A Craigslist ad selling a diamond ring resulted in the murder of a father in front of his family last week in Washington state. The four suspects are still at large, and are suspected of a second home robbery where the homeowner was tied up and robbed after posting a Craigslist ad selling a big screen TV. Sadly, these aren’t the first attacks on buyers or sellers on classified sites. Nor will they be the last.
While most Craigslist transactions go smoothly, these horrific assaults illustrate how vital it is to take strong safety precautions when buying or selling online.
Safety tips for selling items on the Internet
Creating an ad
- Don’t put any information that identifies you personally in the ad if it’s not strictly necessary. Keep in mind that every piece of information you post may be used for other purposes than you intended. Limit your information to limit your risk.
- Don’t put your phone number in the ad. Keep in mind that reverse look-up directories may provide a wealth of information about you that can be used in ways you had not intended.
- Review any photos in the ad for identifiable information, like care license plates, house numbers, street signs, etc. and mask them.
- If the service does not provide e-mail service, then create a disposable e-mail account (such as a Hotmail account) for this purpose. In either case, pick an e-mail address that does not identify you in any way.
Communicating with a prospective buyer
- Communicate only through e-mail until you feel comfortable that the individual’s interest is valid.
- Be very wary of buyers who are out-of-area, as they are almost always fraudulent.
- If anything feels “off,” stop contact.
- When you’re comfortable that the buyer seems legitimate, ask the buyer to give you his or her phone number. (Sometimes, the area code may indicate if they are in your area.) Try the phone number to find out if it’s valid. If the person responds, chat on the phone for a bit about the item for sale and decide if the person still feels legitimate.
- Make it clear that you will only accept cash for the item. Any other form of payment is highly likely to be fraudulent.
Showing a transportable item
- Only agree to meet during daylight hours in a busy public place and always bring a friend to accompany you. Turn down requests to meet at your house, in an unfamiliar place, or by yourself.
- Don’t hand over the item until you have cash in hand. Don’t accept partial payment or anything other than cash for the transaction. If the method of payment changes from your previous agreement, walk away from the deal.
- If the potential buyer wants time to consider and comes back later, follow the same procedures for meeting. Don’t get careless the second time around. You do not know who will accompany the ‘buyer’ a second time, or if they will be armed.
Showing a non-transportable item at home
- The less you show, the less they know. Your house provides many clues about you, your income level, your family, and so on. All of this may be useful information to crooks and predators, so it’s smart to show as little as possible.
- Move the item into the garage or entryway, if possible. The goal is for potential buyers to see as little as necessary of your house.
- Remove from view any items that could be stolen at the time of the visit, or that would be of interest for the potential buyer to steal later. If you have family photos on display, you may choose to put these away as well.
- Make your meeting a two-step process. Arrange to meet during daylight hours and always have a friend be there with you.
- First, meet in a public place close to your house. Ask for proof of identity such as a driver’s license. (That way you know who you’re dealing with if there’s is a problem.) Note the license plate number, color, and model of the buyer’s vehicle so you have it in the event there is trouble.
- If you’re comfortable that the buyer seems legitimate, have them follow you and your friend to your house.
- If more than one person arrives, keep them together. A common ploy is for one person to engage you with questions while another asks to use the restroom. Decline. This splits your ability to supervise and increases their ability to scope out more of your house and any items worth stealing.
- Don’t hand over the item until you have cash in hand. Don’t accept partial payment, or anything other than cash for the transaction. If the method of payment changes from your previous agreement, decline the deal.
- If the potential buyer wants time to consider and comes back later, follow the same procedures. Don’t get careless the second time around.