How Safe Is Craigslist?

by Mikey Rox on 16 January 2013 4 comments
Photo: Ed Yourdon

In the past two years that I’ve written for Wise Bread, I’ve suggested Craigslist as an excellent means of finding a quick side gig to make extra cash, renting out extra space in your home to tourists, promoting your local business, and selling used furniture and electronics, among other things. I’ve used the site for all of the above and then some, and I maintain that it’s a very helpful resource. (See also: The 25 Best Things to Buy on Craigslist)

However, many of us have also heard stories about scams that take place on the site, or about dangerous people like the infamous Craigslist Killer who robbed and murdered at least one woman who posted her massage services on the site.

I'm not trying to use scare tactics; the vast majority of the time, Craigslist is a great, safe way to exchange goods and services, meet new people, or land a job. But given these well-publicised incidents, I decided to ask a few experts their take on Craigslist, how they feel about its overall safety, and their tips and tricks for helping to prevent unfortunate incidents.

A Safe Place to Meet People?

Mary Jo Fay is the author of "The Seven Secrets of Love," and she’s used Craigslist to find dates. She says that sometimes Craigslist lacks the level of decorum and respectful tone between its users demanded by regulated sites, but it’s still a viable source for anyone looking for love.

“In my book, I specifically talk about Craigslist in terms of a possible dating site, although without the screening that sites like Match.com have it tends to be pretty vulgar, yet there are still some great folks you can meet out there and I never felt unsafe with any of them,” she says. “In fact, I generally can get tons more replies on Craigslist without even posting a photo if I just write a unique and appealing ad as opposed to the typical cookie cutter template of many dating sites, where everyone looks alike.”

The most important aspect of staying safe, May Jo says, is to never let your guard down.

“Being smart about things is absolutely important, she says. “Whether you're selling a couch or meeting a mate, reading between the lines is crucial to determining ahead of time if someone might be a bit iffy. Always meet at a neutral place. Never have someone pick you up on the first date. And when selling or buying something off Craigslist, always have an extra support buddy with you as back up for anyone weird showing up.”

Scott Bernstein, CEO of Falcon Investigations, a private investigation company, completely disagrees with Mary Jo. He warns against using Craigslist as a dating site as thousands of people do every day. He suggests that there’s more criminal activity on Craigslist, including sex trades, stalking, and pedophiles, that any other social site, and that many users are deviants.

“When I get hired to do a job that might be related to the Internet, I always check on my target's PC hard drive to find any Craigslist correspondence,” Bernstein says. “This is tricky, as these grifters know how to hide their identities — but they’re not smart enough for me to con them back and get them arrested.”

A Safe Place to Sell Your Stuff?

Andrew Schrage, founder of Money Crashers, agrees with Bernstein that you should absolutely not date via Craigslist, but he says that it’s very useful for selling unwanted stuff — with caution.

“Regardless of all the horror stories you may have read about concerning Craigslist, it is, for the most part, a safe website to use. However, it is essential that you take some personal safety tips into account before using it,” he says.

“First, if you're making a purchase via Craigslist, never wire or transmit funds online, and only buy items that you can pick up in person. Also, only agree to meet with the seller in a well-lit, public place, and take along a friend if possible. Never agree to go to someone's home — and if you're a seller, never disclose your home address.”

Practicing caution when meeting someone from Craigslist is only the start of the safety checklist when using the site. Craigslist is notorious for helping facilitate (not actively, but because it’s not a regulated community) scams that could result in identity theft and a compromise of your financial information.

“If you are selling an item on Craigslist, make it clear that cash is the only acceptable form of payment, and immediately ignore and delete all messages claiming that payment will be sent in the form of a check or money order,” Schrage says. “Never engage with someone who offers to pay more than the price you list your item for, as that's a common Craigslist scam as well. If you're selling an expensive item, you may even want to consider contacting law enforcement to see if they'd be willing to oversee the transaction. When you're talking about large sums of money, you can never be too careful.

Practicing Safe Craigslist

To make these expert safety tips more digestible, author Robert Siciliano, McAfee Online Security Expert, breaks the basics into bullet points and provides even more valuable, practical information to stay safe when using Craigslist.

ID Pre-Meeting

"Get their name and cell phone number ahead of time," says Siciliano. "And call them back to verify. Tell them your brother, the cop, will be there so they shouldn’t be alarmed when they pull up and see a police cruiser."

Never Meet in Private

A public location with lots of people around is always best.

Trust Your Gut

If something seems wrong, it probably is wrong. If that's the case, it's generally better to be safe and cancel.

Enlist a Friend Whenever Possible

"There is strength in numbers," says Siciliano. "Predators thrive on isolation. By paring up, you reduce the chances of being attacked."

Look Street Smart

Leave expensive-looking clothing and accessories at home, and wear shoes that you can run and kick in.

Not Knowing Creates Risk

Siciliano notes, "Unfortunately, there is risk in meeting someone you don’t know. Being guarded can keep you from getting into a vulnerable situation."

Stay in Communication

Tell someone where you are going and when you will be back, and make sure to keep your cell phone with you.

Do you have a Craigslist horror story? Any tips to add to safely using Craigslist? Let me know in the comments below.

4
Average: 4 (2 votes)
Your rating: None
ShareThis

comments

4 discussions

Add New Comment

CAPTCHA
This test helps prevent automated spam submissions.
Guest's picture
enness

Only thing is, how practical is it to meet someone in a public place with a couch or other large piece of furniture? Most of them don't offer to deliver.

Guest's picture
Guest

I just emailed this article to a person who struck me as very odd, and literally insulted me and had contacted me about furniture items for sale on Craigslist. This was the second "Odd' Inquiry I received this week, and the approach was very similar. My feeling is that they were both acquainted. I had a set of vintage furniture listed on CL. The first person who contacted me asked me many questions, but none had to do with the furniture. He asked me "are you a dealer,where is the furniture located,Is this a hobby, or a business? Then he said his girlfriend like this type furniture, but worked until 5:00, so he would be coming to look at the furniture, first, and then they would make an appointment together later.I was really caught off guard by all of the questions about me, and none about the actual furniture. He also said" I will take exact measurements( the measurements were in the a) and take "pictures" when I come. I thought, this is weird as the ad has several great photos of the items. I told him i would call him the next day, to set an appointment after 5:00, as I had other people coming to look at it around 11:00 a.m. I also suggested that both his girlfriend and he could come at once. My time is valuable and so was his, or so I thought. The next morning, he called my phone number, right before 11:00 a.m. and apologized, saying that he " was trying to reach his accountant, he had told me he was off work that day the eve. before.One of the items sold and I called to inform him. He started in, with unrelated questions, and I stopped him, informing him that I wanted to stay focused on the sale of the furniture. He did not make an appointment.He did email me and asked me to keep in mind if i found another set of this type furniture. Several days later, i got an email from a different person, for an ad that featured one item, but there was on epic that had more than just that item in the picture, and the other items were ones that sold. This guy was the same, he immediately wanted to know, do you have other furniture for sale, are you a dealer, do you refinish furniture, etc.. ? i asked him if he needed furniture refinished and he said "No." I asked him I what he was looking for, and he said at first, a king sized bedroom furniture set, then he said a queen sized furniture set, then he said he needed to furnish 3 bedrooms with furniture.. and also asked me where the furniture was located. I just told him straight up that the phone call was weird, and that I could not understand his inquiry. I told him what items I had left, but he seemed uninterested in that, and just kept the conversations scrambled. Finally he called me "hostile", 3x and hung up, I thought it was so odd, I wrote him back an email explaining that was unclear as to what he really wanted, and that insulting me and calling me hostile was because he wanted information that was not provided to him. Within 3 minutes, he called me back, and said" sorry wrong number," really kooky. For what it is worth, the items partially pictured with the one item of the original set I had left, were part of a set that sold, that the first person inquired about, Now, if you are not totally confused, the point of all of this is to tell you that if people are not specifically interested in your items, and they have not read the ad, to see if you provided measurements, or they have unrelated questions about you, what you may do for a living, the location of the items, and just more or less interview you, beware. I agree with the expert mentioned in the article above, if it feels wrong, it probably is.I am still unclear what this was all about, but what my instincts tell me, is that both of these parties knew one another, that they may be not interested in buying vintage furniture, and that for some reason, they wanted to know more about me personally than they did the items, with the exception of wanting to know where they were located. the second party that called me "hostile" , had one line in his email. "Where can i see your Furniture?" off as i was only advertising ONE piece at that time. This could be about identity theft, a robbery or something that just is not legit. While CL is a cool thing, I totally agree, that you have to use caution. any responses here would be appreciated.

Guest's picture
Bob Burton

Scott H. Bernstein is a unlic. P.I. He is also a felon from a conviction in Calif. in 2005.

Guest's picture
Hannah

I've decided that Craigslist isn't worth the risks anymore.
We actually bought a couch off Craigslist and went to the person's house. He said that over 50 people had called about the couch and said they were coming to see it, but we were the ONLY ones who had shown up.
I don't much like the idea of giving out my address to that many people I don't know, and you certainly can't load up the furniture for a public place meeting, for 50 no-shows!
Also, meeting in public places only offers a measure of safety. We actually had a guy here who met a buyer in a Walmart parking lot. The two men who showed up forced him back into his car, made him withdraw money from an ATM, and then dumped him out and stole the car.
Let's be honest, when you're in a huge parking lot you aren't really paying attention to whats going on around you. It only takes a few seconds to force someone back into a car and drive off with no one the wiser.
It's just not worth it.