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Buying a Used Computer: Craigslist or eBay-style Sites?

written by: Jesma•edited by: Michele McDonough•updated: 6/3/2009

A low price used computer may be tempting, especially when the Internet ad claims it is in perfect condition and fully functional. Try to be objective though - if it looks too good to be true, then it probably is. Keep reading for more tips on buying used computers from online ads or auctions.

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    There are plenty of very good reasons to go online to shop for a used computer, and there are just as many low priced used computers in great condition to be had, but shop smart. Following these tips and suggestions should help you to find the right used computer for your needs and reduce the chance that you'll be scammed, cheated, or make a poor decision based on unclear information. Remember to keep your goals in mind while shopping, and don't spring for something that simply looks good on paper. Carefully consider your decision.

    In this article, we'll discuss some tips for wise shopping, ensuring the product you are forking money over for is functional and will remain that way. We also look at what kind of prices you should expect to see when you head out to the online used computer market.

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    Avoiding Scams

    Scammers are getting better and better at their craft every day, and your scam avoidance skills have to level up right along with them. Spotting a scam when it comes to buying a used computer can be really difficult, as there are so many things that can go wrong. You may get an inferior product to what you expected, end up forking over loads of money you didn't plan on for shipping, have your personal information stolen or sold, or pay way more for something than you should. Right about now, you're probably thinking this is a bad idea altogether, but don't worry. There are plenty of valid postings and good deals to be had.

    Things to Watch Out For:

    • Requests for personal information, such as home phone number, address, and email address, when there seems to be no need for that information to be revealed.
    • So-called "businesses" that want to do your transaction by credit card, but ask you for your card number and security code over the phone instead of offering a secure option.
    • xxXX BIG BoLd!! AdS thAt SAy You! arE! GetTinG a Go0d deAL bUt RevEaL!! LitTle InForMatI0n abOuT thE ProDuCt!!!!!!! XXxx
    • Cryptic ads that request you contact them by personal phone or email to learn more information. If you want to look into one of these, don't use your home phone or main email address.
    • Make sure you know what the cost of shipping will be before you purchase, or place a bid. Computers are very delicate and heavy, so do some research as to what this cost should be. Make sure the item is ensured while in shipment.
    • A return policy or guarantee is one of your best friends when purchasing a computer. Read the fine print, and make sure that if the product doesn't live up to your expectations that you will not be out a significant amount of money.
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    Computers do not age well and will lose a significant percentage of their retail value within the first two years. You can buy a new, low end productivity computer for around $300, so consider that your "soft cap" when shopping for a used one. Some features that drive the price of used computers up are custom built gaming PCs, but if you're not going to be doing any intense gaming don't spring for one of these. If the used computer has a Bluray or Bluray Burner on it, this can add $75/$150 to the price, but don't pay much more than that for the added feature.

Guide to Buying Cheap & Used Computers

Article series that discusses buying cheap, used computers on a budget. Looking at buying computers from online retailers and auction sites, and how to spot the scams so you don't get stung!
  1. Revitalize Your PC: Making a Used Computer as Good as New
  2. Buying a Used Computer: Craigslist or eBay-style Sites?
  3. Buying Used Computers from Family & Friends