With the arrival of spring, now is an ideal time to turn the clutter taking up space in your home into cash. Are you considering selling unneeded furniture, clothes, electronics or other items online through a service like Craigslist or eBay? While in most cases these transactions go smoothly, our members who have worked in law enforcement would undoubtedly agree that it’s important to remember that criminals have been known to target victims from these sites for illicit activities such as fraud, robbery and even assault. To stay safe and avoid falling prey to any ploys to steal your money, follow these precautions when selling online:
The less you say about yourself, the better: Since any personal information that you provide in an online ad could potentially be used by criminals, take care to limit any details to what is absolutely necessary for the transaction. Don’t give out your phone number, or even your email address, and keep in mind that people can easily access reverse look-up directories. Instead, use the anonymous email address that services like Craigslist offer, or set up a disposable email account you use just for online sales. Also be sure that the photos you take of items you’re listing for sale don’t provide clues about you, your home or your family.
Block your phone number: Once you’ve established contact with a prospective buyer by email, it’s a good idea to have a brief phone conversation to get a better sense of whether the person seems legitimately interested before you agree to meet in person. But again, be careful not to reveal your home phone number, which can be traced back to your address. It’s best to avoid giving out your cell phone number as well. Either disable Caller ID when phoning a potential buyer (dial *67 before placing the call) or consider setting up a free service like Google Voice, which forwards to your mobile or home phone number and allows you to conceal your real number.
Plan to meet in a public place: If it can be avoided by any means, don’t allow strangers to come to your home. Choose a neutral and public site that you know, such as a Starbucks’ location or a police station parking lot, and only agree to meet during daylight hours. Bring someone you trust with you if possible, and make sure to inform a friend or family member about the meeting. If you do have a prospective buyer come to your home, make sure you’ve screened them by phone ahead of time and have at least one other adult on hand. You should also move the item(s) for sale to your entryway or garage so that the buyer sees as little of your home and valuables as possible. And of course, if you have young children, don’t leave evidence of this in plain view.
Head off claims of non-delivery or damage: When sending a high-value item to a buyer by mail or a delivery service such as FedEx or UPS, stipulate that the item must be signed for upon delivery. It’s simply too easy for the buyer to claim that the item was never received without it. Also find out what the service you’re using provides in terms of protection against loss, and purchase insurance if necessary. You should also take photos of the item to defend against a common scam in which people claim that you sold them a damaged product – and then mail a broken one that they already owned back to you as “proof.”
Don’t take a personal check or wire transfer: Agree on the method of payment you will accept up front, and don’t allow the buyer to send you money by a wire transfer or give you a personal check. Also be aware that cashier’s checks, while somewhat safer than personal checks, can be fairly easily counterfeited. If you’re conducting a high-dollar transaction in person, do it at your credit union or bank to ensure that you receive proper payment and don’t have to walk around with thousands of dollars in your wallet. A popular scam among thieves: sending the buyer a fraudulent check for an amount higher than the price of the item and requesting that the difference be refunded through a wire service.
Keep your guard up and don’t hesitate to pull the plug: Finally, if at any point you get an uncomfortable feeling about the person with whom you’re dealing, call a halt to the transaction and cut off contact. In cases like these, always go with your instincts.