Craigslist Safety and Buying in Real Life from Online Ads


You can get some great deals online. You can find items you collect and unload family heirlooms. Online shopping on Craigslist has made it easier to search worldwide for items you want and find buyers from afar to buy what you are selling. It's free or cheap and easy. But, Craigslist and Kijiji (Ebay's Craigslist equivalent) operate without feedback scores or authentication of sellers' or buyers' identities. That means it's up to you to do your homework on what your buying, safe interactions and buyer and seller beware tips. 


Digital Self-Defense is the Way to Start Being a Smart Craigslist and Kijiji Shopper and Seller


  • Do your homework - Use trusted sites, do some comparison shopping and when you find what you want, "Google" the company, website, person, address, email, contact information and product. (Bing, Yahoo and Facebook them too!) Scams, crooks, registered sex offenders, and ex-spouses may pop up. It's a simple step that can save you money, heartbreak and harm. Ask for references, if you can. And check them out by phone. (It's harder to fake 6 different people by phone than by email.) Parry Aftab, our founder and Executive Director, uses Craigslist every day and Kijiji when in Canada. She feels safe using it and uses these tips herself.

  • Phone a friend - Run the deal or encounter by someone you know and trust. Sound too good to be true? (Then it probably isn't true!) Does something feel wrong about it? Trust your gut and your friend's advice. And, while you're at it, take the friend with you when you go. And have at least one friend with you when showing your things to potential buyers or renters. Two may be "company", but three (or more) is safer. (Especially if they are that sumo wrestler we mentioned earlier.)

  • Do it in public - You are much safer when others are around. Getting cornered alone in your or their basement when you are selling or buying that antique dresser isn't fun. So move what you are selling into the driveway, onto your lawn or porch or into the lobby or garage of your building. The extra work is worth it! Ask them to do the same if they are selling, or hand them your digital camera to take a pic for you on the spot (to confirm there is really a dresser.) Blame it on a bad knee, fear of the dark or asthma, if you want to avoid confrontation. Or post your friend at the door and you go alone.

  • Keep a record - Print everything out - the ad, the email chain, pictures, directions, names and addresses. Keep a digital copy too, so the messages can be tracked to the senders if necessary. Save voicemails and texts.

  • Just the Facts - Ask if the item is new, used or refurbished. Beware of "like new" claims. If it's not brand new in perfect condition, it's not "new."Print out comparison shopping info too. Many online "deals" are more expensive than current sales at a local store you like and trust.

  • Take It With You - If you are considering buying a large item that requires a van or small truck, bring it when you go. If you can't, take something vital to the set with you if you are paying and bringing back someone to help pick it up. A drawer from a big dresser, the rails for a four-poster bed, shelves from a bookcase, the seat form a bike; anything that you can take that leaves the remianing pieces useless or too expensive to replace. It keeps the seller from reselling the item.

  • Shout Out - Let others know where you are (even if you bring a friend) or who is expected to arrive. Use your cellphone to snap a pic of them, their car or license plate. It's a valuable record if the item turns out to be stolen, counterfeit or broken, or their check bounces (don't take checks!) or they start harassing you.

  • Report what you find -if someone is helpful, delivered what they promised, was easy to work with and deserves praise, share that with others in real life and online. You may be able to "rate" the buyer or seller online. If they aren't, share that too. And if you suspect fraud, criminal activity or encountered problems, report it. Do not pass go, or collect $200, just call your local police department (or theirs if they are not in your town), tell them what you know, what you suspect and the pics you took with your cell phone. The person you report may be off the streets with your help, and not able to hurt others not as savvy as you are.


Many of these tips work as well for sellers as buyers. But Sellers should try to place the item they are selling in the driveway, on their porch or some other safe place outside. Don't visit someone basement alone, and don't let someone into your basement while you are alone.


When buying on sites such as Craigslist, where anyone can post an ad without having to prove their identity or the truth about their ad, be especially careful. Go with others to check out the item being sold, never get cornered alone in the basement or house and make sure you are certain it’s what you want, at the price you are willing to pay for it and have all the pieces before you leave. Most Craiglist sellers don’t accept credit cards. They are mostly people like you, selling something they don’t need anymore.


If you are selling on Craiglist, don’t let people drop by when you are alone. Move the item to the driveway, garage or other open area for them to check it out. You don’t want anyone in your house you don’t know. Make sure you are paid in full (preferably by cash) before they take the item or any part of the item. (You won’t be able to sell a dresser without one of its drawers, or a set of china with seven place settings, very easily.) Don’t hold an item. First come- and- paid- for first-served should be your motto.


The safety comes from practical and common sense. Some safety experts suggest meeting in a police department parking lot. But dragging a dresser there to let every Tom, Dick and Mary who are shopping for dressers view it when they want can be a problem. So, snap a pic of their license plate when they pull into your driveway. Make sure you have two people with you - one to walk around with you and one to stay outside in case they need to get help. Trust your gut. Check out the buyer's name and cell number before they arrive. Check out Facebook and see if they have a profile you can view. They shouldn't mind jumping through some safety hoops, since they want to do they same.


Learn how to report creeps and scammers to Craigslist and Kijiji by visiting our Reporting Abuse pages.  And for safe shopping and banking advice, click here.