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BBB tips for selling used items online

July 07, 2020

Everyone is spending more time at home these days, so now is the perfect time to tackle the clutter. Selling pre-owned items online helps earn quick cash and frees up space at home. It’s also environmentally friendly, keeping items that are in good condition out of the landfill. 

Plus, with easy to use apps like Poshmark, Depop, and OfferUp, as well as popular websites like CraigsList and Ebay, selling old stuff is easier than ever. All one has to do is snap a photo, write a brief description, and wait for prospective buyers to get in contact. While most people are aware they should take extra precautions when shopping on sites like these, many are unaware that 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 a listing, wanting to pay with a check. The potential buyer says they will mail a check as payment through overnight shipping. The seller accepts the offer, but when the check arrives, it is for an amount higher than the price the item was listed for. The buyer instructs the seller to deposit the check, but they also ask the seller keep the cost of the item and transfer the remaining balance back to them. The seller agrees, but a week after the check clears in the account, the bank gets in contact, requesting the seller pay the money back for insufficient funds. 

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

BBB offers these tips when selling used items online

• Avoid prospective buyers who want to communicate 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.

• Only accept payment through methods recommended by the app or website. Most sites recommend or require specific payment methods to help them protect both buyers and sellers from fraud.

• Keep all transaction dealings on the site or app. When the seller communicates and accepts payments outside of the platform, they are at greater risk for fraud and forfeit protections that the platform can provide.

• Follow the guidelines provided by the 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 offer assistance should anything go awry.

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

For more information or further inquiries, contact the Wisconsin BBB at www.bbb.org/wisconsin, 414-847-6000 or 1-800-273-1002. Consumers also can find more information about how to protect themselves from scams by following the Wisconsin BBB on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

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