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How to Sell Your Stuff (Safely) Online

Use these expert tips to avoid scammers and bring in cash for your castoffs

Tips

  • Use only a secure computer to create your account, says Sally Berger, a technology guru who operates Compukiss.com, a technology-demystifying website. Never go to a coffee shop or other public place with free Wi-Fi. Scammers may be able to hack into your computer to snag information.
  • In your posting, limit personal information. To communicate with buyers, use the email service offered by the website to mask your identity, instead of your personal email. Make sure the photo you use doesn’t contain personal details about you, such as what you own or where you live. Selling the flowerpot in your living room? The pot should be the only thing in the photo, and not your living room showing your slick flat-screen TV in the background.
  • Never interact with a buyer who claims to be from another area — scammers often say they’re out-of-towners and therefore can’t meet you in person. “Dealing with people locally helps you eliminate 99 percent of scam attacks,” says Claudia Lombana, PayPal shopping specialist and consumer expert.
  • Scammers also often hide behind the anonymity of email-only communication. So ask the buyer for a phone number, and then call to make sure it’s valid, Criddle says. A good way to do this is to call and confirm the meeting time and place.
  • Never meet your buyer alone. Have a family member or friend with you. Strength in numbers!
  • If the item is transportable, meet your buyer in a safe, mutually agreed-upon public place. If it’s a valuable piece of say, jewelry, conduct the transaction at your bank (ideally a branch you don’t normally frequent) or in front of a police department, Criddle advises. “If it’s your bank, you can deposit your payment immediately to avoid a potential robbery.”
  • If you must meet the buyer at your home, don’t invite the person inside. Have the item waiting in your garage or on the front lawn.
  • Accept only cash. Any other form of payment, such as personal or cashier’s check, could be fraudulent. 
  • Trust your gut, all our consumer experts advise. “If it feels awkward, stop all contact,” Criddle says.

Next: Are you familiar with online auctions? »

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