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Bargain hunting is best executed with a large dose of skepticism, particularly when searching for deals online. Craigslist is a prime example of this.

The Better Business Bureau posted a Craigslist scam alert recently urging consumers to exercise caution when browsing the classifieds website. While the Internet allows people from all over to view Craigslist posts, the site is organized geographically for a reason: If you’re going to do business with random people, you should deal locally, if possible.

The Scam

The warning from the BBB focused on hoaxes involving normally expensive items, such as boats, cars or motorcycles. The seller advertises the item at an unbeatable price, and when you email the seller about the details, you’re told you can buy it through a company called Easy Yard Sale. The seller says he or she is using the service to make the process easier, and if you look up Easy Yard Sale online, it seems legitimate.

The seller tells you to wire the money for the boat/car/whatever to Easy Yard Sale, and they’ll ship it to you. If you go through with it, you won’t hear from the seller or Easy Yard Sale again — you’ve been duped.

Smart Consumers Ask Questions

Call me crazy, but shipping a boat across town sounds a little ridiculous in the first place. You should always request to see an item for sale before buying it. The same goes for rentals: If you’re not allowed to tour the place, walk away from the conversation. Even if you’re searching from out of town, technology is pretty wonderful, and you can probably arrange a virtual tour via Skype or Google Hangout.

There’s more to these scams than someone trying to steal your money. Your privacy and identity could be at risk if you make mistakes when dealing with Craigslist sellers. Avoid a bargain hunt gone bad by following some of these guidelines:

  • Never share your financial information with a Craigslist seller.
  • Meet the seller and view the item for sale before paying.
  • Avoid deals that involve shipping.
  • Watch out for fake checks and money orders.
  • Don’t wire money or transfer funds to someone you don’t know. You won’t get it back.

If someone gets their hands on your financial information, you could lose money or at least be without it temporarily. Also, giving someone your financial information, combined with other personal identifying information like your name and address could give the scammer the tools he or she needs to steal your identity.

Identity theft is no picnic, so learn how to protect yourself here. If you’re worried you may have already become a victim of identity theft, you should pull copies of your credit reports (you can do that for free once a year) and you may want to monitor your credit. You can see two of your credit scores for free every month on Credit.com.

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