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Craigslist scams: Free online classifieds come with a price

The online classifieds service Craigslist is a place where buyers and sellers get an opportunity to advertise their items free of charge.

But it's also a place where some scam artists can easily find victims.

The Becker County Sheriff's Office received at least two reports of Craigslist scams last week, and one of them wasn't as much about wiring money as it was an uncomfortable situation.

Michelle Prindle of Callaway said her daughter was looking for speakers to buy online and thought to look on Craigslist for a good deal.

The ad stated to text the seller if interested. So the teen did.

A few minutes later, she received a call from an unfamiliar number with the voice of a male, in his late teens or early 20s, not only inquiring about the purchase but also asking some personal and inappropriate questions, Prindle said.

"And then somewhere along the way, he goes, 'are you hot?'" she added. "That's when she hung up and didn't let it go any further."

Although it was a simple purchase, it still put the teen and her parents in an uncomfortable situation.

"Even though you tell kids all this safety stuff, they still can get tricked so easily," Prindle said.

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) of Minnesota and North Dakota advises users of Craigslist and other services like it to beware of the buyers and sellers on there.

Detroit Lakes Police Chief Kel Keena said most of the cases that come out of those online services are treated as civil issues rather than criminal. It's the buyer-seller relationship.

He said most of the scams are not as significant as other international ones sought through the mail. Some people report paying for an item and not receiving it or it's not what they were expecting to get.

Keena advises Craigslist users to be cautious and look at the merchandise before paying for it. Ask the seller to send digital photos and provide references.

If a customer is looking to buy a fairly expensive item, in an unfamiliar area, make sure to find a friend, relative or hire someone to appraise it before the purchase is finalized.

"If you're looking to buy a $17,000 collector's car online on Craigslist, it's probably worth your money to invest a couple hundred dollars," Keena said.

And if it seems too good to be true, it probably is, according to the BBB.

When meeting someone to buy or sell an item, make sure it's in a public place during the daytime, the BBB advises.

"Trust your instincts. If you don't' like the direction things are taking, walk away."