The New Yard Sale: Staying Safe with Web Classifieds

Many aspects of life as we know it have made the transition from the real world to the digital world, and yard sales are no exception. Lots of people buy and sell things online by taking advantage of the power and popularity of online marketplaces such as Amazon and eBay. On those websites, you have pretty much all of the tools you need to get a deal done, all in one place.

However, there’s an alternative way of exchanging your wares on the Internet, one that has its roots in another practice that has migrated from offline to online. Where people previously wrote classified advertisements in newspapers (and sometimes still do), there is now the advent of online classifieds.

What is an online classifieds website?

An online classifieds website is where people create web-based advertisements for items that they want to sell in their local area. When a potential buyer finds an ad for an item they like, they contact the seller. Together, the two parties arrange how the buyer will get the item, and how the seller will be paid.

Why do some people use online classifieds websites over self-contained online marketplaces?

Some people prefer using online classifieds, as opposed to the likes of Amazon or eBay, for a few reasons. One reason is that many classifieds websites have local sub-sites, which allow users to buy and sell closer to home. This cuts down on the time and money needed for travel or shipping, in order for the seller to deliver the item or the buyer to deliver their payment.

Another perk of using online classifieds is that sellers avoid many of the service fees that self-contained selling platforms often charge. This allows them to keep more money from the sale of their items. Buyers benefit from this, too; they don’t have to pay marked-up prices for items, since sellers don’t need to compensate as much for service fees cutting into their profit margins.

What are some things to be aware of when using online classifieds?

The main downsides of using online classified websites are pretty much the same as those for using traditional classified advertising: you have to do most of the legwork yourself. That is, you have to do more communicating back and forth with a buyer or seller to work out things like what a fair price for an item is, how the buyer will actually receive the item, and how the seller will get paid. In contrast, most self-contained online marketplaces have tools that make this process a lot easier.

The other implication is that online classifieds websites are simply advertising platforms. That is, they don’t have tools to help you make sure that transactions are performed securely and safely, like many self-contained online marketplaces do. This lack of a “safety net” means that online classifieds are much more susceptible to scams, fraud, and other forms of foul play. That means you have to be especially careful and vigilant when buying or selling through online classifieds. We’ll have some specific advice for you later, but also consider looking at a few tips from our guide to shopping safely online.

Buying books at a sale

How do I choose the right online classifieds website for me?

There are many factors that should go into your decision to use an online classifieds website. Consider things like whether you’re looking to buy or sell, what you want to buy or sell, and how far you want to look to find a buyer or seller. Also think about the website’s ease of use and advertising prices.

For example, some online classifieds sites allow certain products and services to be advertised (such as pets), while others do not. Some are able to narrow your buying or selling activity down to a precise geographical area (such as a major city or town), while others have country-wide – and even worldwide – reaches. Be sure to also look at the website’s distinguishing features. Do they make posting or viewing an ad easier for you? Do they cost money to use, and if so, how much? Is the website going to charge me just to post an advertisement at all?

If you’re totally in the dark, we’ve provided a list of popular online classifieds websites below. We’ll explain a little bit about them, including the main reasons why you might want to use one site over another.

Best 8 online classifieds sites for buying and selling online

1. Craigslist

Started in 1999, Craigslist is one of the oldest, biggest, and most well-recognized online classifieds websites. Craigslist also has general discussion forums if you just want to hang out and chat.

Why use it: It has a simple, no-nonsense interface, and most types of advertisements (except those for job postings, motor vehicles, and a few other categories) can be created free-of-charge.

2. Kijiji

A division of eBay Classifieds (now known as Close5 in the United States), Kijiji is one of the most popular Craigslist alternatives if you live in Canada (or Italy). Other variations of Kijiji include alaMaula (in South America) and Gumtree (in British Commonwealth territories, such as South Africa, Australia, and Britain itself).

Why use it: Kijiji lets you post pretty much any type of advertisement for free. Kijiji also allows users to post and respond to advertisements about pet adoptions, which Craigslist doesn’t allow.

3. LetGo

A very popular new classifieds system that employs an application for your mobile phone, LetGo makes creating online classified ads fast, free, and easy. And, of course, you can also browse the LetGo website for things up for sale in your local area that you may want to buy.

Why use it: Simply download and install the LetGo app on your phone, use your phone’s camera to take a picture of what you want to advertise, add a title and price, and then just wait for the buying offers to come in! LetGo can sometimes even auto-identify what you’re selling through image recognition technology.

4. Oodle

Oodle is what you’d call It pulls advertisements from all over, including newspapers in major cities and even other online classifieds websites, and gathers them in one convenient spot for you!

Why use it: If you’re a big Facebook fan, Oodle may be the online classifieds site for you. Oodle has you sign in using your Facebook account credentials, and has an interface similar to Facebook itself.

5. OfferUp

Similar to LetGo, OfferUp allows you to create an advertisement for an item by taking a picture of it with your mobile phone’s camera, and then adding just a few more details. It also has a system called “TruYou,” which allows users to prove to buyers or sellers that they’re real people by privately providing OfferUp with a few identity details. Plus, OfferUp has secure messaging and payment options as well.

Why use it: If safety is your biggest priority when using online classifieds sites, try OfferUp.

6. Hoobly

Hoobly lets you pick what you’re looking for first, and then it shows you where in your local area that type of item is being sold. This is opposite to how many online classifieds sites work, which often pigeonhole you into a certain geographical area before you even tell them what you want to buy (or sell).

Why use it: Hoobly is useful if you’re willing to travel a bit to make a purchase or sale, since it shows you what’s available in a wider area. It’s also great for pet adoptions.

7. Recycler

Recycler started in 1995 as an offshoot of Los Angeles-based Recycler Classifieds, one of the first and most popular newspapers dedicated entirely to free classified advertising. They used to serve the Southern California area, but remodeled in 2010 to serve the entire United States.

Why use it: A mix of old and new, Recycler allows you to post the classified ads you create through it on their website, on Facebook, or even in your local newspaper!

8. Backpage

One of Craigslist’s biggest rivals, Backpage has sub-sites for most major urban centres in the United States and worldwide. Most advertisements on Backpage are also free to post.

Why use it: Backpage allows you to include videos with your advertisements, in case a picture or two isn’t enough to demonstrate how what you’re offering works, what condition it’s in, and so on.

Vinyl record sale

5 Tips for Staying Safe while Using Online Classifieds

1. Insist on meeting people face-to-face in a familiar area, with witnesses.

The majority of bad deals on online classifieds websites happen because the exchange takes place over a long distance or in an unfamiliar neighbourhood. Insist on meeting prospective buyers or sellers in person in a crowded, open urban area – outside a police station would be ideal – in a town or city that you know well.

Also, be sure to let a friend or family member know where you are when you make the exchange, and have a way of contacting them during the meeting. Better yet, bring them along! All of this protects you by increasing the chance that someone will notice – and be able to help – if the other party tries anything shady.

2. Never deal in money orders or cashier’s checks.

Most scams on online classifieds sites revolve around money orders or cashier’s checks. For example, a fraudster may send you a fake check or money order worth more than what you are selling, and then ask you to pay the difference. Or, they may ask you to pay for what they’re selling with a check or money order, giving you some sort of excuse as to why they can’t meet you in person. Don’t fall for these sorts of tricks; insist on using a more secure form of payment.

Consider checking out our article on advance-fee fraud to learn about other ways scammers can rob you using these unsecure payment methods, and how you can avoid them.

3. Never pay for something before seeing it.

Another common tactic for fraudulent sellers on online classifieds websites is asking you to pay “sight unseen,” or otherwise up front, for what they’re selling – either in part or in full. They may even try to pressure you into doing so by claiming that they’ve already shipped the item that you’re interested in. Instead, always wait until you have received and/or thoroughly inspected your purchase, and are satisfied with it, before you pay the seller.

4. Never deal with someone who claims they have a third-party guarantor.

A scammer on an online classifieds site may try to lull you into a false sense of security by claiming – and often even providing fake evidence – that the site itself, or some other supposedly reputable third party, has certified their dealings as legitimate. They may also claim that this third party will manage, guarantee, and/or otherwise protect your transactions with them. Here’s a reality check, though: any kind of promise like this means absolutely nothing.

Most online classifieds websites say in their terms of use that deals made over advertisements posted on them should be strictly between the buyer and the seller. In other words, neither party should need anyone else to guarantee that they’re dealing in good faith. So stay away from buyers or sellers who tell you that a third party is overseeing the deal to make sure it goes fairly. More often than not, that “third party” is actually helping the other person take your money and run.

5. Beware of people who ask for your personal information.

Fraudsters on online classified sites often claim that they need your address or financial details in order to write a check to pay you for a sale, or otherwise process a payment that they’re making to you (or vice-versa, if you’re the buyer). If their advertisement is for a job opening or a property for rent, they may also claim that they need to perform a background check and/or credit check on you.

While these requests can sometimes be legitimate, ones that ask you to send personal information (or credentials for accessing that information) via text message or email are usually not. In any case, the least that you should do is arrange to meet the other party in person, and then work out under what conditions you will give them the information that they claim to need. If something seems fishy, back out of the deal.

Sale of CDs and DVDs

We hope this has been a helpful introduction for you to the wide world of online classified advertising! Whether you’re buying or selling, we hope that our suggestions help you find an online classifieds website that fits your needs, and conduct all of your deals in a safe and secure manner. Welcome to the new yard sale!