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How Safe Is Craigslist?

When using any website, it's important to practice online safety. Wise Bread shares a few safety tips to consider next time you use Craigslist.

In the past two years that I’ve written for Wise Bread, I’ve suggested Craigslist as an excellent means of finding a quick side gig to make extra cash, renting out extra space in your home to tourists, promoting your local business, and selling used furniture and electronics, among other things. I’ve used the site for all of the above and then some, and I maintain that it’s a very helpful resource.

RELATED: The 25 Best Things to Buy on Craigslist

However, many of us have also heard stories about scams that take place on the site, or about dangerous people like the infamous "Craigslist Killer" who robbed and murdered at least one woman who posted her massage services on the site.

I'm not trying to use scare tactics: the vast majority of the time, Craigslist is a great, safe way to exchange goods and services, meet new people, or land a job. But given these well-publicized incidents, I decided to ask a few experts for their take on Craigslist, how they feel about its overall safety, and their tips and tricks for helping to prevent unfortunate incidents.

A Safe Place to Meet People?

Mary Jo Fay is the author of The Seven Secrets of Love, and she’s used Craigslist to find dates. She says that sometimes Craigslist lacks the level of decorum and respectful tone between its users demanded by regulated sites, but it’s still a viable source for anyone looking for love.

“In my book, I specifically talk about Craigslist in terms of a possible dating site, although without the screening that sites like Match.com have, it tends to be pretty vulgar, yet there are still some great folks you can meet out there, and I never felt unsafe with any of them,” she says. “In fact, I generally can get tons more replies on Craigslist without even posting a photo, if I just write a unique and appealing ad, as opposed to the typical cookie-cutter template of many dating sites, where everyone looks alike.”

The most important aspect of staying safe, Mary Jo says, is to never let your guard down.

“Being smart about things is absolutely important," she says. “Whether you're selling a couch or meeting a mate, reading between the lines is crucial to determining ahead of time if someone might be a bit iffy. Always meet at a neutral place. Never have someone pick you up on the first date. And when selling or buying something off Craigslist, always have an extra support buddy with you as backup for anyone weird showing up.”

Scott Bernstein, CEO of Falcon Investigations, a private investigation company, completely disagrees with Mary Jo. He warns against using Craigslist as a dating site as thousands of people do every day. He suggests that there’s more criminal activity on Craigslist, including sex trades, stalking, and pedophiles, than on any other social site, and that many users are deviants.

“When I get hired to do a job that might be related to the Internet, I always check on my target's PC hard drive to find any Craigslist correspondence,” Bernstein says. “This is tricky, as these grifters know how to hide their identities — but they’re not smart enough for me to con them back and get them arrested.”

Read on for more.

A Safe Place to Sell Your Stuff?

Andrew Schrage, founder of Money Crashers, agrees with Bernstein that you should absolutely not date via Craigslist, but he says that it’s very useful for selling unwanted stuff — with caution.

“Regardless of all the horror stories you may have read about concerning Craigslist, it is, for the most part, a safe website to use. However, it is essential that you take some personal safety tips into account before using it,” he says.

“First, if you're making a purchase via Craigslist, never wire or transmit funds online, and only buy items that you can pick up in person. Also, only agree to meet with the seller in a well-lit, public place, and take along a friend, if possible. Never agree to go to someone's home — and if you're a seller, never disclose your home address.”

Practicing caution when meeting someone from Craigslist is only the start of the safety checklist when using the site. Craigslist is notorious for helping facilitate (not actively, but because it’s not a regulated community) scams that could result in identity theft and a compromise of your financial information.

“If you are selling an item on Craigslist, make it clear that cash is the only acceptable form of payment and immediately ignore and delete all messages claiming that payment will be sent in the form of a check or money order,” Schrage says. “Never engage with someone who offers to pay more than the price you list your item for, as that's a common Craigslist scam as well. If you're selling an expensive item, you may even want to consider contacting law enforcement to see if they'd be willing to oversee the transaction. When you're talking about large sums of money, you can never be too careful.

Practicing Safe Craigslist

To make these expert safety tips more digestible, author Robert Siciliano, McAfee online security expert, breaks the basics into bullet points and provides even more valuable, practical information to stay safe when using Craigslist.

ID Pre-Meeting

"Get their name and cell phone number ahead of time," says Siciliano. "And call them back to verify. Tell them your brother, the cop, will be there so they shouldn’t be alarmed when they pull up and see a police cruiser."

Never Meet in Private

A public location with lots of people around is always best.

Trust Your Gut

If something seems wrong, it probably is wrong. If that's the case, it's generally better to be safe and cancel.

Enlist a Friend Whenever Possible

"There is strength in numbers," says Siciliano. "Predators thrive on isolation. By pairing up, you reduce the chances of being attacked."

Look Street Smart

Leave expensive-looking clothing and accessories at home, and wear shoes that you can run and kick in.

Not Knowing Creates Risk

Siciliano notes, "Unfortunately, there is risk in meeting someone you don’t know. Being guarded can keep you from getting into a vulnerable situation."

Stay in Communication

Tell someone where you are going and when you will be back, and make sure to keep your cell phone with you.

Do you have a Craigslist horror story? Any tips to add when it comes to safely using Craigslist? Let me know in the comments below.

Mikey Rox

Check out these smart tips from Wise Bread:

The Nine Secrets of Highly Successful Craigslist Sellers

Eight Vile Craigslist Scams to Watch Out For

Ten More Scams Everyone Should Know About

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