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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

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Make money by safely selling things online.
Paul Taylor/Corbis

 While a good old garage sale is the traditional way to make a buck selling stuff you don’t want, it does take energy to organize one. Let’s see, you’ll need signs, tables, price tags and the patience to meet, greet and haggle with the public.

Fine, if that’s your thing. If not, skip the setup on your lawn and sell your

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unwanted items on the Internet. The perks? Besides the joy of conducting business in your slippers, you won’t find a larger, deal-shopping audience than the hordes of Web wanderers.

And it’s actually fairly simple to do. If you’re even a wee bit tech savvy, you can accomplish it with your smartphone. Things have reached the point that some PTAs have swapped traditional real-world fund-raising auctions for online ones.

“Doing business online can be a terrific experience, and it’s the most efficient way to get the most money out of your items,” says Linda Criddle, president of, which teaches safe practices for the Internet. “But don’t let your guard down.”

What she’s warning about is scammers who peruse the Web in search of victims.

So here’s some expert advice on ways to sell online and do it safely,
whether your wares are garden tools or garden furniture:

1. Classified ads

Probably you’ve heard of Craigslist, a huge, free online market with branches for communities all over the country. In addition, you can post your item, often for a fee, in the online classifieds of major newspapers.

Setup is simple and basically the same at them all: Register and create an account. Then clean up your sale item to make it look its best and use a digital camera or smartphone to take a photo. Write an accurate description, with details on the condition (gently used, a few scratches, etc.), why you’re selling it and why it’s such a fantastic buy.

Remember, people shop the classifieds for bargains, so set your price accordingly.


  • Use only a secure computer to create your account, says Sally Berger, a technology guru who operates, 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.
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Have you seen this scam?

  • Call the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 877-908-3360 or report it with the AARP Scam Tracking Map.  
  • Get Watchdog Alerts for tips on avoiding such scams.
  • 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.

2. Auctions

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With online auctions, you sell your item to the highest bidder. The website comes to most minds first, but there are others out there, such as and

Step one is to set up an account. Make sure to read the fine print on listing and commission fees charged by the website. Ready? Photograph your item and write a detailed description. Buyers have a right to know if your glass coffee table has a minor scratch, so be honest. Decide on a bidding price strategy: Set the opening bid low to attract buyers, perhaps, or put it at the minimum you’ll accept.

For a gauge on pricing, do a search of your item online to see what other people are selling it for. And figure in what it will cost to ship your item to the winning bidder.


  • Check to see whether the auction site offers feedback or ratings of buyers. If so, do a little digging to find out whether your buyer has received negative reviews.
  • Once you’ve got a bid winner, use a secure checkout process to collect your payment — either a credit card that offers theft protection or a third-party billing company such as PayPal. When using PayPal, link it to a bank account that doesn’t hold your life savings.
  • Beware of “spoof” emails that pretend to be from people at the auction website or some other reputable organization and try to pry information from you for identity theft. “EBay or PayPal will never ask for personal information,” Lombana says.

3. Online marketplaces

You can list your used books, CDs, cellphones and such on virtual marketplace websites such as or Just as with an auction site, you’ll pay a small commission when your item sells. Essentially, you’re paying a middleman — the marketplace operator — for handling the transaction for you in a safe and secure manner. In return, you get access to millions of potential buyers.

To get started, register with the website, then follow instructions. In some cases, you won’t write your own descriptions; you’ll use a description provided by the website. No need to upload a photo. But you’ll have to answer questions about the condition of the item, which will be added to the description.


  • Be a trustworthy seller. On many sites, you’ll receive a rating on your customer service. Maintain high standards to help make your next selling experience as good as the first.
  • Buyers have the option to contact you by email. Keep your conversation strictly professional. If you become too chatty, you may unintentionally divulge information about yourself.

Stacy Julien is a writer and editor at AARP Media.

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Have you seen this scam?

  • Call the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 877-908-3360 or report it with the AARP Scam Tracking Map.  
  • Get Watchdog Alerts for tips on avoiding such scams.