Everyone loves a bargain, right? That’s why online classified ad websites like Craigslist, eBayClassifieds (formerly Kijiji), Recycler and letgo have all become popular shopping destinations among folks who are willing to shop ‘outside the box’ and bypass traditional retail outlets in search of a deal. Because these websites focus on local listings, they can be a great place to find amazing prices on both new and used items, right in your very own neighborhood.
The majority of transactions initiated through online classifieds are successful (and uneventful), however, there have been a number of high-profile tragedies connected to these websites as well. According to research conducted by the industry watchdog Advanced Interactive Media Group, as of January 2016, 101 murderers have found their victims through Craigslist ads —ads ranging from pre-owned cars to baby clothes.
While high-profile crimes always draw a flurry of media attention, problems involving theft, fraud, misrepresentation of a product or other illegal, and unethical, activities are far more likely to affect the average buyer or seller.
Common Online Classified Scams
While virtually any transaction made through a consumer-to-consumer site could involve unscrupulous activities, there are some ‘red flag’ types of transactions that tend to be favored among the criminal types.
Some of the more common, and costly, scams that have been unearthed have involved rental properties, where a fake ‘landlord’ takes deposits from would-be tenants on a property that he or she doesn’t even own. This has been a big problem in hot rental markets, where competition is stiff for rental homes and apartments.
Airline and concert tickets are another favorite target among scammers, who often purchase tickets with a credit card, sell them on a local classified site, then cancel the tickets and get a refund from their credit card company – and keep your cash too.
Scams involving fake cashier checks, money transfers, and wire service payments are also well reported, often leaving victims on the hook for thousands of dollars. Scammers sometimes convince buyers that sites like Craigslist insist that large transactions be paid for with electronic transfers to protect both the buyer and seller, much like how eBay works. Unfortunately, this simply isn’t true – the online classified sites do not provide any type of payment insurance.
Revenge-based scams have also been linked to online classified sites, where a jilted ex-partner decides to either give away, or sell, their former partners’ belongings without their knowledge or consent.
Online Classified Safety Tips
With a little know-how and common sense, online classified ads can be a great way to save money and keep unwanted items out of the landfill.
Here’s what you need to know to stay safe:
- If it’s too good to be true, it probably is. Always do your research before initiating a transaction so you can know the approximate value of the item you’re buying or selling. If the price is too low on a listing, or if a buyer offers you more than market value, you should be suspicious.
- Always meet in person, in a public space. Craigslist recommends that buyers and sellers always meet in a well-lit, public space like a “cafe, bank or shopping center“, and to never invite strangers into your home. It’s also a good idea to bring a friend along, tell someone where you are going, and only complete deals during daylight hours.
- Deal locally, in cash. Don’t buy anything you can’t see in person, and don’t agree to ship anything to a buyer. Refuse to provide, or accept anything other than cash for payments. If it’s a high-value item like a vehicle, arrange to meet at a bank to exchange the money.
- Search sellers ‘Other Listings’. You can learn a lot about a seller by searching through the other items they have listed, so take the time to check for the same phone number or email address on multiple ads.
- Look for ads with real photos. Genuine ads usually include accurate photos of the actual item, rather than ‘stock’ photos that can be copied from online retail sites like Amazon.
- Trust your instincts. Above all else, be sure to trust your instincts. If you feel uncomfortable, walk away, and if you feel threatened, contact the police.
By using common sense, knowing about the typical scams, and following your instincts, you can protect yourself and your family while buying and selling locally, using online classified sites.