communities like craigslist, OfferUp, Facebook Marketplace and others are great for finding cheap or no-cost stuff that can be picked up directly from a nearby vendor, and getting rid of useful stuff that doesn’t deserve to end up in a landfill. But when dealing with strangers on the Internet, there is always a risk that the person you agreed to meet has other intentions.
Nearly every state in the US now has designated secure trading stations — mostly at local police departments — that ensure all transactions are processed in view of authorities and security cameras.
These safe places of commerce exist because sometimes in-person transactions from the Internet do not end well for one or more of the parties involved. The Craigslistkillers website has listed news links for at least 132 murders linked to Craigslist transactions since 2015. Many of these murders involved high-priced items like automobiles and consumer electronics, where the potential buyer had apparently intended all along to kill the owner and steal the item. offered for sale. Others were simply motivated by a desire to hurt people.
That’s not to say that using Craigslist is particularly risky or dangerous; I am sure that the vast majority of transactions generated by the site end amicably and without physical violence. And that probably goes for all Craigslist competitors.
However, the risk of a transaction going wrong when meeting complete strangers on the Internet is not zero, so it is wise to take a few simple precautions. For example, choosing to transact at a designated safe place, such as a police station, greatly reduces the likelihood of anyone wishing you harm even showing up.
I recently stumbled upon one of these designated exchange locations, hence my interest in learning more about them. The one I met was in a Virginia County sheriff’s office, and there were two reserved parking spots with a sign that said, “Internet Shopping and Trading Location: This area is under 24 hour video surveillance. [image above].
According to the list maintained on Safetradestations.com, there are four other designated locations in Northern Virginia. And it seems most states now have them in at least some major cities. Safeexchangepoint.com also has a searchable index of safe places to trade in the United States and Canada.
Granted, not everyone is going to live near one of these designated commercial stations. Or maybe what you want to buy, sell, or trade, you’d rather not have recorded in front of police cameras. Either way, here are some tips for staying safe while trading in real life with strangers on the internet (compliments from the aforementioned safe trading websites).
The safest redemption points are easily accessible and located in a well-lit public place where transactions are visible to others nearby. Try to have a meeting during the day and consider bringing a friend, especially when dealing with high value items such as laptops and smart phones.
Safeexchangepoint.com also advises that the police or merchants who host their own exchange points will generally not be involved in the details of your transaction unless otherwise specified, and that many (but not all) police departments are willing to check the serial number of an item for sale to make sure it is not known to be stolen.
Of course, it’s not always practical or possible to haul that old sofa to the local police department or a used car that doesn’t run. In these situations, safetradestations.com has some decent suggestions:
- Go to a police station where you can exchange and photocopy everyone’s identity papers, such as a driver’s license. Do NOT bring cash to this location.
- Photocopy the license or ID, or use your phone to photograph it.
- Email the credentials to a friend or someone you trust (not yourself).
- If you’re selling door-to-door or going to someone’s house, never be outnumbered. If you are at home, make sure you have two or three people and tell the person who comes that you will have others with you.
- At home or in an apartment, NEVER let anyone go anywhere unaccompanied. Always make sure they are accompanied.
- Never let more than one group come to your house at a time to buy or sell.
- Beware of common scams, such as checks for more than the transaction amount; “bank checks” which are forged and presented at the closing of the bank.
- If you receive a cashier’s check, money order, or other equivalent, call the bank — at the number listed online, not the number the buyer gives you — to check the validity of the check.