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Stay Safe When Buying from a Craigslist Ad

by Robert G. Yetman, Jr.

Craigslist is another of those consummate double-edged swords – a wonderful way to transact business for goods and services, but in an entirely uncharted, unregulated, and unsupervised way. Craigslist can boast about all of their safe, successful transactions all they want, but to people like me (and probably you), we are just as…if not more…interested in how safe we and our loved ones will be during the course of the actual interactions with strangers.

According to an industry watchdog group, Advanced Interactive Media, Craigslist recently had the dubious distinction of crossing above the 100-murder threshold, when a 22-year-old man in Indiana killed a couple who had shown up intending to buy his car from an add he placed on the popular website.

There have been high-profile incidents related to Craigslist that make the news from time to time, including the case of Philip Markoff, the so-called “Craigslist killer,” who allegedly robbed three women…and killing one of them…after arranging to meet them through the Craigslist “personals” section. However, the reality is that whatever number of unfortunate incidents are recorded, there are likely many more that simply go unreported, and all of those combined surely means that doing business on Craiglist can be fraught with risk, if you do not adhere to some good, basic “rules of the road.”

Anyone legit will be able to answer any questions you have, and right away. Before meeting someone about a possible Craigslist purchase, you will want to ask a lot of questions about the item he has for sale. There are two reasons you want to ask these questions: first, as the prospective buyer, you simply want to know as much as you can in advance about what you’re thinking of purchasing, but, additionally, asking a lot of questions will help you to determine the legitimacy of the possible transaction. A person who is sincerely selling an item will unhesitatingly be able to answer your questions about it, and anyone who hits you with a lot of hemming and hawing, or, “I’ll have to get back to you on that,” may well be sending a worrisome signal of one kind or another.

Get as much info as you can about the seller, and then get to Googling it. Whenever I receive a call from a telephone number I do not recognize, I generally do not answer the call, but do whatever research I can about the number first. As a matter of fact, whenever I am preparing to do any business with anyplace these days, I will thoroughly research the person or business as much as I can. That’s the beauty of the Internet – you can do that kind of useful legwork with the great ease. In addition to a full name, find out where they’re from (at least the city/state), phone number (if the person will not give it to you, that is a very bad sign) and anything else pertinent, and start researching. Don’t forget checking for any social media accounts he may have, as well – leave no stone unturned.

Always, always agree to meet during the day, in a public place, and bring company. To some degree, what you’re thinking of purchasing may influence just how public a place it is in which you can meet; for example, if you’re buying a boat, you’re not likely going to be able to meet the seller on the front steps of the local library. One way to limit your risk is to always bring a companion with you. A good way to handle this, from a tactical standpoint, is to have the person you bring hang back at least several yards, perhaps making a phone call – this way, if there is trouble, the two of you are less likely to be compromised simultaneously.

Whenever possible, be armed. This is one of the many reasons I don’t see myself ever living in a state with restrictive gun laws. Whenever you show up to a meeting like this, you (and, ideally, your companion) should always be armed. If your local laws do not allow for the possession of a firearm, find out what you can legally have on your person, and make sure you have it.

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