If there's one site that people often visit for local sales, it would be Craigslist.
About two years ago, I was searching for a car and was shocked to see some of the "deals" people on Craigslist had to offer. At the time, this was 2011, there were cars like a 2006 Chrysler 300, fully loaded, going for only $3,000. I was shocked and immediately fooled into falling for the "deal". I came to find out that these were nothing more than scams. After a while, I became alert enough to notice which were scams and which were more legitimate.
Right off the bat, I can tell you that anything that sounds too good to be true over the net is, 99% of the time, too good to be true and you should stay away. The internet is full of crooks and since it isn't really regulated, crooks find all sorts of loopholes that can lure you into a trap that you can never get out of. This is mostly due to international lines and your country not having enough power to handle the situation. It's a much easier process if you live in the United States of America and someone scams you within the United States of America. However, it becomes more difficult to do when you are in the U.S. and the other person is in a country like Romania. This is one of the most common ways that crooks get away with ripping people like you and I off.
How am I able to tell which are scams and which aren't? As I said before, check the price. If there is hardly anything wrong with the vehicle (same goes for most items) and the price is way below what it ought to be, this should tell you to be careful. If someone is selling a near brand new car for next to nothing, this should raise some red flags.
I was able to further determine which were scams because of what the person would say. Normally if you are interested in an item on Craigslist, you e-mail the seller and tell them that you are interested and usually ask for more information on the item. In this case, a car, you would ask questions like how much mileage does it have, what does the interior look like, etc. Again, if everything is in perfect condition yet the price is really low, watch out. The other red flag is when someone tells you that the item is in another area and they'll need to ship it for you.
The first red flag should be if the person says that they will handle shipping costs especially if the price is dirt cheap. Not only should this raise a red flag that the person doesn't actually have a car but it should also worry you as, if they do have the car, it could be stolen.
The last time I fell for one of these scams, I decided to run with the scammer. I wouldn't recommend doing this; instead, I think that you should run from the person if you realize they are a scam. Talking to them more can put you in further risk than if you just walked away.
Nevertheless, the "woman" told me that she was selling her brand new car for such a cheap price because her son had died in Afghanistan as a U.S. soldier. This raised the first red flag for me, but I sent her condolences just in case it wasn't a scam. The person continued and said that the car was located in Minnesota but they would be willing to have it shipped to me. This raise the second red flag for me. I decided to play around and tell the person that I actually had friends and family that live in Minnesota who could pick up the car for me and there would be no need for any shipping costs on their part. The person got a bit clever and made up some B.S. about the car being stuck in an impound lot and they wouldn't be able to let anyone inside to get the car. This was the final red flag that confirmed my suspicions that they were lying all along.
So how does the scam work? Well, it's quite easy. The biggest red flag that should get you is when they ask for payment. If they ask to deal with you using Western Union, forget it. It's 99% of the time a scam. Craigslist understands this and has also posted multiple warnings all over their page regarding this. Recently, people have also been willing to use PayPal. I can attest that PayPal is a safe method for transactions but only over eBay. I would not recommend to use it for anything else as there is no record so it's harder to trace where money is going and why. eBay owns PayPal so getting information about sellers, buyers, and additional information in transactions is no problem for the company. However, when it comes to the case of Craigslist, PayPal has no information about your transaction and probably very little on the seller. Also, PayPal doesn't have records of you ever contacting the person and what is detailed where eBay does have this information.
The only way you should make payment is with cash and in person when dealing with someone over Craigslist. Not only that, stay away from any offers to have the item shipped to you or from you. It's not worth the risk.
The best way to ensure that you are most safe while using Craigslist is to follow these simple guidelines:
1. Do not deal with someone if they offer to ship the item to you.
2. Do not deal with someone if they ask if you can ship to them.
3. Deal with cash if you possibly can whether that be being a seller or a buyer. As a buyer, checks may be okay as you could cancel the check if something goes wrong, but it's best to stick to using cash if it all possible.
4. Meet with the person in person.
5. When handing the cash or receiving the cash, have the item with you if it all possible.
6. Make sure to check the item to ensure that it is 100% legitimate. If it's a car, try to test drive it or at least sit in it before making the purchase. Also, check the VIN number to make sure the car is not stolen or salvaged. If it's another item, check to make sure that it's the real deal and not a fake.
7. Bring someone with you and meet in a public place during daylight hours. Besides protecting your assets and finances, make sure you protect your life from harm.
8. If you are very sure that something is a scam, don't deal with the person anymore than you already have. If necessary, contact the police for additional help.
These are things that I had to learn while using Craigslist. It can be a great tool in helping people in the community meet and make local transactions, but it can also be very dangerous in many ways. It's best to be as safe as you can.
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