On one hand, Craigslist is a very powerful and useful tool. You can quickly and easily find advertisements for just about anything, from second-hand furniture, to odd jobs, to spare rooms to rent, to personal ads. However at the same time, the anonymous and detached nature of Craigslist also makes it highly dangerous as well. At the end of the day you don’t know who you’re dealing with, and many unfortunate individuals have been ripped off, pranked, and even killed when answering online ads.
The internet being highly decentralised and essentially faceless in, the methods of remaining safe there are still a fairly new art. However there are a few ways to stay safe when answering Craigslist ads, not just to protect you from fraud, but potentially from injury.
Never Disclose Personal Information
Never give out details of a personal nature when dealing with someone you’ve met from Craigslist. Do not arrange to meet at a private residence, and do not use personal e-mails. You should also never give highly secure information such as your social security number, bank details, or home or business addresses — there is really almost no reason any of these should be relevant to the person you’re contacting.
Any ads or sellers who ask this information of you should be regarded as highly suspect, and promptly avoided.
Arrange Meetings in Public Spaces
When arranging a meeting, choose somewhere public and highly visible. This is especially important for personal ads. Doing so will enable you to meet with your contact in person, and assess for yourself whether the association is something you wish to pursue. It also means that, if you’re attacked, you can expect immediate assistance from surrounding bystanders and a lot of witnesses to help identify and testify against your assailant. Never meet at home, and never meet at night.
Something to note is that police departments are usually happy to host meetings of this sort, and they’re always open 24/7. So keep that in mind if you’re not sure of an appropriate venue for a meeting, or if you’re planning to exchange a high-value item.
Naturally, if your contact insists on meeting somewhere isolated and private, break off communications immediately. There’s no real justification for not arranging a friendly public meeting first before anything is settled.
Make Sure Someone Knows Where You Are
Whenever you go out, always make sure you let a friend or family member know where you’re headed. If you’re answering a personal ad, you don’t have to go into details, but even so, make sure people knows your last whereabouts.
If the situation allows for it, have a trusted friend or family member accompany you. There is safety in numbers, and it means you also have another witness for things such as business transactions, which could prove very useful if you need to take matters to court later.
Trust Your Instincts and Always Have a Phone
If something seems off or suspicious about the deal, break it off immediately. The easiest way to stay safe when answering ads on Craigslist is to exercise good judgement and to be unafraid of breaking things off if you’re uncomfortable. Nothing is worth losing hard-earned money or worse — your life. So better it ends there than somewhere more unfortunate.
In the case of an emergency, having a cell phone can be lifesaving. If nothing else, it means you can call for a cab home if you find you need one. In more desperate circumstances, it means you can call 911 for emergency assistance or a personal injury firm such as Heil Law if you need it.
Christian Mills is a freelance writer and family man who offers practical advice and insights into a variety of topics that affect children and families as well as the complexities of modern living.