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Being Safe with Craigslist Sales

clutterWe accumulate a lot of junk in life. And when I say we, I think I mean the “American People”, but what I really mean is: me.

My mother has perfected the art of accumulating things: She still resides in the house-I-grew-up-in (a 6 bedroom, 5 bathroom home) wherein each and every room is populated with things she has acquired here or there. She (and my father, the kind man) have started a side business called “Ryan’s Attic” wherein they attend various “auctions” (read: people selling their junk) and find deals on hard-to-find antiques or high-value items.

Which means that amongst the already-packed rooms-of-things, there is an additional stream of new things which fills the basement to be sold on eBay. Not a bad business, perfect for them both, but … well, you should see their basement. Actually, you can see their basement: Open the dictionary to the word “clutter” and right next to it is a picture of their basement. Amazing!

For those who read Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point, she’s what he calls a maven. That’s someone who knows the best price on certain goods, and always knows where the best deals are. She’s the only person I know who will visit 3 or more stores to save $2 on the most banal items. (In 2008, of course, the gasoline used to visit those stores would have cost more than she saved … but that’s for another blog post.) In some cases, this is wonderful. Because I shop like a man (walk into the one store where you know what you want, and buy it even though it’s $20 less across the street), she is quite extraordinary.

Of course, I love my Mother, and of course, I don’t have any issue with her accumulating things in life, however, I find it fascinating in the context of my own aversion to clutter. It’s just that for me, the less clutter, the better.

Alas, the genes don’t fall far from the tree, so to speak. It’s a constant struggle to purge things from our home.

And then comes: Craig’s List. The perfect place to advertise (for free) your random stuff to get rid of it … and best of all, people will come to your home, give you money, and take it away! Could it get any better?

Well, actually, no. At the top of every message that comes from Craig’s list’s inquiries is THE ALL CAPITAL LETTERS WARNING TO AVOID SCAMS.

So, here’s my tips about how to “be safe” with Craig’s List sales:

1. Always use the remailer option

Craig’s List has an option that for your advertisement, it will “re-mail” an email from an interested party to your actual email. This, by the way, completely rocks. As you probably get spam already, posting your email address in the plain on Craig’s List is just an invitation to get more spam. So use this option. It dovetails with other tips below, so don’t skip it, Chester.

2. Don’t post anything private

I feel like an idiot mentioning this, but people put their cell phone, their address, and all kinds of other things in their advertisements. Just the city, state, and what you’re selling. Sheesh. For those that aren’t connected always to email, a cell phone’s not a bad idea, as long as you don’t mind random calls at 3:00 AM. (Hawaii time … sorry!)

3. Set your “reply-to” to the remailer email address

This is the tricky one. If your “remailer” email is, then you want to set this up as the “From” when you reply.

Why? Just for safety, I suppose.

Oh, and some people are idiots. I’ve received emails asking me to “Join my social network” from complete strangers, or people who used the online password safe program I helped develop. The support email address is in their address book, and they send it to everyone in their address book.

Even better, they don’t BCC and everyone in their address book knows my email address now! Whee!

To set up your “From:” for replies using Gmail, add the email address to your Gmail account once the advertisement is active. Then you can reply using this new email address.

For Mozilla Thunderbird (and other email clients), you can set up a personality which allows you to change the “From:” email address to be the remailer email address. This way you can reply to inquiries and remain anonymous. When the Craig’s List post expires, the remailer email address expires and your email remains safe.

4. Cash is really king

You will likely get offers almost instantly with some bozo who wants to give you a cashiers check. This is a scam. No really, it is. The scam usually goes as follows:

  1. Buyer wants to give you a cashiers check for $4200 for a $2200 item. There’s usually a story attached about how their brother John owes them $4200 but he’ll just write the cashiers check to you.
  2. Buyer asks you to pay back the difference ($2000) upon the check clearing.
  3. After 5 days, the check clears, and you wire or send a personal check back to buyer for difference.
  4. The cashiers check turns out to be a fraud after 2 weeks, and you lose 2 grand. And, if you’re really lucky, you lose your merchandise as well.

There are lots of explanations about this on the internet, the nicest explanation on Snopes.

In short, for anything under $1000, take cash and cash only.

5. Call people, and use Caller ID blocking

I’ve gotten many inquiries where people ask “generic” questions like:

  • Is this merchandise still available?
  • If so, what is the price?
  • Can I have your phone number and your address?

To which I answer (using my remailer email address … naturally):

  • Yes, thanks for asking. It’s a trailer … did you forget this?
  • The price is listed on the site (… you dolt!), but in case you forget it’s $325, and
  • Give me your name and number and I will call you.

Basically, I don’t want to give away anything (especially when they ask inane questions) and I’d like to keep control until I qualify that they are really interested in what I am selling.

To activate caller ID blocking before you call, pick up the phone and at the dial tone, dial * 6 7 (star six seven) and you’ll hear a “boop-boop-boop boooooo” (three quick tones, then a dial tone) which means it’s activated, then call the number they give. This way you don’t reveal your number to them in case things don’t, uh, go well.

(Yes, I’ve had one caller just say, “Fuck You” over the phone after I told him someone else had offered more money. Not a happy person.)

6. If you must use checks, do it at the bank

For large value transactions it’s not easiest to carry around $5000 or more in cash, so in these cases I meet the buyer at their bank, and have the bank issue a cashier’s check to you on the spot. Chances of someone setting up a straw-man bank and fooling you into receiving a fake check are pretty slim. (This isn’t Ocean’s 15 …)

For large transactions such as this it’s also good to have a “Bill of Sale” which says that they bought this car (with VIN # blah-blah-blah) from you on a certain date, it’s as is, and they paid X for it. They should sign and date it, and you keep a copy. If you’re real nice you’ll give them a copy for their records, too.


Don’t give up. It’s a great resource to get rid of stuff you don’t need, and if you are so inclined, if you give away things for free you will be astonished at how many responses you get. We gave away cinderblocks and bricks and someone hauled them away within a day. You can’t get a better response from a garbage company. (Which, yes, we called for other reasons.)

If you know of other tips or suggestions, post them to the comments. Happy purging!

3 replies on “Being Safe with Craigslist Sales”

This was a very helpful and lighthearted article. I really appreciated it as I get ready to sell furniture.

I’ve been using Hosted Numbers to keep my cell phone number safe when posting to craigslist. They provide local numbers in my area which I use when posting my craigslist ads. I still had to verify my account with my normal phone number, but I never post on craigslist with out using my virtual number from Hosted Numbers.

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