Before you buy from an online classified ad

  • 31 January 2012
  • 4 replies

Userlevel 5
  • Retired Webrooter
  • 58 replies
Purchasing items through an internet classified site is a great way to find the items you’re looking for at a terrific price, but there are risks you take when you do. Your first line of defense is to use reputable services and follow closely any advice the site gives about buying safely.
How to respond to an ad
  • If the ad seems too good to be true, it probably is. There is a fine line between a great deal, and getting scammed or stuck with stolen goods. If the site allows you to see seller reviews, check these out and avoid anyone with a questionable sales history.
  • If you want the convenience of allowing the seller to call you (as opposed to responding by email through the service), provide a free disposable phone number. You can get one easily by searching on ‘disposable phone number’ and selecting from one of several companies that provide this service. Don’t put your personal phone number in your response to an ad – you don’t want people to be able to harass you later, and there are several reverse look-up directories may provide a wealth of information about you that can be used in ways you would not appreciate.
  • If the service does not have their own email service, create a disposable email account that does not show any personal information – like your name, location, or age. Again, you do not want people to have your primary account information to harass you through.
Communicating with a prospective seller
  • Communicate only through the anonymous email account, or your disposable phone number.
  • Understand that virtually every out-of-area seller is a fraud – ignore the ad.
  • If anything feels “off,” stop contact.
  • When you’re comfortable that the seller seems legitimate, ask the seller to give you his or her phone number.(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 pay in cash for the item.
Any other payment method request highly likely to be fraudulent.
You do not want to pay with a check that will provide the seller with your name, address, phone number, bank, bank routing number, and bank account. Nor do you want to hand over your credit or debit card information. You also do not want to do some weird money order or check transfer scheme.
Look at transportable items in safe, public places
  • Agree to meet during daylight hours in a public place and bring a friend to accompany you. Turn down any suggestion that the seller can meet at your house, in an unfamiliar place, that you come to their house – no matter how big and tough you are.
  • Do not hand over the cash until you have checked out the item you are buying. Don’t give partial payment up front or use anything other than cash for the transaction. If the method of payment changes from your agreement, walk away from the deal.
  • If the potential seller wants time to consider other offers, and you return later follow the same procedures. Don’t get careless the second time around.
  • If the item being sold has significant value, meet inside a bank where you can withdraw the money and accept the item before leaving – this way you aren’t walking around with a large sum of cash. It is hard to be safer than in a bank where there is plenty of security monitoring.
Only go to the seller’s home to view non-transportable items
  • Arrange to meet during daylight hours and have a friend be there with you.
  • Do not go into the sellers home alone; keep your friend at your side.
  • Don’t hand over the cash until you have checked out the item. If the method of payment changes from your previous agreement, decline the deal.
  • If the potential seller wants time to consider other offers and you return later, follow the same procedures. Don’t get careless the second time around.
With these safety precautions in place, your chances of having only positive buying experiences is very high.

4 replies

Userlevel 7
Badge +7
That's great information!  I had assumed you had to pay for disposable phone numbers but after doing some internet research it looks like there are some good free options, so there's no reason not to take that precaution.
Userlevel 5
For sure. You can never do enough research. And it's hard not to be a little skeptical when you hear about all of the sketchy things that go on with online classifieds.

Thanks a bunch for the feedback.
Userlevel 7
Now what I am curious about is how to properly and safely SELL through these, especially one-offs.  After all, a person selling their first and possibly only item ever will not have any seller history as well, and thee last thing you want is to be scammed by a fraudulent buyer.
Userlevel 5
Hey Kit, awesome suggestion. You inspired me to pull together: 10 Helpful Pointers for Selling Items Online. Please feel free to respond with extra info...