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Buyers Guide to Craigslist

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Buyers Guide to Products & Services at Craigslist

Craigslist is one of the biggest online classified ads, not just in America but in key parts of the world. People from all over the world go to Craigslist to buy and sell items, look for apartments for rent, buy and sell homes, cars and anything else you can think of. It is the ultimate free classified ads system. Not only does it have a huge database of items for sale, rent or trade, it also has a thriving community that acts as a self policing mechanism for Craigslist. In addition, there is a certain culture of helping each other and notifying the community regarding fraud and other harmful behaviors.

If you are a buyer, Craigslist opens a whole world of possibilities for you. There are many local deals where you can save a lot of money off of retail prices. Dramatic savings are fairly common at Craigslist. You just have to know where to look and need to be very patient. There are great deals available for both local deals and also across your city or across the state and even international deals. While there are a lot of bargains to be had in a wide selection of products and services that might interest you, you have to be careful when buying stuff, products or services through Craigslist. The same level of caution also applies when you’re looking to rent a place or buy a home.

We have compiled a list of tips below that will go a long way in helping you keep yourself from becoming a victim of fraud, scams and other common nefarious shenanigans at Craigslist. If you find this list helpful, please help your family, family members, friends and community by forwarding the URL of this article to them. This can make a big difference for your friends and family who use Craigslist. If you are instead planning on selling things you might find our sellers guide to craigslist valuable.

1. Look in as Many Different Categories as Possible

To get the best deal, you have to look in as many categories for the product or service you’re looking as possible. Sometimes, sellers and service providers pick the wrong category to list their items given that miscategorized or off-category items have less competing buyers. There’s a bigger chance you have less fellow buyers if the product is placed in the wrong category or it’s in off-category since most of the buyers are looking at the probable category for the product. An off-category is within the same general category where the product would generally be in, but it’s not as popular as the main category.

The key tip here is that when you start off in off-category sections, you might benefit from less buyers and you might walk away with a better deal than if you had to engage in a bidding war in a proper category. Worse, if the product is properly categorized and there are many buyers for it, there just might not be a product available for you to buy in the first place, regardless of how much you want to bid up for it. So, less competition in off-category products or services may mean better deal and availability for you.

2. Read the Ad Carefully

This is a very basic and common-sense tip, yet common sense isn’t that common when people are really excited to buy a certain product. They tend to overlook the details of the ad. This could cost you quite a bit of time, money and effort.

If you’re looking for a fairly common item, there are sure to be many ads for that item. You can waste a lot time when you fail to read the ad correctly and did not get the exact model or type you are looking for. Fairly common items have many different models and types because they all fall within the same common categorization. This is where ad-specificity really pays off because you may be looking for a fairly common item. However, if it’s for a specific model or type, you just wasted your time if you just looked at the heading and did not read the rest or the bottom of the ad where the model and type were listed.

Another problem with not reading the ad carefully is when you are looking for new items. Many ads don’t use the word use the word “used”, so you have to look at the details of the product to make sure that it is a new item. Vice versa, if you’re looking for a used item, make sure you read the ad carefully. You might end up overpaying because it’s a new item or a newer item than if you read the ad and stuck to your search for used items.

3. Contact the Seller Quickly

Craigslist is a huge website. Time is of the essence because if it’s a fairly in demand item you are looking for, chances are that there are many people gunning for that item. So, if you just bookmarked the listing and come back to it a week later, the probability of that item being still available is quite low. This tip applies especially for items that are very low priced because the lower price, the higher the demand, especially if the item is in fairly good shape. So, don’t waste any time if you find an item that you like and the ad is fairly new, contact the seller immediately.

4. Contact Only if You Are Truly Interested

While we advise you to contact the seller immediately if you find an item that you like, contact them only if you are truly interested. This advice goes a long way in preserving the community value of Craigslist.

If sellers get frustrated with a hundred calls of people just fishing for information, just asking questions and then buying the item somewhere else, chances are that seller would be discouraged from placing another ad on Craigslist. This degrades the value of Craigslist because Craigslist’s value relies upon quality ads by sincere and honest sellers and likewise, it also depends for its credibility on sincere and honest buyers. If you end up “polluting” the pool of buyers by making unnecessary calls when you’re really not interested in the product or service, then this degrades Craigslist as a whole. If this happens enough, the system’s quality starts to go down. So, make sure your motives are pure. If you’re just fishing, you can get this information off shopping comparison websites or the website of the manufacturer. There are many other resource sites on the internet where you can get product information. Call only if you’re interested in actually buying.

5. Pictures are Worth More than Words – Sometimes

Depending on what you’re buying, for example you’re buying a car, picture ads should be a higher priority for you since it gives you an idea of the condition of the item in question. However, this tip is valuable only if the product that you are looking for depends a whole lot on appearance. So, if an item needs to be in a certain shape or it has to have certain components or anything that can easily determined by looking at the item, then, follow this tip. Prioritize items that have pictures because this will help you make a decision faster.

However, not all products need pictures. Just because a product doesn’t have a picture doesn’t mean that the deal is off. You can get more information by calling then verbally getting the information. However, if there are no pictures, then the focus is on you to create a list of key questions to mentally size up the actual condition of the product so that you don’t waste your time in gas money, commuting to where the product is or worse, wasting money having the product shipped and it’s not what you need.

6. Depending on the Situation, Don’t Haggle Immediately Upon Contact

If you’re going to buy locally, don’t haggle without seeing the item. This opens you up to overpaying because the product might be in a worse shape than you imagined and is actually worth less money than you haggled for. Conversely, haggling too early might turn off the seller. They will just block you off. Then, they would proceed with somebody else who doesn’t haggle right away. The key here is that if it’s a local listing, see the product then you haggle.

However, if you’re across state lines or there’s a large distance involved, don’t haggle until you get more detail from the seller. It really turns off sellers when the first thing you ask is “Is that your final price?” Ask details first, get a complete picture in your mind about the product so you can weigh against your needs. From there, you can come up with a bottom price and a starting price. Furthermore, starting off with haggling shows that you have bad faith, it shows that you just want to low-ball the seller where you are less interested in getting a fair price and more about getting your price. This is considered bad faith by many sellers and a lot of the times even if they’re willing to go to your price, just out of principle and pride, they’d block you off and wouldn’t sell it to you even if you raise the price. So, start off on a good foot and show some good faith. Don’t haggle immediately upon contact.

7. Always Contact Multiple Sellers

Buying and selling on Craigslist is a numbers game. For every 10 contacts, not all 10 will result in sales. This is true on the seller’s part and it is true on the buyer’s part. Not every seller you contact is a guaranteed sale. So, make a list of people you want to contact that are selling the same product and contact them with this tip in mind, that for X number of contacts, you will probably only close one if you’re lucky. So keep the numbers game in mind and try to contact as many sellers as you can.

8. Never Agree to Bank Wire, Western Union Payments, Cashier’s Checks, and Money Orders

If anybody asks for payment using these methods, close the ad, find another seller. These sellers, service providers, or anybody who asks for these payment methods are almost always frauds and scammers. Legitimate sellers will always agree to a method of payment that the buyer has recourse. The most common payment method where you have a legal recourse to get your money back is PayPal, credit cards or escrow Sersices.

Cashier’s checks and money orders can be faked and banks will discover the fraud later on. Of course, the person who issued it won’t be liable because they can’t be found. The person who deposited the cashier’s check and money order will be held responsible later. So, not only will your account balance be penalized with a fake cashier’s check or money order penalties, but the amount would be taken off your account. So, avoid these payment methods. Also, if you’re dealing with a physical product and you’re buying it locally, always pay with cash. Always reject substitutions.

9. If At All Possible and Convenient, Always Try to Meet Locally

If you’re buying a product and somebody ships it to you, it’s going to be more of a hassle to ship the item back. If possible, try to meet the seller locally. This solves a lot of problems and headaches down the road. Also, be careful of some scammers who say that Craigslist has an escrow system or has a shipping system and might even lead you to a fake page where you pay money for the shipping or the escrow. Craigslist doesn’t offer these services, so be forewarned! Meeting locally to buy and sell solves all these problems.

10. Avoid Old Ads

If an ad is really old or the ad is showing a limited amount of items for sale and the ad is old, disregard the ad. Chances are the item has already been sold or the seller has changed his or her mind. The key here is to focus on timely or active ads. Set a time limit, maybe 10 days, 1 week, 3 days or whatever you are comfortable with and stick to that. The good news is if it’s a fairly common item that gets sold on Craigslist a lot, chances are you will see the item offered by somebody else again in the future. Avoid wasting time chasing old ads.

11. Don’t Give Out Financial Information

This should really be a no-brainer but people do it all the time anyway. When somebody is asking for your financial information, make sure to not do business with that person. There are many identity thieves and identity theft scams on Craigslist so be very careful on Craigslist and other online commerce sites.

If the questions they are asking are about personal details or personal information but not necessarily financial information, be on the lookout as well. Many identity thieves ask you the same challenge questions that are asked by financial institutions or email systems, for example, your first pet or your favorite teacher in junior high school or any personal information that only you would know. Identity thieves can take that information and try to access your account online with that information using the password retrieval option.

Be careful of phishing questions. An identity thief might seem very personable and appear to be really interested in you and might even seem to be sharing a lot of his personal information. The human nature works like this, when somebody shares “secret” information with you, you tend to reciprocate because it’s just built in to our characters in terms of personal bonding and making friends. Resist the temptation. If the “personal exchange” is between somebody you don’t know and it’s over email or correspondence, then stay away. This might be part of an elaborate personal information scheme to steal your identity.

12. Be Suspicious of Background Checks or Credit Checks for Employment or Rentals

One of the oldest scams being run on Craigslist is to ask for resumes of job applicants. So, there’s a huge amount of interested people and people apply. Then the scammer would send an email saying, “Yes, we are ready to hire you” or “We’re ready to interview you but so we don’t waste our time, we need you to go to this website and take a background check” Of course, the background check is paid so you have to pay to get your background checked. Then you come back to the person after you get the background check clearance and the person doesn’t respond anymore because it’s a scam. Avoid falling for this old trick.

More often than not, people who are posting fake ads make money off the background check company either as an affiliate or a specialized commission basis. Regardless, only agree to a background check once you meet the interviewer or once you show up for the interview. This avoids the scam from operating because when you show up for the interview, it means the job actually exists.

While scammers can still try to trick people by staging an actual offline job interview, it costs them more money because they have to rent an office and they have to hire people. So, the way this scam is pulled it must be completely online. Be on the lookout.

Similarly, apartment hunters are victims of a related scam as well. This time it’s credit checks. Credit checks are routine for renting out an apartment. A responsible landlord will not rent out an apartment to bad credit risks or if you have a history of not making rent payments. Scammers would place these apartment-for-rent ads on Craigslist. When you call for the apartment, the person would have a voicemail saying the URL where you can take the credit check. Or, they correspond via email and there is a link in the email to a credit check. Again, the scammers are paid per successful credit check because the credit checks aren’t free.

They are charged to your credit card. Even the ones that claim to be free, a lot of them offer “free trials”. If you don’t cancel the automated billing after 1 day or 3 days or short amount of time, hefty charge appears on your credit card bill. It used to be that there is no recourse against that because in the fine print, it showed that this is a temporary free trial and you have to cancel after a short amount of time. To avoid this scam make sure that you physically go to the premises and verbally discuss the credit check with the landlord or the property manager.

The Bottom Line

Leverage the power of Craigslist to get the deal you’ve been looking for. If you’re looking for bargain or a rare item, Craigslist might have the listing that you’re looking for. However attractive Craigslist is, you have to use it responsibly because failure to do so would result in loss of time, money, effort, and resources. Follow the tips above and be a responsible Craigslist citizen and you won’t go wrong. Happy bargain hunting and always shop safely.

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  • LittleJohn

    Thanks for this thorough guide to buying from Craigslist. I have used it several times and been happy with the result, perhaps because I follow the advice and buy from local people. I had no idea about the background check scam. That’s something people could easily fall for, as it does sound plausible.