I’m back after a bit of a vacation and a bout of pneumonia, but I’m ready to sell you on some safety tips for online classified ads.

One of the earliest features of the web was the introduction of classified ad services, such as eBay, CraigsList, and local services such as Borealist. These offer a larger platform to buy and sell goods and services.

The anonymous nature of the Internet leads to many horror stories, ranging from scams to a recent murder in Ontario. But the vast majority of transactions end with both buyer and seller happy. Here are a few guidelines to ensure you end up satisfied.

Always see what you’re buying before you pay. Many scams call for you to pre-pay for a specific product, often requesting you send the money overseas. This usually involves a money back guarantee through a third party such as PayPal — although your payment is required in a money order or certified cheque.

If this is the requirement of a sale, save your money, you will probably not receive what you are buying.

When selling, avoid receiving a payment that includes more than you requested. Such transactions often use counterfeit money orders and the extra money is used to cover the costs of shipping the product to an offshore location with lax consumer rules. The Marshall Islands in the North Pacific Ocean is a favourite of criminals.

By the time the money order is refused, you will have lost your payment, shipping costs, and the item you were selling. This particular fraud is usually reserved for larger items, such as boats or vehicles.

Always arrange, when possible, to view or show the items in a neutral, public location. This means that you are not inviting anyone nefarious into your home. Take someone else with you when you go to sell or buy an item. This provides you with a witness and acts as a deterrent to anyone who is planning to rob you.

When advertising goods, be careful with any pictures you post. Try to ensure that the photo only shows the items and not any surrounding items that may entice someone to break into your house.

If you are allowing someone to test drive a vehicle, get identification and photograph his or her ID.

Also, it’s a good idea to take pictures of the vehicle right before the test drive to ensure no damage is incurred while the automobile is out of sight. Again, having a witness present for this adds to your level of protection.

Finally, remember the old adage of caveat emptor: buyer beware. Know what you’re buying and for how much. There are bargains out there, but most times, a deal that’s too good to be true is just that.