepy, you can block their phone number. Google Voice will also allow you to text without revealing your personal phone number.

When you have reason to meet with a buyer or seller: If at all possible, meet at a highly visible public location. If the item you are selling is particularly valuable, or you're carrying a lot of cash in anticipation of making a purchase, you may wish to meet in a bank lobby or at a local police station. "The very fact that you're in the police department would discourage anyone who meant you harm from showing up," said Chief Buursma, adding that since the Holland Police Department's lobby is only open until 6 p.m., for example, this might not be a practical option for everyone. A coffee shop or fast-food restaurant where you know plenty of people will be around are good alternatives.

If the item for sale is too large to conveniently transport (such as a couch), you may have to invite a potential buyer to your residence. If so, be sure you are not by yourself, and choose a time of day when people are out and about. Invite a friend or neighbor over, if you live alone. If possible, move the item out of the home, into the garage or onto the front porch, to keep from allowing strangers into your house. Keep your cellphone on you.

If you are selling a car, the potential buyers are likely to want to do a test drive. Buursma said that asking potential buyers to leave their ID with you will provide you with the information you need if they should happen to run off with your car.

In addition, Buursma said that most of the complaints he hears about Craigslist are related to scams, not incidents where people felt their personal safety was at risk. He advises that people never pay money toward something they have yet to receive. In addition, people should never agree to take payments, because you may never hear from the buyer after they take possession of the item. Don't send money for something you haven't seen (such as a deposit on an apartment) or pay in advance by Western Union. Requests for Western Union payments should be a red flag, Buursma noted.

Written by Jennifer Reynolds, staff writer for West Michigan Woman.


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