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Every week, join Whitney Quick as she helps you navigate life as a smart consumer. You'll cover everything in avoiding the latest scams, including phishing emails, medical equipment fraud, understanding layaway, hiring a reputable tax preparer, and even digital spring cleaning. Add to your toolbox and flip through your Consumer Handbook Thursdays during NPR’s Morning Edition at 6:42 a.m. and 8:42 a.m., only on KRCU.

Consumer Handbook: Tackling The Clutter? Selling Used Items Online Poses Some Risks

Better Business Bureau

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

Selling your old stuff is easier than ever. All you have to do is snap a photo, write a brief description, and wait for prospective buyers to contact you. While most people are aware that 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. A potential buyer responds to your listing, wanting to pay with a check. You accept the offer, but when the check arrives, it’s for an amount higher than the price your item was listed for. The buyer instructs you to deposit the check, but they also ask that 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 that you’re in the clear once a check’s funds have deposited into your account, but it often takes longer for a bank to realize that a check is bad. This lag in time between when a check reaches your account and when it’s discovered to be a forgery is exactly what scammers are counting on. 

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. You should also 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 through the platform’s own messaging system.