There’s something about this time of year that prompts us to go through our home’s nonessentials: snow gear that is two sizes too small, sports equipment that’s no longer used or clothes that have hung in the back of your closet for far too long. The old adage “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” holds all too true. And there’s something liberating about purging unneeded items (and getting a little cash in your pocket is a nice bonus!), as well as finding treasures at cut-rate costs.
However, garage sale season can come with a heavy price tag. This summertime tradition can be a magnet for scammers and con artists. As Melanie Duquesnel, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving Eastern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula, says, “Unfortunately, on either side of the sales table, there are people who are scammers… so it’s important to know the tricks of the garage sale con artist and also what it takes to be a savvy garage sale shopper.”
Be a savvy seller! Garage-sale-goers are usually a pretty convivial crew, but scammers can turn up at your summer tag sale, too. Since you’re bringing strangers to your front door, it doesn’t hurt to maintain a high level of caution.
Set the stage. Watch the weather forecast. If rain or soaring temperatures are expected, consider setting up a rented or store-bought canopy and having a water station handy to help keep yourself and shoppers comfortable. Renting tables from a party supply store can be a good idea as well, so you can spread out your wares for shoppers to see more easily.
Watch out for counterfeit payments and bad checks. Counterfeiters like to frequent garage sales, since they’re not run by experienced merchants who know how to identify fake money. Be especially wary of bills larger than $20, as these bills are favorites of counterfeiters. It can be a good idea to purchase a counterfeit money detection pen (the small investment can save you big in the long run). Additionally, try to avoid taking personal checks. And if you do, be sure to ask for a picture ID or driver’s license and record the information on the check (having the buyer write their phone number, if it isn’t already printed, on the check is a good idea, as well).
Keep your home on lockdown. Don’t allow anyone you don’t know into your home during the sale, and be sure to keep your doors locked during the sale. It’s also a good idea to keep your garage door locked the night before the advertised sale. Some early-bird tag sale shoppers can get aggressive when it comes to getting that coveted “first look” when a sale opens.
Enlist help. Have older children, your spouse or a neighbor help you during the sale. This will ensure you have eyes on your sales tables and on your cashbox to minimize the possibility of money or items going missing during your sale.
Don’t forget to protect yourself! A hat and sunscreen are good ideas and will help you stay on top of your game during your sale. And don’t forget about the steady supply of water!
Buyers beware! By being a smart and safe shopper while thrifting keeps not just your finances safe, but you too. Never enter a seller’s home, and consider bringing a friend or adult family member with you when you’re heading out for a day of garage sale shopping. Additionally, keep the following pointers in mind as you shop around.
Do your research. If you’re looking for specific items, do some online research before hitting sales. Visit BBB’s Accredited business listings to find companies that sell the items you’re interested in and make a note of average prices. Knowing what current asking prices are for new (and gently used) items will help you recognized a deal or overpriced item.
Watch out for unsafe items. The Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends skipping the purchase of used bike helmets, infant cribs and car seats because there’s no way to tell if they have been involved in an accident or if they have been incorrectly assembled. Visit the CPSC website for more information and an up-to-date list of used products to avoid.
Test-drive electronics. Get an extension cord from your toolbox or a local hardware store and ask to plug in used TVs and other electronics before purchase, so you can be sure your purchase is working properly.
Ask questions. Don’t be afraid to talk to the seller and ask questions about items you’re interested in, particularly bigger ticket items like electronics and jewelry.
Get a receipt for large-ticket items. Even though it is a friendly neighborhood garage sale, you can still ask for a written receipt for big-ticket items. Because you’re dealing with an individual and not a company, keep in mind that there aren’t organizations that can file a complaint on your behalf (like BBB). So shop cautiously.
Partner with Better Business Bureau serving Eastern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula for all your garage sale needs this summer. Our resources will connect you with suppliers to help make hosting your sale successful and comfortable for you and buyers, and give you the free tools and information you need to recognize scammers and keep yourself safe when shopping around.