Avoiding scams selling expensive items on craigslist
May 28, 2007 5:25 PM   Subscribe

I'm about to list a relatively expensive item on Craigslist (asking ~$700) and have been reading up on all of the different scam horror stories and what _not_ to do. I'm only going to be dealing with someone in person, and I won't accept any wire transfers, cashier checks or money orders because of the high abuse potential, but I'm not sure what this leaves as viable alternatives for what I _should_ do to receive payment.

Is it OK to ask for that much cash? Is there some other alternative that I'm missing? Anything above a couple of hundred dollars seems like a lot of folding money to me. Is there some sort of unspoken maximum amount where cash is no longer viable?

Should I be asking the person for some sort of identification (driver's license?) when I make the deal? Do I need to worry about counterfeit money and get one of those pens that I see some stores use on large denomination bills that identify counterfeits?

How have other people dealt with large items that they've sold on Craigslist (or a similar forum)?
posted by freshgroundpepper to Work & Money (26 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I've bought a couple of items off Craigslist which were roughly $2000 each. I used cash in both cases. Seems reasonable to me.

I wouldn't worry about counterfeit cash unless the person seems sketchy.
posted by JMOZ at 5:32 PM on May 28, 2007

My boyfriend sold a laptop on eBay and trusted in a phony money order. It sucked.

So, I don't recommend accepting money orders. However, I'm not really sure what you could do instead. It seems like there is a need for an impartial service that could take goods and money and make sure both were legit and paid in full, respectively, before making the exchange. On eBay it seems like the only way is to wait for personal checks to clear, but that doesn't really work for in-person exchanges. However, you could ask them to mail the check to you and only give them a location to pick the item up once it cleared?

I seem to remember reading that Google Checkout does something or other to ensure you actually get the money owed you, so you might want to check that out. On the other hand, I was working for Google at the time, so that might not be an entirely objective perspective on the service.
posted by crinklebat at 5:33 PM on May 28, 2007

Best answer: I would only do this in cash.

If I was purchasing from you in cash and you asked from my driver's license I would walk away from the deal.
posted by 517 at 5:34 PM on May 28, 2007

Best answer: Don't bother with the pen.

As well as false negatives, you may well see false positives.
posted by flabdablet at 5:40 PM on May 28, 2007

I posted a car on Craigslist for over $2000, specified cash only, and sold the car in less than a week. Just make sure the money's counted in front of you, or that you count it - I was paid in $20s and $10s, so it took a while and my hands were pretty dirty at the end, but hey, it went into my account instantly when I drove over to the bank an hour later.
posted by mdonley at 5:44 PM on May 28, 2007

I've taken a check over $100, but that was at the buyer's house. I'd do $700 in cash at either the buyer's house or a public place.
posted by monkeymadness at 5:45 PM on May 28, 2007

Cash, cash, cash. It's only 35 twenties.

Seriously, I think cash is perfectly acceptable way to go, easiest and safest for you, and almost easiest for your buyer also. I'd rather stop by the bank and take out some hard money than deal with clearing checks, money orders, elaborate online middlemen, etc. Plus, all of that is somewhat insulting; craiglist is sort of friendly and community oriented, so to the extent feasible you should probably try not to alienate or annoy people by asking for a picture ID.

Just ask for cash and everyone will be happy.
posted by bluenausea at 5:48 PM on May 28, 2007

N'thing cash - I've bought a laptop, a couple of DSLRs, a scanner, and a few other items, ranging from $100-$700, all in cash. I've only been screwed once (my ask mefi history has most of the details), and even that was pretty minor.

As a buyer, I'd be perfectly willing to bring that much, but I'd probably want to look the item over, and see all of the major functions in working order. I also think it's overkill to worry about counterfeit cash. Public places are also a good idea - a well populated chain coffee place is my exchange point of preference.
posted by god hates math at 6:15 PM on May 28, 2007

I've sold an item on CL for $1800 and I simply stated that I'd accept only an in person, cash exchange. I had no problem selling the item right away. Can't go wrong with that approach I think.
posted by blaneyphoto at 6:26 PM on May 28, 2007

I bought something for $800 on craigslist last month. I was a little concerned about walking into an unknown situation with that much money on me (concerned that it might be a set-up to a robbery, I guess), but the guy was legit and the item was great and I happily passed over my envelope full of money. So yes, ask for cash. The person may come without it and then run out to a bank and come back if they're concerned about carrying that kind of money around with them.
posted by bonheur at 6:38 PM on May 28, 2007

If you're worried about counterfeit bills, just check the color changing ink on the lower right number. It'll change colors as you look at it from an angle and straight on. It's hard to counterfeit and easy to check.
posted by cschneid at 6:45 PM on May 28, 2007

An older person I know never goes anywhere with less than a couple thousand on him. He's a generally bright fellow and hasn't been mugged yet, so I figure if he can walk around with that much money, anybody can.

FWIW, I once bought a car for about $4000 in cash. I got hundreds from the bank, since I didn't want to carry around that many bills. (it wouldn't have fit in my wallet in twenties)

Also, I don't know about your bank, but mine has seating areas and free popcorn and drinks at most of their branches, along with plenty of space, so I doubt they'd mind too much if you conducted transactions in their lobby, if you feel unsafe elsewhere, especially if you sold something and turned around and deposited the cash.

It seems like it would be pretty stupid for someone to mess with you at a bank!
posted by wierdo at 7:05 PM on May 28, 2007

I recently purchased a motorcycle from someone on CL and brought a few thousand dollars in cash for the transaction. $700 in cash certainly doesn't sound like a big deal to me.
posted by pierow at 7:18 PM on May 28, 2007

My friend sold some high-ticket jewellery via a web posting. For her security, she arranged to meet the person at the bank. The deal was in cash, but she had the bank check the bills to confirm that they weren't counterfeit. Since it was a bank, there was a video and a security guard. Both parties were thus protected. And my friend was able to immediately deposit the money, so there was no sense in mugging her.

(She did this after a guy in my city sold an old engagement ring and was murdered by someone who had met him to buy it.)
posted by acoutu at 7:30 PM on May 28, 2007

If there's an, e.g., coffee shop next to a bank in your area that would be the place to go. Meet in the coffee shop, buyer takes his/her time inspecting whatever it is, then when you're both happy you walk over to the bank and do the financial stuff....depending on which bank it is, either the buyer can withdraw cash and hand it directly to you, or the buyer can write a check which you can cash immediately, either way should protect you.
posted by anaelith at 8:40 PM on May 28, 2007

I don't think that asking for $700 in cash is that outrageous; provided you give the person a few days to get it together (worst case: they have to draw it out from an ATM at $300 a day across three days, if their bank doesn't have any local branches).

Personally I always specify "US Postal Service Money Orders only," because they're fairly difficult to counterfeit well, if you know all the security features and examine them carefully. (Identification info is here. [PDF!]) They're not foolproof, and someone could always steal some blank forms, but they do make it difficult to run one off on an inkjet or laser printer. Also, you can call the USPS and ask them to verify the MO by number -- I've never done this, but supposedly they'll at least check to see if there's a matching order in their system for the same denomination. Their number is 1-800-868-2443. (Source.)

Other types of MO's may have similar security features (Western Union, etc.) but I'm not as familiar with them, so I specify USPS ones. Plus, the USPS has Postal Inspectors, actual Federal agents I think, who deal with fraud -- Western Union or WalMart don't.

Bottom line is -- you have to control the situation. If someone is trying to pass off a bad MO, they're not just going to meekly hand it over and let you check it, they're going to be pushy and try to get the goods as quickly as possible before you have a chance to really examine the document, particularly if you look clueful.

So you need to stay in control; if something seems hinky, stop the sale. In the worst case, if you specify a USPS MO, you can insist on going to the Post Office and cashing the order before you hand over the goods (let them go with you if they want...). But just do not let them run the sale, because that's when you get scammed.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:57 PM on May 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

I sell plenty of things on CL in the hundreds of dollars range. I usually ask for cash, but specify that "PayPal is an option if you want to use your credit card." Although no one has ever took me up on that. If they did I suppose I would invite them in and let them use my computer for the transaction while I watched.

Also in your ad you should specify the following:

"Local sales only. Cash only. NO INTERNET SCAMS."

If I put that line in my ads I never get any sketchy emails, but if I leave out any of it I'll get plenty of "Hello, I would like to buy your item..." (For some reason the scammers are never clever enough to actually specify the item.)
posted by wfrgms at 9:02 PM on May 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

I usually meet people in a cafe with WIFI and let them pay through paypal via my laptop.

Works like a charm.
posted by mrunderhill at 9:30 PM on May 28, 2007

CL recommends that you never give out your paypal info, but if you wanted to take mrunderhill's suggestion and use the WIFI at your local cafe, I suppose you could set up a paypal account and email address for this transaction only and close them afterward.
posted by youngergirl44 at 9:37 PM on May 28, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for the great advice everyone. It sounds like the consensus is that cash is feasible up to a few thousand dollars at least.

I agree that meeting somewhere neutral (like a bank/coffee shop) is a good place to conduct business if possible.

Unfortunately, the item I'm thinking of listing is a large electronic item and I would want to be able to demonstrate to the buyer that it works before packing it up and having something go wrong in delivery (or have them not be able to see that what they are getting works before handing over money).
posted by freshgroundpepper at 10:23 PM on May 28, 2007

I would want to be able to demonstrate to the buyer that it works before packing it up and having something go wrong in delivery

I see that you're in Seattle. Are you familiar with the student union (or whatever) building at U. Wash? If people plug their laptops in, I can't see why anyone would object to your plugging a TV (or whatever) in.

Get a trolly or something, and there should be parking with lots of people around (to decrease the risk of mugging).

Well-known enough area, lots of other people around, parking is available, and banking probably is too.
posted by porpoise at 10:50 PM on May 28, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks porpoise, that would be a good idea and I'd consider it if the item actually fit in my vehicle for transport to the UW in it's box.

I'm a big guy with a big dog, so I'm not too worried about my physical safety. I'm planning on doing a fair amount of prescreening before giving out my address. I'll get a phone number from the person first and only give the address out after I've spoken with them.
posted by freshgroundpepper at 11:55 PM on May 28, 2007

I cannot urge you enough to NOT give out your home address to anyone with whom you are not acquainted, or don't have some kind of connection to (say, through a company's internal newsletter). Plenty of scammers use these opportunities to case premises for ripoffs later.

At least have someone else around besides the dog. I used to sell things on the Micronews, and while I had some connection, plenty of folks inside MSFT sent the ads externally. I was fine with that, but always made sure I had a friend around at the same time.
posted by micawber at 12:48 PM on May 29, 2007

I usually meet people in a cafe with WIFI and let them pay through paypal via my laptop.

I probably would not agree to this unless it was my own laptop.
posted by qvtqht at 2:55 PM on May 29, 2007

To demonstrate electronics w/o a wall to plug it in:

1.) Car Battery Jump Kit that has lighter socket on it (most do)
2.) 12v -> 120v Converter

Both things that come in incredibly handy in your car anyways, you probably have one, if not both.
posted by hatsix at 3:09 PM on May 29, 2007

You can always accept a money order from a major bank, and tell the purchaser you are going to call the bank to verify its legitimacy. For example, Bank of America has a specific number for money orders... 1-888-217-4038.

Cash works too.
posted by kuhsay at 3:20 PM on May 29, 2007

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