Buying via mail from Craigslist - insane?
October 15, 2018 11:01 PM   Subscribe

I found some car parts on Craigslist, the only problem is they're about 1000 miles away. What can I do to not get scammed?

I found some car parts on Craigslist, but they're in Houston and I'm in New York. The total with shipping will be about $280, so flying down to get them is a little silly. What can I do to lower the chance of getting ripped off? One warning flag is they have no email (!?) so I can't pay via Paypal.
posted by Marky to Shopping (13 answers total)
I think your odds of getting scammed are pretty high and if I were in your shoes, I wouldn't do it unless losing that exact amount of money is no big deal to you. Particularly if they have "no email"... what? Person-to-person with cash is the way to do Craigslist.

But then again, maybe you could pay a MeFite to do the transaction in person and manage the shipping for you?
posted by pseudostrabismus at 11:33 PM on October 15, 2018 [2 favorites]

Well, you could use an escrow service; that's what they're for. Whether this would be cost-effective in your case I don't know having never used one myself, but I believe this is precisely the type of problem escrows exist to solve.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 1:50 AM on October 16, 2018 [3 favorites]

Car parts are probably not a high-likelihood-of-scam thing to buy on eBay but I would absolutely never buy something without using Paypal unless I was meeting in person and using cash.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 3:04 AM on October 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

Agree that (rare, old, obscure?) car parts are not usually a scam thing.

Call them, see how they sound in person. If escrow doesn’t seem worth it, offer half payment on order and half on safe delivery. If they are willing to meet halfway like that, I’d probably go ahead risk losing $140 by assuming good faith, depends on how bad I want the part and how hard it is to find.
posted by SaltySalticid at 4:42 AM on October 16, 2018

How did they post an ad on Craigslist with no email?

posted by spitbull at 5:28 AM on October 16, 2018 [6 favorites]

The no paypal thing is certainly a red flag, even older dudes in Weird Car circles roll with paypal.

It does sound pretty scammy, but in similar situations I have paid a local-to-them, reputable, independent shop to act as an intermediary. Ask the guy to figure out shipping, postage all that, and have the pickup location be the shop. Don’t seal up the boxes until the shop takes possession. Then have the shop hold it until payment shows up to the dude.

It’s easy money for a shop, they’re usually down.
posted by furnace.heart at 5:29 AM on October 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

Also (hard to find) car parts can indeed be a scam-centric business. My first concern would be they they’re stolen.
posted by spitbull at 5:29 AM on October 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

How are they asking to get paid? If they want you to wire money it is 100% always, always, always a scam. NEVER WIRE MONEY EVER. No green dot money orders either, that's basically the same thing.
posted by trixare4kids at 5:43 AM on October 16, 2018 [3 favorites]

Not really enough information to say. The "no PayPal" thing is weird, although I suppose on their end, they probably want cash-in-hand before they give up their stuff — most legitimate CL sellers would run screaming from you, because someone from out of state trying to buy stuff via mail-order is a scam basically 100% of the time. If I were the person with the car parts, no way in the depths of hell would I send the parts out with anything less than cash in an envelope (and I'd sure be checking those bills for counterfeits too).

Basically, what you are trying to do is conduct a transaction where neither party knows or trusts the other, and there is a high probability from each party's perspective that the other one is going to rip them off.

This is exactly what escrow services were set up for, unfortunately however they have gained a bad reputation because there are scammy escrow services (it's not a well-regulated industry, because this is America and we can't have nice things), so it wouldn't surprise me if the seller declined to use one unless he does this regularly.

TBH, I would probably not try to do this. CL is not set up for transactions at a distance or mail-order arrangements, so unless you have some way to build trust with this person it's going to be awkward at best. Maybe try forums specific to the type of car you have, where there's at least some reputational basis for trusting each other within that community (I've done forum transactions with de facto strangers, but because there's at least a little reputational skin in the game via the forum, it's always worked out), if you can't source the parts locally.

I'd only proceed if these parts are the yellowcake uranium of car parts, and you must have them. If it's just to save a few bucks, not worth it IMO.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:02 AM on October 16, 2018 [3 favorites]

I've bought all kinds of weird old parts on Ebay for appliances (like dishwasher and icemaker parts) from sellers with good profiles without a problem. I would never buy the same from a random person on craigslist unless I absolutely did not care about possibly losing the money in a scam. Seems like a scam.
posted by Mid at 7:04 AM on October 16, 2018 [3 favorites]

Are you tied into any communities with members in Houston? Family members in Houston? Sometimes in the ski community I'm in, people will be able to find a local contact to purchase a set of skis for them from a craigslist seller. Then buyer pays gas/beer money to local community contact for the trouble, + shipping.
posted by craven_morhead at 8:28 AM on October 16, 2018

I don't know about parts, but a very common CraigsList scam is to advertise a used car at a below-market price, but it's in warehouse storage out of state and can't be viewed prior to purchase except in old pictures taken before it was stored. The reason they are selling it so cheap is because it belonged to their son/husband/cousin who died in a motorcycle accident/of cancer/etc and the memories are so bad the seller just wants to get rid of it/see that it gets a good home. They work odd hours/are in the military/don't have a phone and can't take calls, only contact by email/message app. You should pay them directly, in a non-refundable form, and they will have the eBay warehouse/brother-in-law/Pope handle all the arrangements to have it shipped to you (once payment has cleared; so many scammers out there, you see).
posted by CyberSlug Labs at 9:20 AM on October 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

Just a quick follow-up. It turned out his neighbor had a Paypal account, I sent the money, he gave me a tracking number and got the parts three days later. I guess I can depend on the kindness of strangers.

Of course, now I'm looking at a car a thousand miles away... No way to test drive, not sure how payment is to be made. My head hurts...
posted by Marky at 10:55 PM on October 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

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