How Do I Safely Use Online Classifieds Sites to Sell Something?

Advertising items for sale on internet classified sites is a great way to spread the word to likely buyers, but there are risks you take when you do. Your first line of defense is to use reputable services and follow closely any advice the site gives about buying and selling safely.

How to create a safe ad

  • Stick to the facts of the item being sold. Do not put any information that identifies you personally if it’s not strictly necessary. Keep in mind that every piece of information you post may be used for other purposes than you intended. Limit your information to limit your risk.
  • Look hard at any photo you post, you don’t want it to include house numbers in the background, or license plate numbers, include family members, etc. Show just the item being sold.
  • If you want the convenience of allowing people to call you (as opposed to emailing you), use a free disposable phone number. You can get one easily by searching on ‘disposable phone number’ and selecting from one of several companies that provide this service. Don’t put your personal phone number in the ad – you don’t want people to be able to harass you later, and there are several reverse look-up directories may provide a wealth of information about you that can be used in ways you would not appreciate.
  • If the service does not have their own email service, create a disposable email account that does not show any personal information – like your name, location, or age. Again, you do not want people to have your primary account information to harass you through.

Communicating with a prospective buyer .

  • Communicate only through the anonymous email account, or your disposable phone number.
  • Understand that virtually every out-of-area buyer is a fraud.
  • If anything feels "off," stop contact.
  • When you’re comfortable that the buyer seems legitimate, ask the buyer to give you his or her phone number. (Sometimes, the area code may indicate if they are in your area.) Try the phone number to find out if it’s valid. If the person responds, chat on the phone for a bit about the item for sale and decide if the person still feels legitimate.
  • Make it clear that you will only accept cash for the item. Any other form of payment is highly likely to be fraudulent.

Show transportable items in safe, public places

  • Agree to meet during daylight hours in a public place and bring a friend to accompany you. Turn down any request to meet at your house, in an unfamiliar place, or by yourself no matter how big and tough you are.
  • Do not hand over the item until you have cash in hand. Don’t accept partial payment or anything other than cash for the transaction. If the method of payment changes from your previous agreement, walk away from the deal.
  • If the potential buyer wants time to consider and comes back later, follow the same procedures. Don’t get careless the second time around.
  • If the item being sold has significant value, meet inside a bank where you can deposit the money before leaving – this way the buyer can’t turn around and rob you. It is hard to be safer than in a bank where there is plenty of security monitoring.

Show non-transportable item at home with plenty of precautions

  • The less you show, the less they know. Your house provides many clues about you, your income level, your family, and so on. All of this may be useful information to crooks and predators, so it’s smart to show as little as possible.
  • Move the item into the garage or entryway, if possible. The goal is for potential buyers to see as little as necessary of your house – ideally they won’t come inside your home at all.
  • Remove from view any items that could be stolen at the time of the visit, or that would be of interest for the potential buyer to steal later. If you have family photos on display, you may choose to put these away as well. (The less someone knows about you the better—for example, you might not want a stranger buying a couch to learn that you had young children and to be able to identify them.)
  • Make your meeting a two-step process. Arrange to meet during daylight hours and have a friend be there with you.

    º First, meet in a public place close to your house. Ask for proof of identity such as a driver’s license. (That way you know who you’re dealing with if there’s is a problem.) Note the license plate number, color, and model of the buyer’s vehicle so you have it in the event there is trouble.

    º If you’re comfortable that the buyer seems legitimate, have them follow you and your friend to your house.

  • If more than one person arrives, keep them together. A common ploy is for one person to engage you with questions while another asks to use the restroom. Decline. This splits your ability to supervise and increases their ability to scope out more of your house and any items worth stealing. It may seem rude to refuse to let someone use your bathroom, but it isn’t. Let them know where the closest public bathroom is located.
  • Don’t hand over the item until you have cash in hand. Don’t accept partial payment, or anything other than cash for the transaction. If the method of payment changes from your previous agreement, decline the deal.
  • If the potential buyer wants time to consider and comes back later, follow the same procedures. Don’t get careless the second time around.

With these safety precautions in place, your chances of having only positive selling experiences is very high.

Provided by Linda Criddle, Founder of   


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