One of the oldest ways to trade crypto is still one of the best, learn how to do it as safely as possible.
Cash-in-person traders have always underpinned the P2P trading community. From the early days of cryptocurrency, when options were minimal to exchange your crypto, all the way through to today, where there’s a range of reasons people opt to trade P2P. However, one thing that doesn’t get enough attention is talking about safety when performing these sorts of exchanges and how to best ensure that you have a great experience.
Meet in a Public Place
It doesn't matter if you're selling an unwanted gaming console, your old phone, or cryptocurrency; taking your safety seriously is essential when you're trading face-to-face. One of the easiest things you can do to help with this is to be careful in negotiating a suitable place to meet for the trade.
Public places with security on hand can be good; shopping centers are just one example. Some areas with cameras can be good, as people tend to be less inclined to do anything untoward when they know there is a camera recording their every move. It's also important to avoid highly crowded places. It makes it risky to count money, distracts too much, and carries a lot of cash in dense crowds.
Maybe you have a local fast food place that just so happens to be across the street from a police station, or perhaps you have a cafe that you are very familiar with already; these are places that can make decent places to trade and help ensure you are comfortable with your surroundings.
Bring a Friend Along
While no one wants to meet up with someone that brings a group of stragglers to trade, having just one friend discretely come along won't rustle many feathers. When doing this, be sure to choose a friend that takes what you're doing seriously and isn't going to mess around. You want someone to have your back, not become a distraction.
If you're on the buyer side of the trade, you may find this helps with your comfort level, and no one likes carrying cash around, especially for more significant transactions. So anything you can do that won't alarm the other trader but make things more comfortable for you is typically a good idea, and this one is pretty simple. You can even hang out with your friend after the trade is complete and you have your business out of the way, just don’t stay in the same place you made the trade.
Don't Release too Quickly
When you're itching to get things out of the way, especially if you're a little anxious about meeting for a cash-in-person trade, you may want to release the crypto to the seller when they arrive. Never do this. At that point, you are giving up all control over the situation.
Take your time to ensure that both sides have held up their end of the trade and you are ready to leave. At this stage, you can typically safely finalize the trade. Just be sure that if you are selling, you have secured the cash, and it isn't just sitting out in the open or in front of you, as that would make snatching it easy. The last thing you want to do is run into a problem so late in the trade by trying to rush through the crucial final steps.
Don't Hang Around After the Trade
It might be tempting to stay and have a meal, visit nearby shops, or make the most of your trip out in another way. However, hanging around the exact location after a trade puts you at risk, especially if you have a large amount of cash from being the seller in a trade. Even if you don't, you've now been exposed to at least one person you know of that you're in a specific location, and you're a cryptocurrency enthusiast; this can make you an easy target if someone decides to try something.
Do yourself a favor and head out once the trade is finished. If you have cash on you from the trade, head somewhere safe, and drop it off before going about the rest of your day. It's an easy rule to follow, and you're better off being safe than sorry. If you're itching for a snack or hanging out with a buddy you brought along for the trade, there's nothing wrong with that. Just move onto a new location before you continue with these things to separate yourself from the transaction you just completed.
Avoid Man in the Middle Scams
Many people look to cash-in-person trading to avoid chargeback, which can be common with certain problematic payment methods. While this is a valid concern, there are some things to beware of in face-to-face trades.
A man-in-the-middle scam is one of the most significant risks of a cash-in-person trade. You may see red flags such as the other trader saying a friend, associate, or someone that works for them will be attending the trade in their place. Other times you may not notice anything is suspicious until it's too late. These scams involve a scammer setting up two trades, one with them on the buy-side and another with them on the sell side, and they will then proceed to arrange a meeting between the two of you. Their goal is for the buyer to provide payment to the seller, who then releases the crypto, not realizing that they are releasing it to the scammer. At this stage, the buyer usually gets confused as they don't see the trade released, and things escalate from there, typically with one of you eventually realizing what has happened. The problem is once the crypto is released, the scammer will immediately cash out and withdraw the funds, this leaves one of you to take the loss, and things can get quite messy.
There are some simple things you can do to avoid this. The first is to be confident about who you are speaking to before handing over money or releasing the trade. Don't just rely on messages in the trade chat about what they'll be wearing or the make of their car; these are easy things to relay to you. Instead, ask the other trader to confirm what username they are using on the P2P marketplace, which is an excellent way to ensure that you are talking to who you think you are. Another thing you can do is to confirm the current trade number with them. If another person is involved, that means another trade too, and the number won't match.
A man-in-the-middle scam relies on not paying attention and not asking the right questions. You can remove the risk by checking details with the other trader. However, you must do this before funds are exchanged. You may realize you've fallen prey to the scammer. Take your time, ask the questions that matter, and leave if you don't feel certain everything is above board.
Discretion is Important
Airing your financial business in public is never a good idea. So ensuring you are discreet while performing a trade in public won't just help avoid that, but it'll also help your counterparty feel comfortable. So, for example, while you may be tempted to wear some crypto merch to the meeting, it may be best to leave it for other occasions like crypto meetups.
Discretion is also important when handling money. If you're counting cash or handing it over, the last thing you want to do is draw attention to yourself. If you're sitting at a table, you may find that you can discretely count the money under the edge of the table, helping keep nosey passers-by out of your business or at least make it hard to see exactly how much money you are handling. Envelopes can also be a helpful way to discretely hand over money, especially if they are a little oversized. It can make it easier to dig around without obvious evidence that there is money in the envelope.
Check all the Notes
The last thing you want is to notice after you get home from a trade that you've accepted money that contains fake or otherwise counterfeit funds. Unfortunately, this becomes a legal concern and results in a loss that will unlikely be recoverable. Thankfully, with modern bills in many countries, it's challenging to produce quality fakes, so they should stand out if you take the time to look closely, but this isn't the case for all fiat currencies.
Don't try to appease the other person by saying "it looks alright" and leaving to take the risk on yourself. Anyone reasonable should respect that you need to check the money, and anyone trying to force you to take the money and release the crypto as fast as possible should raise alarms. It may just be nerves on their part, but it may be something malicious as well; better to find out before the funds have been released and you've accepted the cash.
Don't Settle for Anything & Everything
Arranging a cash-in-person trade should be a negotiation, not a one-sided request. If you don't feel comfortable with something about the planned meeting place, circumstances, or anything else, don't just settle for it. It doesn't matter if it's your first trade or you've been doing it for years; the process should result in you agreeing to meet for a trade that results in everyone feeling good about it, not feeling apprehensive, or otherwise concerned about any of the details.
It may take a little time and back and forth to find something that works for both of you, but with a little effort, it should be achievable if your counterparty is reasonable. On the plus side, once you've negotiated a comfortable meeting with a trader, you'll likely have a much easier time when you trade again in the future, as you'll already be aware of their preferences and how they mesh with yours.
If in Doubt Opt-Out
When it comes to trading, crypto, or otherwise, if something feels off or your intuition is on high alert, listen to yourself. Don't force yourself to go through with a trade if something seems odd or you aren't entirely comfortable. There are always other traders, other situations, and a trade that could be a better fit for you. You can always explore other similar payment methods like cash by mail as well if you're finding cash-in-person challenging.
Don't get caught up in the moment. If you're in doubt, just choose to opt-out.