Initial Contact Ask questions.

When you first contact a seller by phone or email, express your interest in the item and ask any questions you may have. Ask 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). However, 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 (but 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.

If the seller seems evasive or suspicious, or makes you uncomfortable at any point during the initial contact process, do not continue to pursue the transaction.

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).

If the seller seems evasive or suspicious, or makes you uncomfortable at any point during the meeting, simply excuse yourself.

Seeing and Evaluating the Item Do your research.

It always 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, 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.

If the item is not as described or pictured, don't be afraid to walk away from the deal or change your offer.

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.

more comfortable using a cashier's check from a well-known bank so you don't have to carry around the cash. 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 since you will need to make it out to the seller and you will need a final amount. You should also ask for a signed receipt.

Protect your personally identifiable information.

Don't give out your social security number, bank numbers, credit card numbers, etc. If someone like a landlord asks for your social security number, give them a copy of your credit report instead, with your social security number blacked out.

If the seller seems evasive or suspicious, or makes you uncomfortable at any point during the transaction, walk away from the deal. Always trust your instincts.