How to avoid a scam when you are selling items online

How to avoid a scam when you are selling items online

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Selling your used items online helps you earn quick cash and frees up space at home. It also is environmentally friendly, keeping items that are in good condition out of the landfill.

Plus, with easy-to-use apps like Poshmark, Depop, OfferUp, Craigslist and eBay, selling your old stuff is easier than ever. All you must do is snap a photo, write a brief description and wait for prospective buyers to contact you.

While most people are aware they should take extra precautions when shopping on sites like these, many are unaware selling poses some risks as well. Unfortunately, scammers use online selling platforms to target their new victims.

How the scam works

A potential buyer responds to your listing, wanting to pay with a check. The potential buyer says they will mail a check to you as payment through overnight shipping. You accept the offer, but when the check arrives, it is for an amount higher than the price your item was listed for.

The buyer instructs you to deposit the check, but they also ask you keep the cost of the item and transfer the remaining balance back to them. You agree, but a week after the check clears in your account, the bank contacts you, requesting you pay the money back for insufficient funds.

You might think you are in the clear once a check’s funds have deposited into your account, but it often takes longer for a bank to realize a check is bad. This lag in time between when a check reaches your account and when it is discovered to be a forgery is exactly what scammers are counting on. Follow BBB’s guidelines for selling used items online to avoid getting scammed.

How to avoid this scam

Avoid prospective buyers who want to communicate with you outside of the official selling platform. To protect their users, many online selling platforms require users to communicate via the platform’s own messaging system.

Do not accept checks or money orders as payment. Scammers frequently use checks to line their own pockets. Victims who deposit bad checks are held responsible by the bank for the money lost.

Keep all transaction dealings on the site or app. When you communicate and accept payments outside of the platform, you are at greater risk for fraud and forfeit protections the platform can provide.

Follow the guidelines provided by your chosen selling platform. Each individual platform is likely to have a slightly different set of recommendations and requirements for its users. Following the guidelines means the platform is better able to help should anything go awry.

For more information

If you encounter a scam, report it to BBB Scam Tracker at Even if you don’t fall victim to the scam, the information helps protect the public from scammers.

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