James Sanders had a diamond ring for sale, and he opted to post it on Craigslist. When the phone rang, Sanders thought nothing of giving the caller his home address, and the anxious buyer assured Sanders he’d be right over. When two men and a woman knocked on Sanders’ door, he became apprehensive. The trio didn’t look like the type who’d be shopping for a diamond ring and it was past 9:30 PM, but one of the men flashed a wad of cash. Convinced the buyers were sincere, Sanders let them into his house. A short time later he lay dead, killed protecting his son in a robbery gone bad.
Sites like Craigslist present a low cost, real time opportunity for sellers to connect with buyers. They’re successful because the vast majority of transactions go off without a hitch; still, there are plenty of examples, like the one cited above, of deals gone bad. Want to buy or sell your next car or bike on Craigslist? Here are five tips to keep yourself safe.
Never disclose your home address in a Craigslist transaction.
If you’re the seller, name a convenient public place to meet with the buyer. The more people around, the better; a fast food restaurant parking lot is a far better option than a deserted county park. Keeping the transaction public makes crimes of opportunity (carjacking and robbery, for example) less inviting. As a seller, why let a total stranger know where you live and give him an opportunity to case your house or apartment? As a buyer, why go to an unknown address in a strange neighborhood carrying lots of cash?
Listen to your intuition.
If something doesn’t feel right, chances are it isn’t. It’s called “situational awareness”, and all people have it to varying degrees. Sure, the guy parked three spaces over doing the Detroit lean and watching you count out fifties to buy a car may be just a coincidence. Or, he may be an accomplice waiting for the right time to step out and draw down on you. Better to walk away from a “once in a lifetime” deal than to wind up on a morgue table; remember the old adage – if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Bring a friend.
There’s an old joke about the rules of gunfighting: rule number two is, “Bring a friend, preferably lots of friends”, and the same holds true for buying something off of Craigslist. Remember, you’re going to a (probably) unfamiliar place, carrying lots of cash to buy a big ticket item. On the flip side, you’re riding or driving a big ticket item, assuming a buyer will show up with cash and good intentions. Having a friend or two along for the ride helps to ensure that everyone stays honest.
If you’re selling a bike, I don’t recommend allowing test rides.
First, how do you know the guy is coming back? Sure, you haven’t handed over the title yet, but bike thieves don’t care about titles, do they? Remember, there’s often more money in parting out a bike than in selling it, and parts don’t require a title. Even if the guy has the best of intentions, who’s going to cover your deductible if the guy tosses your bike? This is more of a suggestion than a hard and fast rule, so take your situation into consideration.
If things do go wrong, don’t be a hero.
Sure, it sucks to get robbed, but if you’re staring down the barrel of a .45, now is not the time to be wondering if you can snatch the gun. Maybe you can, maybe you can’t; is whatever you’re selling (or the money you’re carrying) worth dying for? Get as good of a description of the robber as you can: height, weight, build, hair, skin, clothing, etc. What was unique about his ride? Telling the police he was in a “white Camry” won’t be much help; telling them he was in a white Camry with purple tinted windows, gold badging and a broken left taillight helps quite a bit more.
Remember that crime isn’t reserved for the big city or even bad parts of town. Crime happens everywhere, and the best way to avoid being a victim is to make yourself a less attractive target. Sure, the majority of people have good intentions, but do you want to be the next victim I use as an example?