Estates in Canada is changing the way consumers use classifieds, and making the experience safe is an important part of that mission. Most listings are perfectly legitimate, but as with any financial transaction, you should always protect yourself. Here are some precautionary measures we recommend taking to ensure a positive and successful experience.
When Buying Something
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. 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 (carfax.com offers a vehicle history for about $30) 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.
3. 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).
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 informationsuch 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. 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.
Trust your instincts. Item not as described? Seller seems evasive or suspicious?
Don't be afraid to walk away from the deal.
When Selling Something
1. Posting Your Ad
Be descriptive, use photos. Describe your item as accurately as possible to set buyer expectations. Include photos to give an idea of the appearance and condition of the item. Limit personal information. When posting your ad, use an email address that does not personally identify you (for example, use a Gmail, Hotmail or Yahoo email rather than a work or home email). If you use a phone number, use your cell number instead of your home phone.
2. Responding to Initial Contact
Answer questions. Respond to any interested buyer over email and/or by phone to answer his or her questions and to determine whether he or she is someone with whom you want to do business. Try to get a sense of his or her overall credibility and trustworthiness to see if you want to move forward. Limit personal information. Don't disclose any personally identifiable information, like where you work, until you feel comfortable with the other person. Avoid inviting someone to your home.
3. Meeting the Buyer
Avoid doing business with people who are not local. Classifieds transactions should always be done locally. Don't accept offers from potential buyers you can't meet in person, especially offers over your asking price. A common scam is an offer over the asking price plus an extra amount for shipping. The "buyer" will send a counterfeit cashier's check and ask you to refund the difference back to them. By the time you discover the cashier's check is counterfeit, it's too late. Meet in a public place; avoid being alone. Meet in a public place if possible, or if the item is large, like a piano or a washer and dryer, arrange to have a friend over when the buyer arrives. If you are selling an item, you may want to schedule your showings all at one time, especially if you are at home alone. Let a neighbor know that potential buyers are coming to your house. Be prepared to negotiate. A buyer may want to haggle with you about the price of an item. Be prepared to negotiate the price and terms of the transaction, but be clear where you stand. Remove listing when sold. For common courtesy, once your item is sold, be sure to remove your ad and contact any interested buyers so they don't waste their time coming to see it.
4. The Transaction
Insist on cash. For online classifieds transactions, cash is the safest and the simplest form of payment. Do not accept personal checks, money wires, Western Union or Moneygrams. Do not give out any personally identifiable information such as bank numbers or credit card numbers. Also, ask for payment in full. For big purchases, you can accept cashier's checks. A potential buyer may be uncomfortable carrying around large amounts for items priced over $1,000, so an alternative is to go to a bank together and arrange for a cashier's check to be written out to you. Do not accept a cashier's check from someone's pocket (they are easy to forge). Arrange to go to the bank with the buyer during business hours to verify the check's authenticity. Protect your personally identifiable information. Don't give out your social security number, bank numbers, credit card numbers, etc. Offer a receipt. Detail the amount of the transaction and the condition of the item should any further disputes arise. Make sure that both parties sign and keep a receipt, especially in the case of a car sale. You may need the receipt later as proof of relinquishing ownership and responsibility of the vehicle if it is not registered.