1. Initial Contact
Ask questions. It helps to research the market value of an item to know if you’re getting a good deal. When you first contact a seller by phone or email, express your interest in the item and ask any questions you may have about the condition and/or history of the item. Ask to see digital photos as well.
Limit personal information. Limit the amount of information you share about yourself (for example, don’t give out your home phone or address and remove personal information from your email sig file). After the seller has answered some questions and seems credible, you may need to disclose more information about yourself such as your name and cell phone number. Try to keep it limited to that.
Establish the credibility of the seller. In addition to communicating over email, we recommend talking to the seller by phone before meeting them.
2. Meeting the Seller
Meet in a public place. Meet in a public place if possible – during the daytime when other people will be around. Bring a friend. If the item is large, like a piece of furniture, and you must go to the seller’s home, always let someone know where you are going. You may also want to share whatever contact info you have for the seller (their email address, phone number).
3. Seeing and Evaluating the Item
Do your research. It helps to do advance research on the market value of item so you will know if you are getting a good deal. You may want to bring copies of similar listings with you that support your valuation. Don’t be afraid to haggle or negotiate on price, but don’t insult the seller with an unreasonably low offer.
See it before you buy it. Always see the item in person before you buy it. If it is merchandise, inspect its condition carefully. If it is a car, check the vehicle history and ask for receipts for any service records. You can also request a pre-purchase inspection at a local mechanic, (generally between $100 and $300), a service which can identify potential safety and mechanical issues. Take the car on a test drive and for extra precaution, ensure that the car is registered in the seller’s name. If the item in question is a pet, check its veterinary records and pedigree papers.
4. The Transaction
Pay cash. In online classifieds, it’s best to pay cash and to keep the payment simple. Do not use personal checks, money wires, Western Union or Moneygrams. Do not give out any personally identifiable information such as bank numbers or credit card numbers. For big purchases, use cashier’s checks. For an item priced over $1,000, you may be more comfortable using a cashier’s check from a well-known bank so you don’t have to carry cash around. You can bring a cashier’s check in person to your first meeting, but it may be better to wait until you are sure you want to buy the item. This is because you will need the final amount when you make the check out to the seller. Ask for a signed receipt.