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How to Shop Safely in Online Marketplaces


As supply chain issues and inflation continue to plague shoppers, more and more people are making their purchases in lower-cost online marketplaces such as Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, and Front Porch Forum. While these websites can be a valuable tool in the search for a good deal, they are not without risks.

Any seasoned user of these sites will likely be aware of the prevalence of check fraud but this is not the only problem that buyers and sellers may experience when engaging in private sales online.

Physical security is another big issue. It is of particular importance if you need to make the transaction in a poorly-lit establishment that you’re not familiar with. Depending on the items being bought or sold, you may even find yourself in someone’s house for a transaction.


Before you even decide to go through with a transaction, the first step is to assess the buyer/seller.

  • Are they willing to meet in public or do they insist on meeting at their house? Reluctance to meet in public is not an indication of a safety concern in and of itself. The seller may request that you meet at their home because the item is too bulky or cumbersome to move easily or because they simply don’t have the time to meet. If the item is easy enough to transport and they’re not willing to meet you in a safe place, it could be a red flag.
  • Are they only willing to meet at night? Again, this may not necessarily be a major concern. They may have difficult work hours, or the two of you may have very little overlap in availability. However, meeting in public at night can counter many of the advantages of meeting in public.
  • Do they have strong opinions about being alone? If you text confirmation for a meetup with “great! My friends and I will meet you at six,” and the other party responds with any kind of disapproval of you bringing other parties along, this is a big concern. There should be no reason that other individuals cannot be present if both parties intend to follow through with the transaction exactly as planned. Bringing your friends (and letting the other party know you are) can be a valuable tool in ensuring your safety.


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If you have any of the concerns listed above, it is perfectly acceptable to cancel the transaction. You are not obligated to buy any item or to sell your item to any specific individual. It is far better to not go through with it than it is to gamble on your safety. Additionally, consider using platforms with a clearer identification process: Facebook Marketplace and Front Porch Forum both allow you to more easily see who it is that you are communicating with, which can deter harmful buyer/seller behavior.

If you are able to get all parties involved to agree to the transaction taking place in public, great! You’ve taken a significant step in ensuring your safety. You will also want to make sure that where you are meeting is safe: police station parking lots are ideal, as well as the parking lots of credit unions or banks (particularly during business hours), grocery stores, or other high-traffic areas that are likely to have video surveillance. Make sure that you are meeting in a visible area, and at a time of day when other people are likely to be around. Those looking to engage in suspicious activity will be far less likely to do so if there are many people around.

If it is not possible to meet in public, such as in instances where you are buying a particularly bulky item, that is okay. There are still steps you can take to stay safe. If you are going to the other party’s residence, be sure that you bring friends when possible. You will likely need multiple people to lift the large item anyway, which gives you a great excuse to bring extra folks along. Additionally, whether you bring any friends or not, be sure to give your location and a callback window to someone that is not going with you. Let them know where you will be going, when you will be there, and the time that you intend to call back by. Let them know that if they haven’t heard from you by that time, they should inform the authorities of the situation.


You can take similar steps if you are the seller in this situation. Have your friends or neighbors present (both for safety and for moving the item) or inform someone of what you are doing and ask them to contact the police if they don’t hear from you within a certain window of time. Make sure to share descriptions or pictures of the buyer and automobile (make, model, license plate, etc.).

If you felt uncomfortable about the transaction, you may also want to keep an eye out in the days and weeks following the transaction for the presence of this individual and their car. They may have used the marketplace transaction as an excuse to enter your house and “case the joint,” taking inventory of your valuables for a possible future burglary.


It is important to remember that despite sensationalized news stories, the chances of a crime taking place during your marketplace transaction are extremely low. That said, “stranger danger” is certainly a concern during these transactions. By taking a few simple precautions like the ones described above, you can ensure that you are as safe as possible during your online marketplace transactions. Happy bargain hunting!


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Our vision is to empower possibilities for greater prosperity for Vermonters. Part of fulfilling that vision is protecting our members’ accounts against unauthorized access. The security of your personal information is a top priority for VSECU. Are you afraid that your financial information at VSECU has been compromised? Please contact us immediately at 1-800-371-5162. We can help with the process of securing your accounts and may even be able to help mitigate your loss.

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