Tips for avoiding scammers when selling items online

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QUINCY — If you’re looking to declutter in the New Year and make a few extra bucks along the way, you might want to try selling some of your used items online. Online marketplaces like Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, eBay, Poshmark and more make it easy to sell unneeded items, sometimes without even leaving your home.

While the internet opens a world of options for selling used items, it also makes it easier for scammers to contact you. BBB recommends you use your best judgement and keep an eye out for signs of common scams.

How to make the sale:

  • Choose the right platform. Many online marketplaces focus on a specific kind of goods, like used clothing or furniture. Think about what you’re selling and research marketplaces that might be a good fit at BBB.org before you sign up.
  • Know your items’ worth and price accordingly. Search online for similar used items to get an idea of how other people are pricing them. On auction sites like eBay, look at the final sale price rather than the minimum bid price. Remember that secondhand items are generally worth less than the original retail value. Consider getting an appraisal for valuable items like jewelry, antiques or artwork.
  • Spruce up your listing. Your item might not sell without a good listing – but what makes a good listing?
  • Take clear, attractive photos that show all the details of the item. Clean your items before photographing them.
  • Write a thorough description. Use words that clearly and accurately describe the item, its aesthetic, its use and its measurements.
  • Be up-front about flaws. It’s tempting to hide flaws or damage to your items, but this will result in angry buyers down the line. You may have to provide a refund or even be banned from selling.
  • Understand the fees. Each online marketplace has fees, usually a percentage of your sale or a flat rate per sale. Check the policy before you sign up. Find out how the fees will be collected and if there’s a limit on the number of sales you can make each month.
  • Consider swapping or donating instead. Several online sites allow you to give away, lend or trade items instead of selling them for cash. Check out this list of ways to swap used items from the nonprofit Green America. You can also search for brick-and-mortar thrift stores or vetted charities at BBB.org.

How to avoid scams:

  • Watch out for shady buyers. Scammers may fake interest in a sale to get your personal information or money. Some major red flags:
  • Buyers who ask you to make transactions outside of the marketplace. The platform you’re using likely has scam protection policies in place, but they can’t help you if you make the transaction elsewhere.
  • Buyers who ask for personal information, such as your contact or banking information – never share this.
  • Buyers who overpay for an item and ask you to send the extra money back. This is the setup for a common scam.
  • Be cautious when selling valuable items. Big-ticket sales may be more likely to attract scammers.
  • Be safe when making local sales. If you plan to meet up with a stranger for a sale, consider meeting at a populated place rather than giving them your home address. Bring a buddy with you. If you’re selling a big item (like furniture), ask someone to be there when the buyer arrives and help you move the item to an easily accessible area, like your front door or garage.
  • Report scams. Even if you don’t fall for the scam, it’s still helpful to report suspicious activity to the platform and BBB Scam Tracker.

Don O’Brien is the regional director for the Quincy Better Business Bureau. Contact him at dobrien@quincybbb.org or 217-209-3972.

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