(BPT) - Need a bike to start getting into shape? Looking for a new job? Interested in renting a condo for that long-desired trip?
Every day, millions of Americans turn to Craigslist.org to buy and sell items, find jobs, meet other people or find a vacation property to rent. More than 60 million people use the website and view an estimated 100 million ads per month in the U.S. alone, according to the company.
As Craigslist has become one of the most well-known online marketplaces in the world, it's also become a destination for criminals, according to FindLaw.com, the nation's leading website for free legal information. Criminals use the site to scam individuals and conduct other criminal activity, ranging from armed robbery to prostitution.
Whether you've used Craigslist many times before or are a newbie to this online destination for trading and selling, here are some helpful tips from FindLaw.com to help you navigate Craigslist safely and responsibly:
If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. This is the No. 1 rule of Craigslist. Whether you're seeking an item to purchase, hunting for a new job or looking for a place to rent, if it sounds like it's too good of a deal, trust your instincts and avoid the seller.
Use a separate email account. Open up a free email account for Craigslist as a preventive measure to protect your privacy. Avoid using the email address you rely on for communicating with friends and family, or your work email.
Never share personal or financial information. If someone starts asking you personal questions about where you live and work, or your appearance, break off the communication, immediately. Don't advertise your home address and avoid meeting at your home or office.
Always meet in a public place. Remember, you're dealing with strangers. You don't know who they are or what their motives are. To complete your transaction, meet during daylight hours in a public place with a lot of traffic, like a fast-food restaurant or a shopping mall. If it involves the exchange of a very valuable item, bring a friend who can witness the exchange, and always have your cell phone with you.
Don't carry large amounts of cash. For purchases of $100 or more, it's best to use a cashier's check. If you're the seller, don't accept a personal check (in case of check forgery) and tell the buyer to come prepared with a cashier's check or money order from his or her bank. If you're the buyer, do not offer to go with the seller to an ATM or your bank to withdraw cash.
Avoid listings outside your local area. Craigslist was designed to facilitate local buying and selling. If you want to buy or sell something from someone in another state or country, it's best to use another online service. Requests from a seller to wire funds from your checking account or to pay for shipping are potential signs of mail fraud.
Assume you're buying 'as is.' In other words, you're purchasing the product or service in its current condition without refunds or returns. Because you're not dealing with an established merchant or business, your only recourse to challenge a product or service with which you're not happy is through small claims court. That's why you should be knowledgeable about what you're buying (or selling) and carefully inspect the product or service before exchanging money, or trading a product or service.
Keep current records. To a lot of people, buying and selling items on Craigslist seems a lot like a garage sale, only online. However, if you become a regular seller, then you should maintain records of your sales, expenses and profits. If your intention is to make a profit, then you should plan to report it.
To learn more about your legal rights and responsibilities, visit FindLaw.com.