Web Safety: Should We Fear Craigslist?

Craigslist safety boils down to common sense

The headlines are downright scary. “Craigslist Home Invasion Robbery Ends in Murder.” “Craigslist Laptop Seller Held at Gunpoint.” “Medical Student Charged as Craigslist Killer.” Somewhat less frightening but equally disturbing are the abundance of scams attributed to the classified site. One might think it is a depository of depravity, but of the nearly 50 million people who use Craigslist every month, the vast majority are trustworthy and legitimate. Unfortunately, the (very) bad eggs, as everywhere, taint the experience for everyone else, generating the scary headlines and bringing into question the safety of Craigslist. Likely the Little Nickel Want Ads attracted similar criminal activity back in its heyday.

Craigslist was originally founded in 1995 to provide online local classifieds for the city of San Francisco. It now serves over 450 cities worldwide with its focus on providing classifieds and forums for local communities — job hunting, housing, goods, services, and personal ads — all for free. It is the “go to” site for those who seek to buy or sell these goods and services. And as in all things public, exercising prudence is the best way to avoid the possibility of financial or physical harm. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

The elderly are prime targets for Craigslist and other online scams

Craigslist Safety Tips for Buyers and Sellers:

Below are some common sense tips to aid you in preventing an unsafe transaction.

  • Avoid selling high-end items.
  • Never publish your address.
  • Don’t just confer over email; ask for a phone number. Set up an appointment personally.
  • Never allow anybody into your home; meet out in the front yard.
  • If you are selling a car and posting a photo, blur or cover the license plate number.
  • Meet in public; banks are best as security is heavy.
  • Tell a friend or family member where you are going; better yet, bring someone along with you.
  • Take your cell phone along.
  • It’s OK to say, “I would rather not go down to the basement with you.”
  • Listen to your gut. No great bargain is worth your safety.

Tips for Avoiding Craigslist Scams:

The best protection for avoiding Craigslist scammers is to recognize the warning signs. Keep it local. Most scams involve any of the following.

  • Inquiry from somebody in another country.
  • Transactions that require Western Union, cashier’s check, money order, shipping, or escrow service.
  • Refusal or too distant to meet face-to-face before making the transaction (again, keep it local).

Chances are excellent that using Craigslist will result in a very satisfactory experience, but taking precautions to protect your safety, identity, and financial security is plain old common sense. Pass along this information to your elderly loved ones, as they can often be the target of unscrupulous behavior. Don’t give those bad eggs any opportunity.