What's the safest way to buy something remotely on craigslist?
July 22, 2015 9:51 AM   Subscribe

I'd like to do what craigslist clearly says not to do: buy something remotely without meeting the person, or seeing the item in person. I live in Austin, and I found an item I'm very interested in… but it's in Omaha. What's the best way to do something like this, ensuring safety for both buyer and seller?

I talked to the guy on the phone, and he wants me to add half the cost ($300ish) on his prepaid visa card (doesn't have a bank account, apparently), then he'll send the item, and then I'll pay him the other half when I receive it.

We wanted to do a drivers license photo exchange thing for some added security, but his phone camera is broken, and he's got no camera on his computer. So he was going to scan it… which leaves me feeling suspicious, not really knowing if he is who he says he is. I don't know anybody in Omaha, and I'm disappointed to let this thing go.

I wish there was a service for this. Is there?
posted by jeffxl to Shopping (23 answers total)
You could post over on MeFi Jobs, but my gut is that this dude is about to scam you.
posted by Etrigan at 9:55 AM on July 22, 2015 [15 favorites]

So you're planning to send $300 to someone's prepaid visa in Omaha, and he doesn't have a camera or even a friend with a phone camera? How is this not screaming SCAM? Sorry - quietly walk away.
posted by RedOrGreen at 10:04 AM on July 22, 2015 [9 favorites]


Doing a remote Craisglist purchase is sketchy enough, but this guy has soooo many red flags here. I woud look on eBay or similar where you're going through an established system and have buyer protections. You could even ask him to post to eBay via a "buy it now", let you know when, and then go in and buy it. Although at this point I just flat out don't trust the guy.
posted by rainbowbrite at 10:07 AM on July 22, 2015 [4 favorites]

Agree that everything about this sounds phony, but you could call his bluff by saying, "Ok, I found someone in Omaha who's going to come to you and give you the cash and get the item," and see what happens next. I bet he cuts off all communication.
posted by BlahLaLa at 10:07 AM on July 22, 2015 [13 favorites]

Please don't do this.

For it to be ok to do a remote deal of any sort EVERY piece has to be correct and NOTHING can smell at all funny. This is almost precisely the opposite. Prepaid Visa? Nope. No picture. Nope. Half up front? Nope.

Again: please don't do this. Not just for you but for all the people who are sick of endless luring scam attempts. This might as well be a Nigerian Prince.
posted by dirtdirt at 10:12 AM on July 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

You're looking for an escrow service - there are lots of internet escrow services that will hold money for a fee, then release once both parties verify the terms of the agreement have been met.

However, I agree with everyone else that I don't think you're dealing with a serious seller here. Asking you to put money on a prepaid card is the modern equivalent of "send me cash that you'll never be able to get back again."
posted by Karaage at 10:17 AM on July 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

Alright, cool, that's what I was thinking. I needed more assurance to feel comfortable, because I was definitely skeeved out after the whole camera situation, even though he sounded like a solid dude on the phone.

It's an odd situation, since I found the guy. I searched out the item and found it via google, so it's a legit thing he actually wants to sell… it's just in Omaha, and I'm in Austin. Seems a little funny for him to turn around and want to scam someone trying to buy it, but obviously I suspect that given the circumstances.
posted by jeffxl at 10:18 AM on July 22, 2015

You responded to *his* listing, right? [On preview: yup!] If so, I suspect this is just Craigslist Weirdness, not a scammer. The leap to calling this a "scam" because the guy doesn't have a bank account or a working cell phone camera smacks of classism. 8% of Americans don't have a bank account, and I would venture to say that most of those Americans wouldn't prioritize running out and buying a new phone if their camera broke. Lots of economically disadvantaged folks use Craigslist, since it's a free listing service that can make them some money. If this is a vintage item the person might be getting rid of out of a need for some cash, that's very likely what's going on.

That being said, you should absolutely do this deal in person. Even if this isn't a scam, there's a tremendous amount that can go wrong, from unseen issues with the item to sloppy shipping. If it's not worth $400-500 for you to fly to Omaha and back to do the transaction in person, let it go.
posted by eschatfische at 10:19 AM on July 22, 2015 [5 favorites]

If it's not a scam, surely he knows someone with a working camera who could take a picture of his license. I mean, I think I could flag down random strangers on the street and find someone willing to take a picture of my licence and text it to me in about 15 minutes.
posted by Rock Steady at 10:24 AM on July 22, 2015 [3 favorites]

Meh, even if this dude is totally legit (which I'm skeptical about), it doesn't sound like he's at all equipped to do the deal long-distance. It's not a risk I'd be willing to take, personally.
posted by darkchocolatepyramid at 10:24 AM on July 22, 2015 [3 favorites]

I would not front the seller any money. Instead, I'd ask the person to put up the item for sale on ebay and then complete the transaction there. This will give you some added security through ebay's buyer protection policies, and will give protection to the seller as well. If the seller balks at this proposal, walk away.
posted by tecg at 10:37 AM on July 22, 2015 [5 favorites]

I've bought a few of things long-distance via Craigslist, ranging from $80 to over $500. They all were obscure items that a scammer would be unlikely to use as bait, and I perceived no red flags when talking to the sellers. I had good experiences every time and could believe that your guy means well enough, but the other end of the scale -- the best case scenario -- is that he doesn't have his act together. I would not do this.
posted by jon1270 at 10:43 AM on July 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

Post a task to craigslist or amazon's mechanical turk asking someone in Omaha to go eyeball it make sure it's legit. Or seller could take it to a library where they almost certainly have a digital camera and computers to post a picture.
posted by theora55 at 11:19 AM on July 22, 2015

Thanks for this great feedback, people.

Oh, also to clarify, the photo in question that I want is a picture of him, with his ID. The photo of the item and the serial number were provided, and I trust that it's the thing that I want.
posted by jeffxl at 11:22 AM on July 22, 2015

There are some UPS Stores in Omaha. Some of these stores will sell items on consignment and most will pack and ship for you. It may be possible arrange shipping through them and have them verify the item/buyer before sending half the money while they are in the store, or even have them post it on eBay for the seller and have you buy when in the store.
posted by Yorrick at 11:43 AM on July 22, 2015

I've done some deals on Craigslist and old school newsgroups that smelled absolutely shady but turned out to be fine. There's lots of escrow services that will do exactly what you need for about $25 and a second round of shipping costs. If you really want the item that it's worth an extra ~$50, do that. If you can afford to shrug off losing $150 if you get scammed, you can do what he's proposing.
posted by Candleman at 11:52 AM on July 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've been using craigslist heavily for nearly 15 years at this point.

I would not provide the picture you want because seriously? But i also wouldn't do this deal. The way they want to handle it is sketchy and dumb, and it just sounds like a gigantic eye rolling headache waiting to happen.

Just because you responded to a listing doesn't mean the listing wasn't a scam either, i don't know why that came up here. PLENTY of listings are scams. Hell, probably 10% of listing for a popular item(lets say, iphones) are obvious scams, and another 10% are scams once you reply to them.

I think the ebay suggestion is a good idea. It wouldn't be abnormal or prove if it's a scam if they didn't want to do that(because ebay CAN be a huge hassle, and has fees stacked on fees) but it's essentially the safest way to do person to person sales that aren't face to face, wherein you can actually recover your money if something bullshit happens.

The other thing is that you're not a terrible classist if you don't want to go through a sketchy transaction. You're not required to expose yourself to risk to be a good person, or whatever.
posted by emptythought at 1:46 PM on July 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

With the best will in the world and all the incentive in the world, I have had two pairs of shoes and a mac mini sitting in boxes in my house for over three weeks, waiting to be mailed. I'll get probably around $300 in refunds and profit from amazon and a computer reseller once I mail them, but as of yet, I haven't found the time.

This just to say, money is not always as great an incentive to DO THE THING as you might expect. And once someone has your money, doing the thing may get pushed even lower on their list of priorities. It doesn't take a scammer or a bad guy to make a deal like this go really wrong for you. All it takes is a flake.
posted by kythuen at 2:28 PM on July 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

kythuen: The item I'm trying to buy is a Mac Mini. The one you have wouldn't happen to be a 2012 i7 Quad Core, would it? :)
posted by jeffxl at 2:48 PM on July 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

Sadly, no! My roomie just got one of those via craigslist a few months ago "the last one that didn't suck" is how she refers to it. Mine is the taller version with a white top, from Aron's past.
posted by kythuen at 3:08 PM on July 22, 2015

That would be "aeons past," without assistance from my phone's autocorrect "feature."
posted by kythuen at 3:14 PM on July 22, 2015

Just wait for one to pop up on your local craigslist, or better, watch ebay buy it now for "i7 mac mini" and wait for someone clueless to post a cheap buy it now.

I, and people i know, have gotten stuff for STUPIDLY cheap just constantly refreshing the auction type: buy it now for a search of something they wanted. People post quite a bit of stuff without looking. Just go look at the search for sold(not "completed", specifically sold) and you'll find that every week or so one or two are listed for stupidly cheap.

The other good method is to use something like eSnipe and watch for 24 hour auctions with weird end times. I got a retina macbook pro for like $1000 when they were going for $15-1800 and were only a couple months old that way, typing on it right now. Gotten a lot of other gear too.

But forget this dumb craigslist deal. This isn't some rare FooBotzer 2000 from the 70s, it's a commodity item they sold container ships full of. Find one somewhere else that's less of a hassle.
posted by emptythought at 9:30 PM on July 22, 2015 [5 favorites]

Yeah, all of this for a three year old Mac Mini? I understand the new ones are neutered, but I had assumed you were looking to buy something rare that had been sitting unused on a farm in rural Nebraska for 20 years and not something that pops up literally every week on eBay. Forget about this deal, and do what emptythought recommended and set up alerts on eBay and your local Craigslist.
posted by eschatfische at 8:05 AM on July 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

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