It seems harmless enough. You find someone on Facebook who offers to pay you for that old record player that's been collecting dust in your basement. You arrange a day to have them come over and pick it up.
But instead of a harmless transaction, the person pulls a gun and robs you right in your own home.
Such was the case in a string of robberies last December in Syracuse, New York. Police warn this kind of robbery will become more common as folks continue to use the Internet to buy and sell items.
That doesn't mean you shouldn't use websites and apps like Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, and Letgo. These websites and mobile apps let you buy and sell almost anything online, in most cases for free. Buyers browse photos and descriptions of the items for sale, then contact the seller to negotiate a price and arrange an in-person meeting for the transaction.
It's an appealing promise... Craigslist users post an average of 80 million ads each month, which result in 50 billion monthly pageviews. That's a great audience for the clutter in your attic that you'd like to turn into cash. It's also a place to find a great variety of bargains. You just need to use some common sense to take advantage of these platforms...
Several folks in my office have reported great experiences using these tools. One new father has been buying super affordable used baby clothes and accessories... then reselling them for similar or even higher prices once his daughter outgrows them. He also found a delighted buyer for nearly a dozen boxes of old film cameras and equipment that had sat neglected for years in a basement.
Any time you're meeting up with a stranger from the Internet – especially when money will change hands – you may end up in danger. Most buyers and sellers are honest, but others want to scam you... or even rob you at gunpoint.
If you want to take advantage of the good side of these online marketplaces, here are four tips that will help you steer clear of danger:
- Know who you're dealing with. Facebook Marketplace and Letgo include handy profiles for each user. These include feedback from other buyers and sellers they've dealt with in the past. Facebook lets you rate buyers and sellers with a smiley face or a frowny face, while Letgo has ratings of one to five stars and space for written comments.
Also, because Facebook Marketplace is integrated with users' Facebook accounts, that means you can often browse their Facebook pages to confirm that they look legitimate. For example, do they have a brand-new profile that could be a fake account? Do they have any Facebook friends who live nearby?
And on any online-marketplace platform, does the other person give you a good vibe when you communicate? If something seems fishy... maybe it is.
- Meet up with care. With many of these online transactions, buyers and sellers agree to meet at the seller's home. Sure, that's convenient... but it's much safer to meet somewhere public.
Consider somewhere with plenty of security, like a bank branch or a police station. (Yes, plenty of police stations make room for online transactions. After all, they'd rather not have to respond only after someone robs you.) Also, consider having someone with you when you meet this stranger, and tell someone where you're going.
- Focus on inexpensive purchases. Lots of folks use online marketplaces to find big discounts on smartphones. But the more money you're dealing with, the greater the risk. If you're selling your iPhone for $300, you're more of a target than if you're selling an old film camera or a bag of used baby clothes for $10.
For selling pricey items online, consider using a website like eBay or Amazon. It's a little more expensive, and you may have to pay for shipping... but sellers get paid in advance and buyers get protections against scams.
- Stay within your comfort zone. If you're confident in your ability to assess buyers, sellers, and items for sale, online marketplaces can be a great way to buy and sell. If not, perhaps an Internet-savvy relative or friend can help out... or an old-fashioned yard sale could still be the best fit.
What We're Reading
- Something different: Russia banned soldiers' smartphones.
Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,
Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
February 21, 2019