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After Craigslist murder, what are the best practices for the peer-to-peer economy?

Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster poses in front of the Craigslist office March 21, 2006 in San Francisco, California.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster poses in front of the Craigslist office March 21, 2006 in San Francisco, California.

How to keep yourself, your identity and your property safe in the peer-to-peer economy.

"Avoid scams, deal locally! DO NOT wire funds (e.g. Western Union), or buy/rent site unseen."

This is the warning that appears at the bottom of every posting on Craigslist. Today, it's one of the most popular online forums for people to buy and sell things like cars, furniture, electronics and apartments. But do you really know who you're dealing with when you click on one of those links?

On its site, Craigslist says that 99 percent of scams can be avoided by dealing locally and face-to-face. It also warns against paying anyone you haven't met in person, giving out financial information like bank account or social security numbers, and refusing background or credit checks until you've met the landlord, seller, or employer in person.

Twenty three-year-old Cal-State Northridge student Abdullah Alkadi is the latest victim of a Craigslist transaction gone wrong. Police say a man who was interested in buying Alkadi's car, which he listed on Craigslist, killed Alkadi and left his body along the 10 Freeway in Palm Desert. The man, 28-year-old Agustin Fernandez, has been charged with murder.

We spoke with San Francisco Chronicle reporter Carolyn Said, who offered up five helpful tips that can help you navigate the online platform. 

1. Read the post CAREFULLY

You can figure out early on whether or not a Craigslist posting is legitimate simply by reading the post. If you’re looking to buy something or rent an apartment, make sure to pay careful attention to the spelling, grammar and general command of the English language in the posting. We’ve all made a typo or two in our lives, but if you’re seeing frequent misspellings, recurring bad grammar or poorly worded sentences, it might be a red flag that the post isn’t what it seems.

2. Arrange a phone conversation with seller or renter

This is important especially if you’re not planning to meet in a public place or if you’re dealing with large amounts of cash. It’s easy to conduct everything via the Internet and text messages today, but having a phone conversation with the person you’re dealing with and hearing his or her voice can give you an early insight into whether the deal you’re about to make is legitimate or a scam. However, don’t EVER give out any personal or financial information (social security, bank account number, etc.) over the phone.

3. Meet the potential buyer or seller somewhere public and secure 

The more witnesses and security cameras in the area where you meet, the better. Bank lobbies or police stations are just two suggestions for locations because they are populated, public and often more secure than a coffee shop or restaurant. Meeting in a bank lobby gives you an advantage because you can withdraw and deposit cash without having it on you. 

4. Bring someone with you

This is true especially if you’re making a transaction involving a large amount of money. Bring your brother, sister, girlfriend, boyfriend, mom, dad, roommate or whomever you can convince to tag along. You’re much safer with someone than if you go alone. You should also never get into a car with a buyer or seller or let one get into your car.

5. Use common sense

Using common sense when it comes to evaluating Craigslist posts will save you from being taken advantage of almost every time. Trust your instincts. Think about who and what you’re dealing with. If something about the buyer or seller seems wrong or off, don't risk it. If you set up a meeting with someone, do some research on the person beforehand.  If a post seems too good to be true, it probably is. 

Guest: 

Carolyn Said, Business and technology reporter at the San Francisco Chronicle. She covers the so-called “sharing economy” for the paper. She tweets at @CSaid.

To hear this segment, click on "Listen Now" above. 

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