Selling on Craigslist

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The vast majority of personal finance websites(including this one) focus on reducing your bottom line–cutting costs.   The other end of the budget is at least as important. Have you tried raising your top line lately?   Have you picked up a side hustle, sold an article, put ads on a website, or even sold some of your stuff?  After we had our garage sale a few weeks ago, we were left with some furniture that was too nice to donate or discard, so we decided to sell it on Craigslist.

The key to selling your stuff on Craigslist is taking pictures.   They don’t have to be good pictures, just something to let your customers know what they are getting.  Take pictures, post the measurements and, if it’s electronic, the model number. Beyond that, a simple description will suffice.

Be safe when you are posting the listing.  Don’t give your address and don’t post when you will be home.   That’s just a job offer for burglars.   When you talk to a potential buyer, never tell them there is nobody home.  Tell them your roommate is the only one home and he doesn’t want to deal with the sale.   Don’t give strangers on the internet an opportunity to rob you.

When you are meeting a buyer, pick a public place away from home, if at all possible.   If you are selling furniture, it may not be possible, but it is for smaller items.   Meeting in a busy gas station parking lot or even in front of the police department is a good way to stay safe.   Secondary crime scenes are nasty things and inviting the wrong stranger in is offering one ready-made.

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="196" caption=" "] [/caption]Bring a friend.  Preferably, an intimidating friend. Crime is less likely to happen if there is more than one person there.    Bring a friend to a public place to meet the buyer to maximize your safety.

Don’t get ripped off.   Craigslist scams abound. Bad checks, forged checks, and shipping scams are just some of the problems.

Only accept cash. It’s hard to forge a greenback.

One of the most common scams, after a bounced check, is the cashier’s check scam. You’ll get an email saying the item is great and payment is on the way.  When the check clears, a relative of the buyer will come to pick up the item.  Then, oops, their secretary made the check out for $3000, instead of $300.  Would you mind sending the overpayment back by Western Union, minus $100 for your troubles?   First sign of trouble:  over-complicating a simple transaction.   Second sign:  not using cash.   The cashier’s check will be forged.   There is no way to verify funds on a cashier’s check, and the bank will post it as available well before it comes back bad.   You will be able to spend the money, only to have the money disappear later. That means you can’t wait to see if the check clears before wiring back the overpayment.  There is no way to recover your money.

If you get a response that includes a link, do not click it!  Ever.  No matter what the link looks like.  Ever.  No clickyclicky. It may be an innocuous link to your ad, but the link can be masked.  Any other link is almost definitely a link to a virus-ridden website.  Repeat after me: No clickyclicky.

If you get an email about Craigslist transaction protection or escrow, you are being scammed. Run away.

Craigslist can be great way to turn your junk into cash, but only if you actually get the cash.  Keep yourself safe and scam-free.

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I Smell a Scam

I hate scammers. Whether it’s the garage-sale shoplifter, telemarketing “charities” with 99% overhead, 3-card-monte

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shell game (Photo credit: mixatal (Clive Power))

dealers, or the guy who begs Grandma for cash every week, they all need to be strung up.  Since vigilante justice is generally illegal and occasionally immoral, it’s best to just avoid the problems from the start.  Here are some scams to watch out for.

Pyramid Scams – All of the little parties people throw to earn free items at the expense of their friends are pyramid schemes.  Most of those are legitimate money-sinks.  A few, however, exist solely to get their “consultants” to bring in more consultants.  The sales aren’t the actual way to make money.  If you don’t have anyone “downstream” you won’t make any money.  If the focus isn’t on selling an actual product or service, but is instead on bringing in people under you, you have entered the world of pyramid scams. Generally illegal and always immoral.  Don’t sign up and, if you do, don’t ask me to participate.

Advance Fees and Expensive Prizes – If you win a contest and you are expected to send money to claim your prize, it is a scam.  You don’t have to pay sales tax in advance.  You don’t have to pay transfer fees.  Real prizes are delivered free, accompanied by a 1099, because prizes are income.   No prize requires pre-payment. No loan service requires “finder’s fees”.   If it doesn’t sound right, don’t pay it and certainly don’t give your bank information to anyone you can’t verify.

Work at Home – The most common work-at-home job I’ve found is stuffing envelopes.  You see the signs on telephone poles all over the city.  “Make $10/hour stuffing envelopes from the comfort of your own home!  Just send $50 to….”   When you get the instructions, you are told to hand up signs telling people to send you $50 for instructions on how to make $10/hour stuffing envelopes.  Everybody is feeding off of everybody else.

Charity – Never give money to a charity over the phone.  Always take the time to verify where you are sending your money.  Some freak may call to tug on your heartstrings with a sob story, but you don’t have to give them money.  At least ask them to send it in writing so you can do some checking, first.

Phishing – Simply put, don’t click on any link in any email, unless you know where it is going.  If it is a link to a financial institution, go enter the address into the address bar yourself.   If you find yourself on a site you don’t recognize, don’t give them your personal information and don’t ever reuse your usernames and passwords.   If you do, one bad site could get access to everything you do online.

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="196" caption=" "] [/caption]Foreign Lottery – To be clear, Spain did not just hold a international lottery and randomly draw your email address. No lottery in the world works that way.  If you didn’t enter the lottery while you were in Spain, you aren’t going to win it.   The scam is that you need to provide your bank information, including a number of release forms so the scammers can transfer money to you.  In reality, you are signing over control of your account and will be wiped out.

Nigerian/419 Emails – Ex-Prince WhateverHisNameIs wants your help to get his fortune out of WhereverHeIsFrom.   The New Widow Ima F. Raud has an inheritence that she won’t live long enough to spend.  They’ve both been given your name as a trustworthy person to handle the transactions in exchange for a mere $10 million.   What friends do you have that would make this seem legitimate? Once again, they will get your bank information and take your money.  At a minimum, they will try to get you to pay a few thousand dollars for “Transfer fees”.  Don’t do it.

Overpayment by Wire – I had this one attempted on my last week.  You sell something online.  A potential buyer agrees to purchase the item, sight-unseen.  They’ll send a cashier’s check and, after it clears, one of their agents will pick it up.  Unfortunately, the buyer’s secretary screwed up and added a zero to the check.  Would you mind wiring the overpayment back, minus a small fee for the hassle?  The check is bogus and there is no way to verify it.   You’ll deposit the check and it will be assumed to be real.  The bank will make the funds available well before it comes back as fraud.  You’ll see the available funds and send the money by non-refundable Western Union and some thug in Nigeria gets a new iPhone.

Foreclosure Scams – Some scammers try to prey on the vulnerable because they are, well, vulnerable.   If you are facing foreclosure, be very careful about where you turn for help.   One scam is to get you to sign over your home “temporarily” to clear the title.  That doesn’t work, but you won’t find that out until you are handed an eviction notice and told you still owe the money.

Stranded Friends – You get an email from a friend saying he’s in London/Moscow/Sydney/Wherever, and he’s been mugged.   He’s got nothing and needs $2500 to get home.  Can you help?   Do you really have friends close enough to ask for a $2500 international bailout, but not so close they tell you about the vacation ahead of time? Would they really be too timid to call you collect instead of begging for change to use an internet cafe?

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Avoid Getting Ripped Off On Ebay

My son, at 10 years old,  is a deal-finder.   His first question when he finds something he wants is “How much?”, followed closely by “Can I find it cheaper?”   I haven’t–and won’t–introduced him to Craigslist, but he knows to check Amazon and eBay for deals.   We’ve been working together to make sure he understands everything he is looking at on eBay, and what he needs to check before he even thinks about asking if he can get it.



The first thing I have him check is the price.  This is a fast check, and if it doesn’t pass this test, the rest of the checks do not matter.   If the price isn’t very competitive, we move on.  There are always risks involved with buying online, so I want him to mitigate those risks as much as possible.   Pricing can also be easily scanned after you search for an item.

The next thing to check is the shipping cost.  I don’t know how many times I’ve seen “Low starting price, no reserve!” in the description only to find a $40 shipping and handling fee on a 2 ounce item.  The price is the price + shipping.



Next, we look at the seller’s feedback.   The feedback rating has a couple of pieces to examine.   First, what is the raw score?  If it’s under 100, it needs to be examined closer.   Is it all buyer feedback?  Has the seller sold many items?   Is everything from the last few weeks?   People just getting into selling sometimes get in over their heads.  Other people are pumping up their ratings until they have a lot of items waiting to ship, then disappear with the money.   Second, what is the percent positive?  Under 95% will never get a sale from me. For ratings between 95% and 97%, I will examine the history.   Do they respond to negative feedback?  Are the ratings legit?  Did they get negative feedback because a buyer was stupid or unrealistic?   Did they misjudge their time and sell more items than they could ship in a reasonable time?  If that’s the case, did they make good on the auctions?   How many items are they selling at this second?

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="196" caption=" "] [/caption] After that, we look at the payment options.   If the seller only accepts money orders or Western Union, we move on.  Those are scam auctions.   Sellers, if you’ve been burned and are scared to get burned again, I’m sorry, but if you only accept the scam payment options, I will consider you a scammer and move on.

Finally, we look at the description.   If it doesn’t come with everything needed to use the item(missing power cord, etc.), I want to know.   If it doesn’t explicitly state the item is in working condition, the seller will get asked about the condition before we buy.  We also look closely to make sure it’s not a “report” or even just a picture of the item.

Following all of those steps, it’s hard to get ripped off. On the rare occasion that the legitimate sellers I’ve dealt with decide to suddenly turn into ripoff-artists, I’ve turned on the Supreme-Ninja Google-Fu, combined with some skip-tracing talent, and convinced them that it’s easier to refund my money than explain to their boss why they’ve been posting on the “Mopeds & Latex” fetish sites while at work.    Asking Mommy to pretty-please pass a message about fraud seems to be a working tactic, too.  It’s amazing how many people forget that the lines between internet and real life are blurring more, every day.

If sending them a message on every forum they use and every blog they own under several email addresses doesn’t work and getting the real-life people they deal with to pass messages also doesn’t work, I’ll call Paypal and my credit card company to dispute the charges.   I only use a credit card online.   I never do a checking account transfer through Paypal.  I like to have all of the possible options available to me.

My kids are being raised to avoid scams wherever possible. Hopefully, I can teach them to balance the line between skeptical and cynical better than I do.

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