How to recognize Scams on eBay, Craigslist and more

Buying and selling products on sites like eBay and Craigslist are an easy and convenient way to score great deals or make extra cash. Anyone can participate -- which means these places are also a goldmine for scammers who want to manipulate you into giving them your money.

Trust your instincts when buying something from one of these websites. If the deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. Don't disclose personal information, like your checking account number or social security number, in exchange for an item you want to purchase. Don't submit credit checks or background checks until you have met with the interviewer, landlord or agent.

Here are four more tips for avoiding common Internet frauds:

Meet face-to-face
When you go to purchase something or rent an apartment on Craigslist, only deal with people you can meet in person. Scammers often say they are traveling out of the country, on military leave or doing missionary work and cannot schedule a meeting with you before the offer expires. Do not rent housing without seeing it first. Otherwise, you might move in and find that your “new place” is already occupied by tenants who know nothing about the apartment’s market listing.

Make sure you meet the seller in a public location and you let someone know when and where you are going. This is for your own safety. If the seller gives off a bad vibe or makes you feel uncomfortable, you can decide not to complete the order. If you are using Craigslist to find a roommate, make sure that person will give you his or her full name, phone number and employer.

Be smart with your money
Don’t wire money, even if the person promises to send a money order in return. They may send you a fake cashier’s check. Do not wire money to someone you have never met, as it is probably untraceable or unrecoverable. Don’t send a partial payment for anything upfront.

Know who is responsible for what
On the flip side, watch for people who say they will pay you upfront. Be careful when sellers guarantee transactions or say Craigslist will handle or provide payment services.  The seller may say he or she is affiliated with eBay, and wants to initiate the deal through that site. Ask yourself why someone who is involved with eBay would be selling an item on Craigslist. As a general rule of thumb, avoid shipping or escrow services, and watch out for “guarantees” from sellers.

Learn how to recognize a reputable seller. On eBay, look at the seller’s history and read his or her ratings and reviews. See what other buyers had to say about their experiences. A good seller is someone who responds quickly and politely to inquiries.

Look for glaring errors in the ad
Exercise caution when you see postings with poor English grammar or syntax. Stay clear of ads written exclusively with capital letters. Sob stories and complex explanations are other red flags. That isn’t saying that you should be heartless, but just remember that scammers want to take advantage of you. Watch out for unusual identity shifts, like if the seller suddenly goes by a different name. Use common sense.