In-Person Transactions with Strangers from the Internet – Krebs on Security

Community like Craigslist, To offer, Facebook Market and others are great for finding cheap or free stuff you can pick up right from a nearby vendor, and getting rid of useful stuff that doesn’t deserve to end up in a landfill. But when dealing with strangers from the Internet, there’s always the risk that the person you’ve agreed to meet has other intentions.

Almost every state in the US now has designated secure trading posts, mostly at local police departments, which ensure all transactions are handled in full view of both the authorities and security cameras.

These safe trading venues exist because in-person transactions from the Internet sometimes don’t end well for one or more parties involved. The Web site The Craigslist Killers has cataloged news links for at least 132 murders linked to Craigslist transactions since 2015. Many of these murders involved expensive items such as automobiles and consumer electronics, where the prospective buyer apparently intended to kill the owner and steal the item offered for sale. Others were motivated simply by a desire to hurt people.

This isn’t to say that using Craigslist is uniquely risky or dangerous; I am sure that the vast majority of transactions generated by the site end amicably and without physical violence. And that probably goes for all of Craigslist’s competitors.

However, the risk of a deal going wrong when you meet complete strangers from the Internet is not zero, so it makes sense to just take a few simple precautions. For example, choosing to transact in a designated safe location such as a police station drastically reduces the likelihood of someone wishing to harm you showing up.

I recently came across one of these designated trading posts by accident, hence my interest in learning more about them. The one I encountered was in a Virginia County Sheriff’s Office, and has two reserved parking spaces with a sign that reads “Internet Buying and Trading Location: This area is under 24-hour video surveillance.” [image above].

According to the list maintained at Safetradestations.com, there are four other such designated places in Northern Virginia. And it seems most states now have them in at least a few major cities. Safeexchangepoint.com it also has a searchable index of secure commercial sites in the United States and Canada.

Granted, not everyone is going to live near one of these designated trading posts. Or maybe what you want to buy, sell or trade you would rather not have recorded in front of police cameras. Anyway, here are some tips on how to stay safe when transacting in real life with strangers from the internet (kudos to the above safe trading websites).

The safest exchange points are easily accessible and in a well-lit public place where transactions are visible to others nearby. Try to arrange to meet during daylight hours and consider bringing along a friend, especially when you’re dealing with high-value items like laptops and smartphones.

Safeexchangepoint.com also advises that the police or merchants hosting their own trading venues will generally not be involved in the details of the transaction unless otherwise stated and that many (but not all) police departments are willing to check the serial number of a item for sale to ensure it is not stolen property.

Of course, it’s not always practical or possible to haul that old sofa to the local police department or a used car that doesn’t work. In those situations, safetradestations.com has some decent suggestions:

  • Meet at a police station where you can exchange and photocopy each other’s identification documents, such as a driver’s license. DO NOT bring cash to this location.
  • Photocopy your driver’s license or ID card, or use your phone to photograph it.
  • Email the ID information to a friend or someone you trust (not yourself).
  • If you sell home or go to someone’s home, never be outnumbered. If you are at home, make sure you have two or three people there and tell the person coming that you will have more with you.
  • In your home or apartment, NEVER let anyone go anywhere unaccompanied. Always make sure they are escorted.
  • Never let more than one group come to your home to buy or sell.
  • Beware of common scams, such as checks for more than the deal amount; “bank drafts” which are forged and presented when the bank is closed.
  • If you’re given a cashier’s check, money order, or other equivalent, call the bank — at the number listed online, not a number the buyer gives you — to verify the validity of the check.