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Yard Sale Scams, Be Aware

Who would have thought that there are actual yard sale scam artists? With high-tech cameras in regular stores, a yard sale may seem like easy pickings to a thief and scam artists. Here are some things to watch out for when having a yard sale – also what to watch for if you are a yard sale customer.

Be wary of the pushy customer who orders you around and asks you to personally load their purchases in their vehicle. What may happen is that they will return, often when your yard sale is still in full swing, and very loudly complain that they hadn’t received all their merchandise. This tactic is used to try to intimidate/embarrass the seller into giving an undeserved refund. Meanwhile the “complainer” will continue to shop at your yard sale making sure they haven’t overlooked any bargains.

Distraction is a common tool that yard sale thieves use. Sometimes they may bring a small child and let the kid loose at the sale, hoping that either:

1. the seller will ooh and ahh over the child while they are busy shoplifting a few small items or that

2. that the seller will keep an eye on the child to make sure they don’t bump into the table of glassware giving the scam artists opportunity to shoplift or switch price tags

A shoplifter may try to be less obvious by just taking the actual item (like pocketing a CD but leaving the empty case), or opening a box with an item inside – pocketing the item – and then leaving the empty box on the table so it doesn’t appear obvious.

A scam artist may try to “help” the seller by totaling the prices of their items they want to purchase. Probably 99% of the time, it’s an honest buyer just wanting to save time and be helpful. But if something doesn’t feel right, you can tell the customer a little fib and say that you need to check all the items because you are selling some items for a friend and have to keep the money straight.

Another scam is for a customer to ask the seller if they have change for a $100 bill because they want to make a purchase. They purposely show the bill and flash it. As the seller checks their cash, the customer quickly puts the bill back in their pocket but holds their hand out, hoping that the seller will be confused and give change back for the bill that was never given to them!

Sometimes an unscrupulous seller may try to cover up a defect, chip or stain with a price sticker (or tape). Then when you get the item home, you discover their sneaky practice. I heard a story recently where someone bought a honey pot with lid at a yard sale. The lid was heavily taped onto it. When the buyer got the item home and unwrapped the tape, they discovered it was a mis-matched lid that didn’t fit properly. Look everything over good and don’t hesitate to check under a price sticker.

Keep your money guarded 100% of the time. It’s best to wear a carpenter’s apron or fanny pack. When someone hands you a large bill to pay for item, leave the bill out in plain view until the change has been made. Then put the bill away. A scam artist may try to claim that they gave you a $20 bill when they actually gave you a $10.

When someone buys a large item (such as a laundry hamper), its always good to check inside of it. You can just say that you want to make sure you didn’t leave anything in it. A dishonest person may have stuffed a bunch of unpaid for items inside.

When selling small valuables, such as jewelry, it’s best to designate one person to watch over the table. I arrived at one yard sale after a group of scam artists had just left. The seller had placed various pieces of jewelry in individual plastic baggies and priced the baggies. What the scam artists did was switch the jewelry within the bags and paid the lower prices for the nicer jewelry. They arrived as a large group and distracted the seller asking questions about various items, the seller was too harried to realize it until after the fact.

For safety reasons, its best to have another person or persons helping you conduct your yard sale. But if you can’t and have some scary looking customers, you can pretend to have someone else with you – just yell into the house “Hey Bob, bring me a soda when you get a chance”. It’s wise to have a cordless phone or cell phone on you (in your carpenter’s apron) at all times. But don’t set it down, because someone will want to buy it!

© Copyright 2003 The yard sale Queen, Inc.

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