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Safety & security

3 simple ways to stay safe using buying apps like OfferUp and Craigslist

The internet is the ultimate marketplace for affordable, rare, or otherwise unattainable yet desirable goods. Tap or click here for five ways to get free shipping online.

Just like with any interaction with a stranger online, though, doing things without putting yourself in danger is a task all its own. The problem will only compound if seeing the other party in person is necessary.

Luckily, we’ve got a few tips to consider. Keep reading for safety tips when using buying apps like Craigslist and OfferUp.

1. Meet in public

Never invite a stranger into your home, even when doing business on a respectable platform like Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace. Places like the mall, coffee shops, public parks and other bustling meeting spots will minimize your odds of a negative (or even dangerous) encounter.

RELATED: Five common OfferUp scams to avoid

Our best advice will usually be to pay in cash, avoiding sharing any personal information whenever possible (although, in some cases, services like PayPal may offer your transaction an extra layer of buyer’s protection in the form of fraud assurance).

If you use a card, make it a credit card, not a debit card. Credit cards offer more protections that can help you dispute any fraudulent transactions if worse comes to worst.

As the buyer, we encourage you to insist on choosing a place to meet that you already know will be safe and full of people. Arrange a meeting during the day, ideally in a brightly-lit area.

Fraudsters are unlikely to agree to a public rendezvous, so if you sense hesitation, back away slowly and find another deal. Some scam sellers won’t even live in the area in which they’re trying to wheel and deal, so this additional step is likely to extinguish a bad situation before it happens.

Bonus points for bringing a friend along. Of course, there’s power in numbers, and you’ll be safer if you have someone with you.

2. Thoroughly vet the seller

A seller’s reputation may not always be easy to ascertain, but marketplace platforms like OfferUp ask all participants to rate their buyers or sellers as partners. 

This means that every potential deal you find comes with a rating out of five stars or some other system. As you would when comparing prices, you should always consider seller ratings and reviews as one of the determining factors influencing the seller you choose.

If you have access to eBay-style seller reviews, read them, especially if you’re making a big purchase. Avoid anybody with no ratings or abysmal reviews, as both are red flags. They can mean you’re dealing with an actual scammer or somebody up to no good.

3. Minimize the information you share

The benefit that many trading platforms offer is a bare-bones profile that betrays none of your personal information to anybody you end up meeting.

Your full name and phone number can be used to find you elsewhere, which is why many buying and selling apps offer patrons a secure chat or messaging system. That’s why it’s a good idea to stick to the official platform as exclusive means of communication. Avoid giving strangers your phone number.

Will this always be the case? Most of the time. However, there are exceptions. As mentioned above, using authorized apps like PayPal can offer some protection at the cost of a small amount of personal information.

Tools like Facebook Marketplace are naturally attached to your public profile. This reality stands strong as a lesson that urges us to be careful what we share online in any context. 

You may also like: Money tip: 9 ways to make sure you can return the things you buy online

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