How to stay safe when selling items online

  • Date:
  • Posted by kindle

We all accumulate too much stuff. Sometimes when you do, the need arises to sell some of it. Well just how do you do that, what’s the best way, and how do you stay safe while doing it?

There are several ways to find new homes for your accumulated treasures.

If your items are antiques or collectibles, you can visit an antique store and they may buy your items. Remember that they will be needing to purchase your items at a wholesale price so they can resell them for a small profit. Some times this can benefit you both.

If you don’t care too much about making some cash, and there is a non-profit organization you like, you can donate items to their thrift store if they have one. You can often take a deduction on your taxes for this.

But let’s say you would rather just sell your items yourself. What are your options and how do you stay safe while doing it? Wait, what do you mean stay safe?

There are several ways to sell your items yourself. Flea markets are one. Online auctions such as eBay or online stores like are another. You also have online options such as Facebook Marketplace or craigslist and apps on your phone. Examples would be “Offer Up” and “Let Go”.

Each have their advantages and disadvantages. Not every buyer will be familiar with, or willing to use every buying option. Then you have buyer demographics, such as income and location to consider. You may have to use several options at once.

Once you have decided to list your items for sale yourself, then you need to figure out the rest of the process. How to meet people, where to meet people, what payment options you are willing to accept, and whether you will deliver the item? All this needs to be decided before you list your items.

Here is where the staying safe part comes into play.

Not everyone is honest. It’s a fact of life. There are scammers everywhere and cons you may have never heard of. Every day people become prey to these dishonest people. You need to be aware of the ways they try to separate people from their money or their items.

Rule #1. If something doesn’t feel right, trust your gut and walk away. You have instincts for a reason. Trust them. Nothing says you have to take every offer that comes your way, or sell to someone who makes you feel uncomfortable.

If you have small items to sell, it might be wiser to meet someone at a public place. Then you can conduct your transaction in relative safety. You can meet in the parking lot of a store near your home, at the police station, or even at a business. Anywhere you feel safe.

When you have larger items to sell, this is not always an option. If you have to invite someone to your home to look at or pick up an item, there are some ways you can minimize the risk. The first way to do this is to take clear photos of your object from every angle for the ad. Also, be descriptive as most sites don’t charge by the word. Good photos will tell a great deal about the condition of the item and show any flaws. This is the first step to make sure you attract the right buyer.  It may seem like an odd recommendation, but you want to do as much as possible to screen potential buyers before the first person even calls.

I also recommend having your cell phone in your hand, at all times if possible. You could even have someone on the other end on an active call and they can listen for any problems.

Here is my basic list.

1. Don’t be alone. This applies to everyone, especially women. If you are a single female,  this can be difficult. I advise people in this situation to “Have a guy there – It doesn’t have to be your guy, just a guy.” It can be a neighbor, a friend, or relative such as a brother. A big scary biker looking guy is sometimes awesome too. This tells the buyer that you are not a target. This also applies to the elderly of both genders. If you can’t get someone, get a neighbor to park a pickup truck in the driveway. This indicates a male presence.

2. Don’t leave valuables laying around. Watches, rings, cameras, keys, purses, id’s, credit cards, bills, anything that can be quickly grabbed and pocketed should be put away. Items can be easily pawned or sold and Identity theft is rampant. Don’t give anyone an opportunity. All it takes is getting distracted for a second. Even if they don’t use the stolen info they can sell it.

3. If you can, put the items or furniture for sale in the garage. This eliminates the need to have someone you don’t know into your home. If you can’t do this, move the item to a location close to the door, so you don’t have to lead someone through your entire home. Thieves will sometimes use the opportunity to buy something as a way to get inside and case your home to see if it’s worth the risk to come back when you are not there. Even if you trust someone, they may have friends who could be looking for a home to rob or someone to cheat.

4. Storage lockers – Use caution here as well. Some storage faculties can be dimly lit or in obscure areas. Make sure you pick one that feels safe or is staffed during business hours and meet buyers only then.

5. Pick a good time of day. Be cautious if someone wants to meet too early or too late. Make the time appropriate. Don’t let people bully you into meeting at weird hours. If they really want your item, they will find a way to get there at an appropriate time of day.

6. Payment. Cash is king, but don’t keep a lot of it around. If someone pays you and sees you put it in a wallet adding to an already large amount, it could be a temptation to rob you. (If you are the one buying, don’t take more cash than you need for the item.) With new technology, you can now accept payment with your phone or computer in several ways. Don’t release the item until you confirm the money is in your account. Don’t fall for any scheme that involves any sort of payment from you for them to buy your item. It’s a scam. I would also recommend not accepting checks, especially out of state checks – it’s too hard to collect if there is an issue. This also applies to someone from out of state making any kind of electronic payment and wanting you to ship the item. Don’t do it.

7. If you are selling large items, or any item for that matter, and they want you to deliver it, use caution. This can easily lead you into unfamiliar territory. If you have to make a getaway, you could get lost. People have been lured to desolate areas and then have been robbed, attacked, and even killed. If you don’t feel safe, don’t get out of your car and leave. (Remember too that most of these rules can also apply if you are meeting someone to buy something and are certainly not exclusive to selling safety) Also if you are delivering to a home and you damage something, you could be held liable.

I also recommend following many of these rules with contractors, service providers and workmen. Always check out the people who you invite into your home to perform work. It’s easy for someone left alone to work in your home, to leave a rarely used door or window unlocked. Check to make sure everything is locked up properly after any work is done in your home.

Utility representatives will always have identification and will be fine if you want to call and check with their employers. If someone gets aggressive or you become uncomfortable for any reason, ask them to leave. If they don’t call the police. Remember the “have a guy with you” statement.

Selling items you no longer need can be a rewarding and pleasant experience. You can eliminate items that are no longer needed, or just create some much needed space in your home while adding some cash to your pocketbook. It can even be a fun hobby buying and selling online. Following a few simple rules and being cautious is prudent and can keep you safe.


This article in an edited form was published on on June 1st 2018, in the print edition of Florida Today on Sunday June 3rd 2018 and in Vintage Finds Magazine in the May/June 2018 issue.