Home > Guides > The Safe Way to Buy Things on Craigslist

Comments 0 Comments
Advertiser Disclosure


I was sure my husband had just been scammed, and that he would never see the $1,500 cash he had just spent on a dirt bike he found on Craigslist. He had driven about two hours from our home to buy the bike but when he tried to register it at DMV, he discovered he couldn’t. The bill of sale he had wasn’t sufficient and the information he had been given by the seller wasn’t matching up. It looked as if he may have been sold a stolen bike.

If he had been scammed, he wouldn’t be the first person in that situation. A friend confessed her husband had lost $3,000 in a Craigslist scam involving a car that probably never existed.

Craigslist can be a great way to sell stuff. (If you’re trying to get out of debt, for example, selling things you don’t need or use on Craigslist can help you get cash to pay off debt or boost your savings.) It can also be a good way to pick up bargains, especially on used items. Whether it’s kitchen appliances, exercise equipment or even cars or boats, the free site can put buyers in touch with sellers.

If you are a buyer, the most important thing is that you protect yourself. Second, you want to make sure you get what the seller is promising, in the condition promised and that you can pick up the item safely. (Avoiding dangerous situations is huge: There have been homicides linked to would-be buyers going to pick up items that did not even exist.)

Here are some tips from security pros for shopping safely on Craigslist.

Stick to Craigslist. If a seller immediately tries to route you off Craigslist to their own email address, be careful, warns security expert Robert A. Grimes, who wrote an amusing account on InfoWorld.com about one of his friends who enjoys wasting Craigslist scammers’ time. “Scammers want to get you off the site before anyone notices the fraud,” he says. At the same time, if you get to the point where you are serious about buying you want to verify the person you are dealing with. If all your communication has been through Craigslist or text messages, a phone call might be a good idea. 

Widen your search. Lifehacker recommends a tool called SearchAllJunk.com because sellers are only supposed to post a Craigslist ad in one city. If the item shows up in multiple areas you’ll want to proceed with caution. Sure, it’s possible a seller may ignore the rules and try to post in two or three not-too-distant cities, but if the same item shows up in California and Florida, that’s a huge red flag. (We once inquired about a horse supposedly located in Georgia. The seller seemed sketchy and my daughter later found pictures of the same horse — with a different name — in Texas and Virginia.)

Meet in a safe place. Choose a well-trafficked place to conduct business if possible. Where I live, a local police station has designated itself a “safe place” for Craigslist transactions and encouraged buyers and sellers to meet there. If you’re buying a bulky item (think furniture, appliances) that’s harder, so you may want to bring a friend along. If you can’t, at least tell someone where you are going and what you want them to do if you don’t check back with them in a reasonable time. And tell the seller that if the item looks good you’ll go to a nearby ATM to get cash. Don’t wave it around ahead of time. (Police warn not to accept a last-minute change in location.) Craigslist also has a list of safety tips on the site for buyers and sellers.

Get a receipt. If you are buying something valuable or expensive, insist on a detailed, signed, written receipt with the seller’s details. If there is a hidden problem later, your receipt will be the only proof you have. (Keep in mind, though, you are likely buying the item “as is.” So inspect it carefully.) If you’re buying a car, getting an inspection by a mechanic is wise, if possible. (You may have to pay for it yourself though.) Make sure there is a clear title and registration or other documentation that proves the person selling it is the owner and that you are free to register it in your name.

Never send money to a scammer. This sounds simple enough, but every day people send money to crooks. If an item is out of state and must be shipped, you may want to use a service like Escrow.com to facilitate the sale. Scammers want instant, untraceable funds, which is why they choose money transfers or prepaid cards. (Here are some more scams to look out for this year.)

In my my husband’s case, we got lucky. He made the trip back to the seller’s location — not without a lot of trepidation, though — and got his money back. He ended up buying a different bike from someone else, and this time was able to successfully register it.  

More Money-Saving Reads:

Image: iStock

Comments on articles and responses to those comments are not provided or commissioned by a bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by a bank advertiser. It is not a bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

Please note that our comments are moderated, so it may take a little time before you see them on the page. Thanks for your patience.

Credit.com receives compensation for the financial products and services advertised on this site if our users apply for and sign up for any of them.

Hello, Reader!

Thanks for checking out Credit.com. We hope you find the site and the journalism we produce useful. We wanted to take some time to tell you a bit about ourselves.

Our People

The Credit.com editorial team is staffed by a team of editors and reporters, each with many years of financial reporting experience. We’ve worked for places like the New York Times, American Banker, Frontline, TheStreet.com, Business Insider, ABC News, NBC News, CNBC and many others. We also employ a few freelancers and more than 50 contributors (these are typically subject matter experts from the worlds of finance, academia, politics, business and elsewhere).

Our Reporting

We take great pains to ensure that the articles, video and graphics you see on Credit.com are thoroughly reported and fact-checked. Each story is read by two separate editors, and we adhere to the highest editorial standards. We’re not perfect, however, and if you see something that you think is wrong, please email us at editorial team [at] credit [dot] com,

The Credit.com editorial team is committed to providing our readers and viewers with sound, well-reported and understandable information designed to inform and empower. We won’t tell you what to do. We will, however, do our best to explain the consequences of various actions, thereby arming you with the information you need to make decisions that are in your best interests. We also write about things relating to money and finance we think are interesting and want to share.

In addition to appearing on Credit.com, our articles are syndicated to dozens of other news sites. We have more than 100 partners, including MSN, ABC News, CBS News, Yahoo, Marketwatch, Scripps, Money Magazine and many others. This network operates similarly to the Associated Press or Reuters, except we focus almost exclusively on issues relating to personal finance. These are not advertorial or paid placements, rather we provide these articles to our partners in most cases for free. These relationships create more awareness of Credit.com in general and they result in more traffic to us as well.

Our Business Model

Credit.com’s journalism is largely supported by an e-commerce business model. Rather than rely on revenue from display ad impressions, Credit.com maintains a financial marketplace separate from its editorial pages. When someone navigates to those pages, and applies for a credit card, for example, Credit.com will get paid what is essentially a finder’s fee if that person ends up getting the card. That doesn’t mean, however, that our editorial decisions are informed by the products available in our marketplace. The editorial team chooses what to write about and how to write about it independently of the decisions and priorities of the business side of the company. In fact, we maintain a strict and important firewall between the editorial and business departments. Our mission as journalists is to serve the reader, not the advertiser. In that sense, we are no different from any other news organization that is supported by ad revenue.

Visitors to Credit.com are also able to register for a free Credit.com account, which gives them access to a tool called The Credit Report Card. This tool provides users with two free credit scores and a breakdown of the information in their Experian credit report, updated twice monthly. Again, this tool is entirely free, and we mention that frequently in our articles, because we think that it’s a good thing for users to have access to data like this. Separate from its educational value, there is also a business angle to the Credit Report Card. Registered users can be matched with products and services for which they are most likely to qualify. In other words, if you register and you find that your credit is less than stellar, Credit.com won’t recommend a high-end platinum credit card that requires an excellent credit score You’d likely get rejected, and that’s no good for you or Credit.com. You’d be no closer to getting a product you need, there’d be a wasted inquiry on your credit report, and Credit.com wouldn’t get paid. These are essentially what are commonly referred to as "targeted ads" in the world of the Internet. Despite all of this, however, even if you never apply for any product, the Credit Report Card will remain free, and none of this will impact how the editorial team reports on credit and credit scores.

Your Stories

Lastly, much of what we do is informed by our own experiences as well as the experiences of our readers. We want to tell your stories if you’re interested in sharing them. Please email us at story ideas [at] credit [dot] com with ideas or visit us on Facebook or Twitter.

Thanks for stopping by.

- The Credit.com Editorial Team