Is There a Risk to Replying to a Craigslist Ad on Your Computer?

By Elizabeth Mott

Check Craigslist ads for items that the service bans for sale.
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The Internet can look like the digital equivalent of a wild frontier, with alerts springing up about bogus websites, email schemes, identity theft and account hijackings. If you decide to reply to a Craigslist ad to make a purchase for your business, use common sense to protect your privacy. You can arrange a successful transaction with a legitimate seller if you know how to use the system and screen out less-than-honest sellers.

Craigslist and Privacy

Viewing ads on the Craigslist site for your local community involves few of the tracking mechanisms and little of the data aggregation that many websites use to collect information about site visitors. Craigslist maintains and preserves Web logs that record the pages it displays to you, when you view them and the IP address of your computer. You won't find web beacons -- one-pixel transparent GIF files used in multi-site ad-based tracking -- marketing cookies or commercial ads.

Protect Private Information

When you reply to a Craigslist ad, remember that with rare exceptions, you communicate with a stranger. As a general rule, avoid sharing any information that you wouldn't want to see on a billboard or hear announced in public. Remaining mindful of those privacy considerations helps you guard against disclosing details of your personal or business finances, where you live or any details that don't relate directly to asking the seller a question or arranging to meet her in a public place to make a cash purchase. Avoid any seller who claims that Craigslist will validate the goods she sells or provide any form of guarantee, warranty, certification or escrow service, as the site offers none of these features and takes no role in any transaction arranged through it.

Email Relay

When you click on the email reply link in a Craigslist ad posting to populate a message in your email software with the relevant message title, delivery address and ad link, only the name field in your message carries your personally identifiable information. In most cases, the seller's email address appears as an anonymous string of letters and numbers. The seller who receives your message also sees an anonymous address instead of your real email contact information. To avoid sending your real name when you reply to a Craigslist ad, you must alter the preferences in your email client software temporarily to remove that information. Verify any message signatures that apply by default to your outgoing mail, as these also may incorporate identifiable information.

Other Considerations

If you receive an email message from Craigslist that tries to induce or threaten you into supplying personal information through a clickable link in the message, delete it, whether or not it looks like a genuine message. Even if you sign up for a free Craigslist account, the site never will ask you to follow emailed links to verify identity, confirm passwords or download files. These messages constitute phishing, a scam attempt to obtain information that can enable a stranger to gain access to your accounts and steal from you.