Furniture and scambags: Adventures on Craigslist

I’ve already told you how the wife and I weed out our closets every summer and have a yard sale with the results. Last weekend, we did some big off-season pruning because — in a little more than a month — we’re moving to a smaller house (though it’s way cooler, closer to work, and in a better school district). Consequently, we have to get rid of a good bit of furniture.

Here’s the evolution of my furniture-buying history:

Stage of Life Type of Furniture
College student Dorm fare, boxes
Single college grad Goodwill castoffs, sturdier boxes
Newlywed Wedding gifts, furniture relatives no longer use
Up-and-coming professional Begin to buy “nice” furniture because we’ll keep it forever
Family man moving to a different house Sell “nice” furniture on Craigslist

Okay, so we have bought furniture that we’re likely keep for a very, very long time. But we’re also selling items that we thought we’d keep for much longer than we did — and getting a fraction of the price we paid. One example: I always wanted a roll-top desk, but I thought I didn’t deserve one until I became a real writer. So when I wrote my first book for The Motley Fool, I rewarded myself by using part of the money I earned to buy a swell-looking cherry roll-top desk, designed specifically to be used with computers. And I loved it…for a while.

But then I outgrew it. I don’t know why exactly, except that I now prefer to sit in a comfy chair with a laptop in my (guess!) lap rather than sitting at a desk — perhaps because I sit at a desk all day at work. I don’t want to come home and do it for another few hours. And the desk also takes up a lot of space, which we don’t want to devote to a desk in our new home.

So here’s my new thinking about furniture: Like clothes, furniture can wear out its style and usefulness. Our tastes in homes and the accompanying contents change; it just doesn’t make sense to pay up for something we may no longer want or have space for a few years later.

The flip side is that cheaper furniture may not last even a few years. That’s been our experience with the dressers we bought from Target and IKEA. So, for now, I think our best strategy is to buy high-quality stuff used. Or go back to eating off sturdy boxes.

Adventures on Craigslist

Obviously, other people agree, because within 48 hours of our listing seven items on Craigslist, we’ve sold three (including the roll-top desk). I assure you, they’re getting good deals. And we’re raising cash to buy furniture more appropriate for our new place — off Craigslist, of course.

That said, I’ve been the target of two attempted scams and possibly a third. Here’s how one went down: I received identical emails from “Mr J Benson” at [email protected], regarding two of the items we were selling. He asked if they were still available. I replied that they were, and again received two identical emails, as follows:

Thanks for the prompt response. I have instructed my
account officer to mail (overnight) a certified
check, while you hold this item for me. Let me know
when you receive the check and I will have my mover
will come pick up at your place. Please forward me
the following info so I can issue your check . . .

1.Your full name
2.Your mailing address(Physical as Ups does not deliver to P.O.Box}
3.Your phone number.

** Please note that I will overnight the payment,and
you should receive it tomorrow. I appreciate you
holding this for me. Please delete the posting as I
am definitely buying it from you and it would be sad
for me to have the payment in the mail only to be
informed of the its sale also am deaf and will like to be contacted via

This immediately smelled stinky to me, and a quick Google search showed that plenty of other people have received this identical offer. From what I can tell, here’s how the scam works: The check that gets delivered is for more than the item being sold. The “buyer” instructs the seller to deposit the check anyhow, and just wire back the difference.

Perhaps you can guess how this ends. If not, here’s how it ended for a woman in Hawaii, according to a news story:

The buyer agreed to purchase the furniture for $230. She said she would send a check for $2,452 and asked the seller to deposit the check in the bank, deduct $230 and then send back the balance via Western Union. She said she would send a male friend to Western Union to pick up the check because she couldn’t leave the house. The seller agreed with the arrangement. After sending a check for the balance through Western Union, she learned that the original check was bogus.

The second scam attempt was similar — a woman saying she wanted to buy our couch as a Christmas gift for her father-in-law, and she’d send a check. I replied that I only deal in cash, and face-to-face. Her reply: “Cash on exchange is my preffered means of payment but i dont have the time .I believe you know how hard it is to get a job these days.Pls bear with me.” I don’t think we’ll be selling this person our couch.

The third interaction may be a scam or not. I’m selling my PlayStation 2 (including a bunch of games), and here’s the email I received:

I wanted to ask if you could help my son he really want a system but i lost my job last month and i couldn’t do thanksgiving good and he was sad and now he thinks christmas is going to be the same but i dont have money i was hoping i could work something out with you to help him im a good handyman i just dont like seeing him like this can you help and put a little smile on him for christmas if you can thank you and god bless if not that ok i just wanna to try to make it better for him

The only possible scam here is that he wants a free PlayStation when he could afford to pay the $90 I’m asking for it. Or maybe his story is legit. If it is, I’d be willing to help him out. Not sure what to do about this one. What do you think?

To sum up…What have I learned over the weekend?

  • You may not keep furniture as long as you think, so it may not be worthwhile to pay a lot or buy it new.
  • Accept only cash. Experienced sellers tell me that transacting through PayPal has worked for them, though I don’t have any personal experience on the seller side with it.
  • There are a lot of people on Craigslist who should be shopping for books or software that will improve their spelling and grammar.

If you want to get rid of stuff, Craigslist works — but you have to be careful of scambags. Though I’ve never sold anything on other sites — such as eBay or Amazon — they might work as well. If you’ve used them, let us know about your experience in the comments are below.

J.D.’s note: I’m a huge Craigslist fan, but you absolutely have to watch out for scambags, as Robert calls them. In my younger naive days, I’d let “buyers” talk me into all sorts of things. For example, I traded my Nintendo Gamecube for an obsolete digital camera instead of getting cash. And I also let somebody trade me a computer that ended up being on death’s door. I’ve learned that as the seller, you can’t put up with any monkey business.

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