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Safety and Gifting Groups

Gift­ing groups such as The Freecy­cle™ Net­work are won­der­ful. Local groups across the globe keep tons of per­fect­ly good stuff out of land­fills while bring­ing peo­ple togeth­er in community.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, some peo­ple just aren’t nice, and we don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly want to be brought togeth­er with them. Since it is nec­es­sary to give out per­son­al infor­ma­tion in order to meet to exchange items, how can peo­ple par­tic­i­pate while stay­ing safe?

While gift­ing groups can bring peo­ple togeth­er, they can­not con­trol the con­tacts peo­ple have out­side the online groups. Main­tain­ing good per­son­al bound­aries is up to the indi­vid­u­als involved.

Hap­pi­ly, the vast major­i­ty of the inter­ac­tions peo­ple have through gift­ing groups go swimmingly.

Using com­mon sense and think­ing ahead will do more than any­thing else to keep you safe. Give out no more infor­ma­tion than is nec­es­sary, and stay alert. If you have a weird feel­ing about some­one, don’t give that per­son any infor­ma­tion. If you’re offer­ing an item, you’re under no oblig­a­tion to respond to any­one but the per­son to whom you decide to give it. If you’re ask­ing for some­thing, it can­not pos­si­bly be as impor­tant as your safe­ty. Lis­ten to your intuition!

For Everyone

First: Do not ever give out infor­ma­tion to a group at large. Only give your con­tact infor­ma­tion to the sin­gle per­son you have cho­sen to receive an item. Don’t post your phone num­ber or address on a group. The “it’s out there, first to come by gets it” prac­tice is dangerous.

Sec­ond: Do not give out more infor­ma­tion than is nec­es­sary. Oth­er mem­bers do not need to know that you live alone, work nights, are dis­abled, or are a sin­gle par­ent. Some­one who is com­ing to your home to pick up an item does­n’t need to know where you work or what you do for a liv­ing. Some­one meet­ing you at work does­n’t need to know where you live. If you’re going some­where to meet the oth­er per­son, he does­n’t need to know where you work or live.

When­ev­er pos­si­ble, do not meet any­one you don’t already know very well alone. Do not be alone or in your place of busi­ness alone when you expect some­one to come pick up an item from you. And for good­ness sake, cer­tain­ly don’t leave your chil­dren alone for a pick-up!

Fourth: Keep track of who you’ve giv­en your infor­ma­tion to. It won’t take up much space, and you may need that infor­ma­tion lat­er. Write down who you are meet­ing, where, when, and any con­tact infor­ma­tion you have for that per­son. Leave a copy of that infor­ma­tion at home or at work. Give it to your part­ner or room­mate, if you have one.


After you’ve cho­sen a recip­i­ent, it’s time to arrange for trans­fer of the item. Ask your­self a few ques­tions. Does some­one actu­al­ly need to come to your home for an item, or could you meet that per­son some­where else to exchange it? Or even leave it some­where (not at your house or place of busi­ness!) for them?

If it is absolute­ly nec­es­sary for some­one to come to your res­i­dence or place of busi­ness to pick up the item, don’t ever say, “I won’t be home, just pick it up.” You don’t need to tell peo­ple when you won’t be home! Set a time that is con­ve­nient for you. Nev­er indi­cate that you’ll be home alone, and do not set a time when chil­dren will be home alone.

If you’re giv­ing away a com­put­er, wipe the hard dri­ve to remove any per­son­al data. DBAN is a free­ware pro­gram that will do a great job of remov­ing data from a PC. I’m not aware of Mac resources, but I imag­ine they do exist.

Be absolute­ly hon­est about what­ev­er you’re offer­ing. If it does­n’t work, say so. If it’s cloth­ing that’s too worn out or stained to wear, offer it as rags.

Accepting Offers

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the old adage of “if it sounds too good to be true, it prob­a­bly is,” applies here. For instance, while many vehi­cles have been giv­en away through gift­ing groups, I’ve nev­er heard of any of them being late-mod­el vehi­cles in great con­di­tion. They’re usu­al­ly clunk­ers that are worth lit­tle to noth­ing in trade-in val­ue, and would­n’t bring in enough on a sale to make it worth­while to go to the trou­ble of list­ing it for sale.

Many times, too-good-to-be-true offers end up being teasers to get you into some kind of mul­ti­level mar­ket­ing scam, or one of those deals where you can get the item if you gath­er enough click-throughs at a par­tic­u­lar web site. Some offer­ers have turned out to actu­al­ly be sell­ing the item offered, rather than gift­ing it. If any of those things hap­pens, for­ward the infor­ma­tion to the group’s facilitators.

I’ve heard of offer­ers ask­ing respon­dents for pho­tos, mea­sure­ments, a date—all kinds of com­plete­ly ridi­clous things. Cut off con­tact with such peo­ple imme­di­ate­ly, and for­ward the emails ask­ing for that infor­ma­tion to the group moderators/facilitators.

Be absolute­ly hon­est in any cor­re­spon­dence. Don’t mis­rep­re­sent your­self or your need for the item offered. If you plan to resell the item, vol­un­teer that infor­ma­tion. Hard feel­ings lead to prob­lems. Avoid them.

If There’s a Problem

If you have unpleas­ant deal­ings with some­one you meet through a gift­ing group, do not try to “warn” oth­ers via the group. Approach the group moderator/facilitators, but real­ize that their options are some­what lim­it­ed. They can­not tell the group at large that per­son X is (fill in the blank), as that would open them to charges of libel. If they remove that per­son from the group, it is like­ly that he’ll just rejoin under anoth­er name.

The facil­i­ta­tors can put the per­son on mod­er­a­tion. They can also issue a gen­er­al reminder to the group that cer­tain bad things might hap­pen, and point the mem­bers toward infor­ma­tion so that they can pro­tect themselves.

If You Are Harassed

If some­one con­tacts you repeat­ed­ly after you’ve asked that per­son to go away, you may be expe­ri­enc­ing harass­ment. If the con­tacts are online, read through the arti­cles at Work­ing to Halt Online Abuse for fur­ther infor­ma­tion. If the con­tacts are offline, doc­u­ment them. Trace phone calls. Call the police, if nec­es­sary, to stop the harass­ment. Most US states do have stalk­ing laws now, as do many oth­er countries.

Online or offline, keep every­thing. Doc­u­ment every inter­ac­tion. Nev­er destroy any­thing that might be evidence!


The most impor­tant thing to keep in mind is that you are respon­si­ble for your safe­ty and that of your fam­i­ly. Infor­ma­tion can­not be “recalled” once it is out, so don’t give it to any­one unless there’s a need to do so. Always err on the side of cau­tion if you have any weird feel­ings about some­one, in gift­ing groups or elsewhere.


Orig­i­nal­ly Pub­lished Feb­ru­ary 7, 2005