Land Shark: "Knock Knock, Craigslist"
October 24, 2007 5:46 PM   Subscribe

When you sell, offload or buy something on Craigslist, Freecycle, etc., where do you complete the transaction? Is it unsafe to just do it at your home?

I've sold a few innocuous things on Craigslist - a set of used tires, a video game, for instance - and when contacted by a buyer, I just have them meet me at my house during the day.

Everything was going swimmingly until the last week, when, on two separate occasions, I've had friends say they shudder at the thought. These people intimated that this is an opportunity for someone to "case your house" for burglary later, that sort of thing. I'm told people use "neutral space," such as a K-Mart parking lot. I see nothing like this suggested on CL.

So now I'm mildly creeped out. Was I totally naive? Or are these friends the paranoid exception? I figured most people just had buyers come to their houses.

Details: one was a single woman. The other was a married man.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! to Shopping (39 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Dude. Always transact in a highly public place. 99 times out of 100 nothing will go wrong. But that 1 time that he/she turns out to be a thief, rapist, murderer, identity thief, or Avon lady is enough to play it safe.
posted by SeizeTheDay at 5:49 PM on October 24, 2007

These are probably the same people who freak at the thought of dating on the internet.

In my case, I usually haul the stuff downstairs and out to the corner and have them meet me there.
posted by sian at 5:49 PM on October 24, 2007

Eh. Don't live in fear.
posted by killdevil at 5:50 PM on October 24, 2007 [3 favorites]

I have offloaded a lot of stuff via CL, all local at my house. Most items were large things, needing trucks, so a neutral location would've been impractical. That said, I never felt unsafe having CL folks come to my house. I guess it's possible that somebody unsavoury could case your place for later mischief, but I think that's being a wee bit paranoid.

It may be justifiable depending on where you live, though, I guess.
posted by the dief at 5:53 PM on October 24, 2007

If you're a single male weighing 200+ pounds you probably have little to worry about. If you're a petite female, married with kids, etc... you may want to consider a more public place.

Also could depend on what you're buying.
posted by Octoparrot at 5:53 PM on October 24, 2007

Once I had someone meet me in my apartment to drag a bed out. I was moving out that day, so I figured it was no problem.

Otherwise, I bring it into the front yard of my apartment. I also make a remark or two about my husband being inside. I've never had any problems.
posted by christinetheslp at 5:56 PM on October 24, 2007

I've only once met someone at a place other than my home for a CL transaction. Never a problem either way.
posted by blaneyphoto at 5:59 PM on October 24, 2007

I have unloaded many things via Craigslist. I generally didn't bring people inside my apartment, rather preferring to meet them at the building door. Now I live in a house, and I'd probably be less inclined to give out my address and invite strangers inside.

I agree with SeizeTheDay in that 99/100 times you'll be fine, dealing with friendly, normal people like yourself. It's probably best to CYA and minimize risk if you feel that someone is acting shady.

I'd also venture that risk is comparable to the item you're selling. You'll probably get a lot more shady characters if you're selling a Playstation 3 rather than a set of tea cozies.
posted by gnutron at 5:59 PM on October 24, 2007

Second the don't live in fear. Your friends sound rather paranoid. Trust your gut, if something seems weird from previous phone or e-mail communication, politely back out.

Most people are decent folk. I've both sold and bought off of Craigslist plenty o times, all went very smoothly. Frankly, they're probably just as worried about you and if they'll be ripped off, too. If someone told me to meet them in the parking lot of a k-mart, that'd freak me the hell out far more than either me going to their home, or them coming to mine.

And I'm a short, little woman. It's cool.
posted by raztaj at 6:00 PM on October 24, 2007

I've sold a couple of things on Craigslist as well... I pretty much always say that I'm out of town and will call them when I get back. If they refuse to give out their number, it's a red flag, and this way I get to call them and see who answers the phone -- I know it's not the most accurate method of seeing who you're dealing with, but it's better than nothing.

I agree with Raztaj, too.
posted by ThomThomThomThom at 6:09 PM on October 24, 2007

I haven't sold anything via Craigslist, but I've bought a number of things (a computer, lots of furniture) and always picked them up (or at least viewed and paid for them, as some have required me to arrange for movers) at the seller's house. No one has ever asked me to meet them in a public place. Trolling Craigslist seems like a lot of effort to go to to pull off a petty burglary — but if you're worried, why not just meet the person at the door with the item and finish the transaction on the steps or in the entryway, in view of your neighbors? Much simpler than trying to find a stranger in a parking lot.
posted by enn at 6:10 PM on October 24, 2007

3rding don't live in fear. Don't change your ways just because you have paranoid friends. 99.asmanyninesasyouwant of all transactions go of without a hitch... if your fearmonger friends were right, we'd all know dozens of people who had been ripped off this way.

You weren't being naive before, you were just being human. Continue doing so.

On the rational side, meeting you in your front yard to be handed a set of tires seems like a piss-poor way to 'case' a house... surely the real bad guys have better methods that aren't so random.
posted by foobario at 6:12 PM on October 24, 2007

99 times out of 100 nothing will go wrong.

I think it's probably closer to 999,999 out of 1,000,000 (or better)

People have been selling things through classified ads for ages. Somehow the internet makes it scary.

(And why would someone need to respond to a craigslist ad to case a house or rob someone? Just find a likely house and knock on the door with some story or another)
posted by winston at 6:17 PM on October 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

Wait until a natural disaster and go loot the homes of the evacuated, etcetera. Crooks aren't vampires. They aren't forbidden to enter your home by supernatural force until you accidentally invite them in. It's not like they can't find any homes to invade until an address is sent to them by email or phone.

That said, posting photos of how hot you are and then selling your dryer on the same website might not be a good overall risk management strategy.
posted by TeatimeGrommit at 6:22 PM on October 24, 2007 [2 favorites]

I buy and sell a lot of stuff via Craig's List (mainly bicycles or computer crap.)

Generally I arrange for the person to call me when they are downstairs (I live in a walk up building) and then I bring the goods down to them. We do the transaction on the street or in my building's foyer.

Because I only take cash I usually will walk with the person (bike or part in tow) to the nearby atm.

When I buy the reverse is usually true, though I have been asked in quite a few times in to people's homes. This is usually when I'm buying bicycles or bike parts and after I've emailed or spoken with the person on the phone. Bike people (here in Chicago at least) seem a friendly sort and several times I've had people invite me in to let me rummage through their parts bins, etc.

Interestingly I've had women invite me in to their homes to inspect bicycles several times - something which I would assume many women would feel uncomfortable doing... but then, what do I know?

I suppose if you're selling something generic or sketchy (stereo amps maybe?) then that would attract a completely random sort of person who I personally would feel odd inviting in. YMMV.
posted by wfrgms at 6:24 PM on October 24, 2007

I guess I hedge a bit. I am a city-dweller who does this sort of thing on my front stoop.

I never let strangers in the house, because frankly my home is none of their business.
posted by Kwantsar at 6:29 PM on October 24, 2007

The only time I have felt weird about a CL interaction was when I made the arrangements for a woman to come pick up a futon, then got in the shower, meaning it was my male partner who met her at the door and then took her into the basement to haul the futon out. I realized partway through that that might look SUPER sketchy so hurried out and apologized profusely. She indicated that it had occurred to her but she wasn't too worried. I still felt really bad.

I've never been worried on my own behalf, though I did meet people in the street instead of inside when I lived alone.
posted by librarina at 6:32 PM on October 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

The two times we've done this, it's been at our house. The items in question were too large for us to haul to a neutral place and to be honest, the thought never occurred to me or my husband. That said, he was there both times and his stature can be imposing (6'2" with very broad shoulders).
posted by cooker girl at 6:46 PM on October 24, 2007

I don't typically have an issue with inviting people over to the house- as mentioned before, I transact most business on the front porch.

When I've sold expensive things (2 laptops and a camera) I asked them to meet me at a coffee shop. That way we could all sit down, be observed by other people, and take the time for both buyer and seller to be satisfied (I count the twenties, they check the computer to make sure it is all I said it was)

Don't worry. If you feel uncomfortable, meet potential buyers on your lawn or beside the street and during busy hours- you know, when there are plenty of your neighbors passing on the street.
posted by arnicae at 6:47 PM on October 24, 2007

I've given a lot of stuff away on Freecycle, and I have always given the people my home address. My boyfriend expressed concern about it once when I was going to be home alone, but I just brushed him off. I had never thought that something wrong could happen. Now I won't arrange for pickups while he's not home, mostly for his peace of mind.
posted by rhapsodie at 7:14 PM on October 24, 2007

Single female, and I consider it paranoid to arrange to meet in a K-Mart parking lot. Don't assume the worst of people. I've met some pretty rad people buying & selling & giving away stuff online, in fact. If this kind of thing truly concerns people I can only imagine what a scary place the world is for them.
posted by loiseau at 7:34 PM on October 24, 2007

My husband and I usually do our CL stuff in public places. That is more due to convenience for the other person - people rarely want to travel out of downtown. I've only ever done easily transportable stuff on CL.

The one time I Freecycled, I was giving the woman an apartment-sized kitchen table and chairs. Part of getting the thing for free is coming to my house and picking the stuff up and getting it out of my house. I made sure that my husband was home, but I answered the door and did all the talking.

I hadn't planned for her to come in (the furniture was on my back deck), so the house not in the best shape for unknown guests. However, she had her small daughter with her, who needed to pee after the drive. I wasn't going to make a 4 year-old pee her pants so my husband corralled our dog in our bedroom so she wouldn't annoy them and I brought them up through my messy house to our bathroom upstairs. I then realized that I had forgotten to put a fresh roll of TP in the bathroom. I let her know it was outside the door, but felt like an idiot.

My point is don't live in fear, but always be prepared for the unexpected.
posted by melissa at 7:36 PM on October 24, 2007

I've done a lot of Freecycle stuff, and never felt uncomfortable doing it in or outside my place. Although the S.O. has asked me never to have anyone come over when I'm not around, so I understand there are varying comfort levels for this sort of thing.

To be honest I feel much more threatened when I go over to someone else's place and end up in unfamiliar territory than when someone is in my place. My house, my turf: I know where all the sharp/bludgeoning/dangerous objects are, they don't. Why would I feel threatened?

I've definitely -- not often, but twice -- gone to pick something up and felt that the area/building it was in was just so sketchy that even as a big dude, I wasn't going to wander in there by myself without backup, and just said 'forget it.' But I've never met any people that I thought were bad. (Both of those situations were to get stuff that had just been left out 'on the curb,' I wasn't meeting anyone, and to me that makes the sketch factor a bit higher.)

This is just my bias, but I'd say that Freecycle is less sketchy than CL, by a significant margin. I've met some very nice people through Freecycle; CL deals tend to be less social and more straightforward, and you do sometimes deal with people who will screw you given the chance, but I've never felt physically in danger.

Of course, if you're doing/buying anything illegal, this all goes out the windows. Associating with criminals is the easiest way to get hurt.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:39 PM on October 24, 2007

I have always sold things on craigslist from my apartment and bought things from other people's homes. I have never had a problem, although I did have an embarrassing situation with a guy and his wife's dildo.

Really, I think it's fine, but in retrospect I realize that I've always offhandedly told someone I knew where I was going before buying something from craigslist. It wasn't deliberate, but it might be a good idea if you're worried for your safety.
posted by backseatpilot at 7:41 PM on October 24, 2007

Completely 2nd raztaj, here.
posted by kmennie at 7:45 PM on October 24, 2007

Has anyone had first-hand experience with a dicey CL transaction? Not "my brother's girlfriend's waxologist heard that…"?

I haven't. I've sold a lot of stuff on CL, and bought a little, and never had a problem. If a thief wants to case my house, he can walk around and peer through the windows.
posted by adamrice at 8:34 PM on October 24, 2007

I've bought a few things from Craigslist, and the seller and I always meet downtown. Often it's just a convenient point for people from different places, but it also seems that everyone involved assumes public = better. When I went to a guy's apartment, I brought along a male friend - it just seemed sensible. Apparently I'm more cautious than most.
posted by bassjump at 8:52 PM on October 24, 2007

I was gonna say "don't live in fear", but it seems to have been covered. I've bought and sold many things on CL and have gone to houses and have had people come to me. I'm a single woman and I live alone. I never worried and every transaction has been completely fine. I've also given things away on Freecycle with the same results.

Case the house? Sounds a bit paranoid.
posted by FlyByDay at 8:54 PM on October 24, 2007

i, a young woman, have sold one thing on craigslist- a dead laptop. the seller struck me as a bit creepy so i met him at a nearby borders. did i think he would DO anything creepy? no. but i don't like having creepy people in my house. sometimes piece of mind is everything. if the buyer seems wierded out by meeting you at a neutral place, you can always say that it's too complicated to give directions to your house.
posted by genmonster at 9:09 PM on October 24, 2007

I third raztaj.
Since I am a cheap bastard, all of the furniture in my home is either from CL, Ikea, or an alley.

Reading this post was the first time I ever considered that maybe I shouldn't let strange people into my home just because they are selling me stuff. I'm so foolhardy, I give people my cell number and tell them to google my address for directions because I suck at giving directions.

I've never had a sketchy experience buying and selling on Craigslist. As a matter of fact, I think I sort of enjoy the quirky interaction with a complete stranger. I chatted a bit about vintage furniture with the guy I bought my couch from and when he left he said something like, " Well, I guess, I'll probably never see you again. Maybe I will. Anyway, nice talking to you. Have a nice life! Enjoy the couch!"
The girl I bought my bike from offered me a glass of orange juice and shared amusing anecdotes about living near a busy interaction in Boystown (involving public sex and a note from her landlord) while her boyfried put some extra air in the bike's tires.

I mean, maybe those were dicey Cl transactions and I am just too sketchy myself to recognize them as such. But nobody ever ripped me off.
posted by thewrongparty at 9:22 PM on October 24, 2007

As somebody who wishes you could make donations to craigslist as its saved me thousands of dollars and gotten rid of stuff I didn't have the ability or time to do myself, I will say I've only had one creepy experience.

I was giving away a big screen TV (old ass Magnavox from the early 90s) and this guy pulls up in a truck.....alone..... even though I specifically said I wouldn't lift a finger in the ad and this antiquated beast weighs about 250 pounds. When I ask how he's going to get it down he says (in a malevolent, demented hick voice) "you gonna help me". Needless to say I told him to get the fuck out of my yard and not to waste my time.

He looked shocked and angry and started to get pissy. I had to walk toward him very quickly with my fists balled up and my clenched teeth focused eyes look to get him to finally start stumbling backwards towards the gate. Anyway, if wasn't the size of an ogre and hadn't worked in security for years I would have just about shat myself. He was creepy and weird and smelly and drove the kind of pickup that portends horrible hate-crimes. Other then that though, I've had nothing but awesome craigslist transactions, and I've had hundreds as a buyer and a seller.

PS I've met with some people in public just because we were dealing with high value stuff (MP3 player, Xbox 360) or sometimes I just got a feeling about over the phone. Whenever I do that, when I finally meet the person I feel like a dick because they've been uniformly cool.....
posted by lattiboy at 10:55 PM on October 24, 2007

Your friends are paranoid. I've never sold, but I've bought from Craigslist and classifieds, and what the hell, I go where they tell me to. Part of the alt.economy is trust and a general feeling of respect for your fellow man... I suppose if I pulled up to the address and it looked like the back side of hell I might consider driving on, but to date it's all been good, and my transactions have been happy ones. Scored an awesome bike recently. What other people said: fear, don't live in it.
posted by mumkin at 11:30 PM on October 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

I have been to people's houses to pick stuff up, and had people come over to buy stuff, but I agree that it can be creepy. Given the choice I prefer to make the exchange at or outside someone's place of work. I've done it several times, and it's always relaxed and less inconvenient that waiting in a public place.
posted by roofus at 5:14 AM on October 25, 2007

i do freecycle a lot. i give them my building addy but not my apartment number and just meet them outside my building.

however, if i was giving away/selling a high ticket item or something, i would probably do the public space thing. but, then again, outside of my apartment is pretty public since it's a busy street.

posted by misanthropicsarah at 6:56 AM on October 25, 2007

I sold an xbox 360 in the runup to Christmas of '05, back when they where the hot thing.

Buyer was coming from out of state with a big wad of cash. We were both concerned about getting roughed up.

My solution was to meet in the lobby of the local police station to do the exchange. Seems a natural place to do a high value/high risk transaction.
posted by de void at 8:49 AM on October 25, 2007

Don't live in fear.

I Freecycle stuff all the time. In fact, often have multiple items to be picked up at once. Mostly these items are small, so I'll package them up in clearly marked bags and boxes and leave them on my front porch.

I've never had a problem, and never had anyone take anything they weren't supposed to.
posted by anastasiav at 11:20 AM on October 25, 2007

I've sold and given away lots of stuff on Craigslist and Freecycle. Since the whole point of doing so for me was sheer laziness I wouldn't even have bothered if I had to move it anywhere myself. I always offer to help people carry it out but I let them inside my home to take whatever it was I offered. Uniformly the people who have arrived have been nice and very thankful for whatever it was I was giving away and never seemed creepy in the least. The biggest problem I dealt with was people who agree to come get something and then flake out when you try to arrange a good time.
posted by marylynn at 2:26 PM on October 25, 2007

Its usually fine, just play it by ear. When i went to pick up the drums set i'd bought on CL, not only did i go to the seller's house, his grandparents gave me sweet tea while we loaded up my car.
posted by yeahyeahyeahwhoo at 8:56 AM on October 26, 2007

I would have said "don't live in fear" but this happened to a former classmate of mine last week. Be careful.
posted by beandip at 1:39 PM on October 28, 2007

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