What are you shopping for these days? Need a heater to keep you warm through the winter ahead? Or maybe a winter jacket or snow tires? Today, you don’t have to leave the house to find just about any product or service you can think of—sometimes being sold or offered for free by people who live right down the street.
Craigslist, LetGo, FreeFinder, FreeCycle, The Rooster, and many similar sites are basically online classified ads that make it easy and convenient to shop for new or used goods and services being offered by … well, by just about anyone.
And there’s the rub. When you buy or borrow a product or find a rental or roommate on one of these sites, you can’t be sure that the people behind the listings are who they purport to be. In fact, Craigslist and many other sites allow sellers to be nearly or completely anonymous—posts are allowed without leaving a phone number or even a name.
In the past two decades, Craigslist has been the conduit for billions of safe transactions, but the Advanced Interactive Media Group also found that more than 100 murders have been associated with transactions originating at the site.
Of course, what’s far more common than homicides are thefts (of cash, credit cards, identities, and more) and raw deals—buying that “new” bike and discovering that it’s damaged or paying too much for a sofa that doesn’t match its online description.
- Meet in person, in a public place. If you have to meet at the seller’s home, bring a friend.
- Pay with cash. Never use checks, credit cards, or other payment methods that reveal personal information. And never, never pay someone in advance.
- Inspect items before you buy to make sure they match their online description.
So go ahead: Pick up a neighbor’s four-person tent through The Rooster or buy a lightly used motorcycle on Craigslist. Just be aware—whether you’re shopping for furniture or farm and garden equipment—that online shopping comes with risks, and “buyer beware” still applies.