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
email.*

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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Wes
Wes
10 years ago

I had a good one on Ebay just the other day (item is relisted and still up for sale – let me know if you want a used (and not quite functional) video camera!) I had a ‘buy-it-now’ option on the auction, and received notice that someone had used that. Sweet, I thought, I get enough money to satisfy me right away and I don’t have to deal with all the questions from a normal auction. I sent the buyer an invoice through Ebay, and awaited a response. The next day, I got an email from “paypal” saying I had… Read more »

Under$1000PerMonth
Under$1000PerMonth
10 years ago

I would continue a dialogue with the third “scam.” It may be legit. I usually sell on ebay and have had good success, but use craigslist for furntiure. But I give my furniture away. I don’t think people would actually pay me for my trash picked furniture and my curbside deals.

Bananen
Bananen
10 years ago

I’d contact the last guy and make an offer. As long as you are careful you won’t be scammed.

Sam
Sam
10 years ago

I see where you are coming from on the issue of furniture. Furniture is kind of like cars, can be very expensive for brand new furniture and there is lots of used furniture that can be had at much better prices. We’re in the newlywed/professional stage and we’ve bought some new furniture and we are saving up for a new couch. We expect to be in our home for the next 20 years and the couch we have selected will fit our living room lay out much better than our old couch. While I could find a new to me… Read more »

leslie
leslie
10 years ago

I refuse to deal with eBay anymore. I went through crap when I tried to sell an iTouch a few years ago. The first time I listed it, the buyer was similar to the above commentors story. Except, eBay actually suspended their account for a week to determine if the person was legit or not. In the end, eBay decided they were, I did not agree and did not contine the sale. Then I relished it and the same thing happened! So I had to pay $30 in listing fees for nothing. I ended up selling it on CL anyway.… Read more »

Matt
Matt
10 years ago

Some of the best furniture we’ve gotten (a kitchen table and chairs, two dressers, and a coffee table) has been through a local consignment shop that deals primarily in higher-quality furniture. The great thing about this is that (at least in this store) prices start high, but then drop the longer the item sits in the store. We’ve gotten some great deals on quality furniture this way.

Elise
Elise
10 years ago

I love craigslist, and have sold quite a few things on it, but I’ve also found that not everybody shows up when they say they will. I quickly learned not to turn down second and third offers because someone was “coming to pick it up.” I tell the second and third, etc. that someone else has expressed an interest in it and if they don’t want it I’ll be in touch asap. Then I tell the first that I have another offer, come get the item or I’m selling to the other person. For my dog kennel, the first guy… Read more »

Brooke
Brooke
10 years ago

I don’t know that I would give the 3rd guy a deal. It sounds fishy to me.
Not to sound “greedy” or stingy here, but you started out posting on Craigslist because you had stuff to sell to benefit your family, not to give stuff away. Remember that you are the person you are trying to benefit here. Gotta watch out for number 1.

Susan in CO
Susan in CO
10 years ago

Based on personal experience, I don’t think the situation with the PS2 is a scam, per se – but I do think it’s somebody who is trying to get something for nothing (or next to nothing.) The mention of the poor little kid and the “god bless you” are a dead giveaway. The type of Craigslist buyer that is prevalent around here (heck, probably everywhere) is the one who does a good job of communicating with you, shows up on time with cash in hand and then spends a half hour nit-picking and fault-finding and finally offering you half of… Read more »

lostAnnfound
lostAnnfound
10 years ago

maybe for #3, since he states he is a handyman, he could barter his services for the game.

Alex
Alex
10 years ago

I’m not sure why furniture from Ikea is automatically ‘low quality’. My parents still have their Ikea dropside dining table they bought used 20+ years ago, and a 15 year old Poang chair that is still in daily use. Some quick research with Consumer Reports puts Ikea in the top 5 kitchen cabinet manufacturers (and the lowest price by a factor of two). That being said, any cheap chipboard type furniture (Ikea does have some low quality and cheap junk) doesn’t stand up to an active family. Or even worse, if you try and move it once assembled. Go for… Read more »

retired
retired
10 years ago

I to have sold a few things on Craigs list. Two Items I did eventually ship out of state. The first took a month of emails as I did not want to deal with the risk of shipping. Pay pal worked in both of these instances. Last summer I began to notice a big up turn in people offering to help me make money. Etc from my postings. I delete these. I now have my own store front, do ship out of state and have been able to include Google check out. Large items still go on Craig’s list. Health… Read more »

ryan
ryan
10 years ago

Yeah, #3 sounds like he may be wanting to barter services – may or may not be a good deal if you need some work done. I’ve sold and bought a ton of stuff on CL and the one thing I have learned (besides just ignoring all the #1 and #2 emails I get) is that for every ten people that say they will come by, eight will flake out. So always keep all ten of those people on the line with ‘I have someone that says they are coming to get it, but if they flake out your next… Read more »

Lindsay
Lindsay
10 years ago

Some people offer barter for goods on Craig’s List. Some don’t. If you want cash, tell the man you will take cash only. If you want to barter to get unlicensed handyman work done around your new house with no recommendations, go for it, but I wouldn’t do it. Personally I don’t have a lot of sympathy for people who tell sob stories trying to get money, it’s been my experience that the people with actual sob stories don’t go around acting like that, and the people who act like that are scamming you.

Colleen
Colleen
10 years ago

I agree that #3 looks like he wants to barter. I’d see about fleshing it out a bit before you decide, but I wouldn’t knock it out if you do have some things for which a handyman would be useful.

Jordan
Jordan
10 years ago

I’m with Lindsay- I think #3 is a “sob story” trying to scam you. If he were serious about trying to obtain a free Playstation for his son, he could have spent 5 minutes trying to correct the grammar and spelling in his post. If he cared enough- he could have taken the time.

quinsy
quinsy
10 years ago

I recommend selling on Amazon Marketplace. I had a number of annoying experiences on eBay and thus for most items I do not sell on eBay. eBay is only really good for stuff that is fairly obscure or collectible which can’t be sold on Amazon and is unlikely to be sold on Craigslist unless you are in a major metro area (and maybe not even then). I’ve had good luck with such items allowing international buyers, as long as I make shipping high enough, there are some folks out there willing to spend some money to buy items that perhaps… Read more »

MissPrism
MissPrism
10 years ago

If an honest, competent handyman wanted to barter work for a playstation, he would do so without resorting to emotional blackmail. I call scam.

Lyn
Lyn
10 years ago

Maybe I’m jaded, but #3 sounds like a scam to me. First, there’s the grammar – we don’t normally write the way we talk. Then he’s mentioned he’s a ‘handyman’ and wants to work something out. That would require you revealing your address. Then this ‘handyman’ gets real handy in the middle of the night with your Christmas presents and whatever else appeals to him.

If you really want to pursue it, ask for his address and tell him you’ll donate the Playstation to his son. Then see what his response is.

David C
David C
10 years ago

Craigslist is a hit or miss proposition. I have successfully sold several things, but I have had my fair share of scammers and flakes. I have had several of the #1 flake mentioned above. What gets me going is when I get a response that is so poorly worded as to be incomprehensible, completely in “textspeak” or what appears to be Klingon. Most times I don’t respond. I know, my loss, but past experience has jaded me in dealing with these types. I also never have the potential buyer come to my residence to examine the item. I am just… Read more »

Sandy L
Sandy L
10 years ago

Craig’s list is full of moochers who want things for free. I would prefer if they would stick to freecycle instead.

Whatever you do, don’t list something as free. You’ll get all sorts of weirdos at your house. I try to charge at least a few bucks for things to weed out the scaries.

Another scam if you’re selling something:

“My brother-in-law just had a great experience making some extra money…please contact me if you’re interested”. It’s someone trying to sell a pyramid scheme.

Sushi
Sushi
10 years ago

I agree with Alex @ #11. Furniture from IKEA is not automatically inferior. I redid my kitchen with IKEA cabinets and spent less than 3K doing it.I also get a 10 year warranty which is more than what I’d get if I went with Home Depot.The cabinets were simple to assemble too. I went to one of the fancy Kitchen remodeler and got a price tag of 25K for the same cabinets.Wood is good, but doesn’t make sense all the time!

Caitlin
Caitlin
10 years ago

It’s possible that #3 is legit. However, I do agree with MissPrism, the emotional blackmail is a huge turnoff. I recognize that some less web-savvy people might not understand that many scams use that approach, and don’t realise that doing it makes them sound like a scammer. *sigh* If that’s the case, I feel sorry for the guy, but I still would not trade with him. If I had listed a PS2 and wasn’t on the lookout for a handyman, I would not consider it. I’m not going to invite a person I didn’t know, whose services I didn’t seek,… Read more »

Trini
Trini
10 years ago

I’d be a bit freaked by the handyman thing. I’m a bit wary of letting strangers in my house in the first place, and for the contractor, you probably won’t supervise the guy every minute he’s in your house. So here’s my math: broke guy + unsupervised in house = I wouldn’t do it.

Kevin
Kevin
10 years ago

I’m surprised no one’s mentioned Kijiji yet. Maybe it’s just a Canadian site? I prefer Kijiji for both buying and selling. Buying, because it features photos and a more “eBay-like” listing interface, selling because there are no listing fees, even if your item sells. It’s entirely ad-revenue driven. I find the audience is plenty big, I’ve had no problem getting offers when selling things. When I’m looking for things, I find Kijiji has more items listed in the same category than Craigslist does. Of course, the same “scam-avoidance” rules apply. In all my ads, I make it clear that the… Read more »

Sara A.
Sara A.
10 years ago

I’ve also found that Amazon marketplace is a good replacement for ebay. The only problem I’ve encountered is that there are certain items you can’t see through marketplace. Books, DVDs, and software are easy to sell, but I tried to sell a new in box salon hair dryer and was unable to list it.

Whatever I can’t sell on marketplace goes to craigslist, if I can’t sell it on craigslist it goes to goodwill. I don’t trust ebay anymore.

Four Pillars
Four Pillars
10 years ago

I like the comment how you outgrew your ‘nice’ furniture. So many people talk about buying “high quality expensive” furniture and they end up selling it long before it wears out. What’s the point?

And what are people doing with this “cheap” IKEA furniture? – we have all kinds of furniture from there and it lasts just fine.

As another commenter mentioned out kitchen cabinets are from IKEA and they are pretty good. (And they weren’t cheap either).

KF
KF
10 years ago

A few thoughts… 1) The state of people’s writing and grammar abilities is heartbreaking and terrible. It’s depressing. Get a clue, people. And if you didn’t learn when you were young, take some initiative and teach yourself as an adult. You’ll never advance far in life with a writing ability like some of the emails referenced above. 2) I would not deal with #3. It’s not straight-forward enough to me to seem honest. If I were honestly making such an appeal, I’d be way more direct. I wouldn’t make so many attempted tear-jerker references to my child, Thanksgiving, etc. And… Read more »

Suzanne Schoeneweiss
Suzanne Schoeneweiss
10 years ago

I’ve learned a lot today! Great post and discussion.

To add to the Ikea thread: I have a bedroom se that I bought new. Really pretty. Maybe the quality depends on how well you put it together because I have to tighten all the darned screws every coile of weeks. Never again!

Suzanne Schoeneweiss
Suzanne Schoeneweiss
10 years ago

I’ve learned a lot today! Great post and discussion.

To add to the Ikea thread: I have a bedroom se that I bought new. Really pretty. Maybe the quality depends on how well you put it together because I have to tighten all the darned screws every couple of weeks. Never again!

Dana
Dana
10 years ago

I would be careful of the Playstation email. My husband and I were trying to sell a Wii on Craigslist and got a VERY similar email. Some sob story from this lady about how her son really wanted a Wii for christmas, but she couldn’t afford it and could he buy ours for a ridiculously low price ($45) with money he collected from selling chicken eggs that he had been picking up for a year.

We said nope. Sounded way too much like a scam.

Ryan
Ryan
10 years ago

Some thoughts on the the third “scam” with the PS2. I am a long time user of craigslist. I have bought and sold probably close to 100 times over the past few years. I have received emails very very similar to what you are describing which leads me to believe that it is in fact a scam of some sort, thought I am not sure in what way. Although I am not a grammar expert, I would never do business with anybody that types that poorly. There is no excuse not to type correctly, especially when transacting business. Craigslist or… Read more »

Little House
Little House
10 years ago

I have successfully sold items on Craigslist over the past couple of years. However, you do need to beware of scams. Here’s another one to add to the list: people selling cars that are not in their name! My husband is looking for a work truck . He recently looked at one a guy was selling supposedly for his uncle, and the seller told him this big sob story about his son’s birthday coming up and he needed money to buy a gift. My husband looked at the truck, it was in horrible condition and barely able to run and… Read more »

RMS
RMS
10 years ago

I love Craigslist! I bought and sold my car on Craigslist, got apartments, rented art studio, bought and sold furniture, sold camping equipment, etc. You never know what you’ll find on the site! In fact, I met the first group of my friends through Craigslist ‘activity partner’ when I moved to Boston after college! I’ve also gotten a scam email before when I was looking for a new apartment. I actually corresponded with the person several times but he was ‘in London’ and couldn’t be there in person. I was suspicious especially after the emails got a bit strange. On… Read more »

Amanda
Amanda
10 years ago

In my experience, I have had several scammers use really bad grammar and almost no punctuation. I suppose they are trying to look real? It sounds snobby, but really horrible grammar is a red flag for me.

Warren
Warren
10 years ago

CL is great! We’re buying a new house and buying anything we “need” for it off CL, great deals, I’ve also been selling on there for a while and had great luck, you get to see the best and worse of people. On guy #3 I would get a little more info. It would be less fishy if he just said, will you barter work for it instead of giving a sob story. I’m a Christian but a random God Bless in the middle of a business transaction throws me off, people show their faith through their heart and actions,… Read more »

Bon
Bon
10 years ago

Something else my husband and I consider as we are starting to buy more “nice” furniture is kids (which we don’t have yet) and what future kids may potentially wreck or damage.

Regarding #3 CL responder, I would delete it and not think twice. If he really can’t afford the console how could he afford a single game? These things are not cheap. Also it is sad, but I agree with the poster who said that “God bless you” is an instant clue-in to sketchyness – how sad!

elysianconfusion
elysianconfusion
10 years ago

So timely! We have a kitchen island that we bought when we got our house (we had zero drawers or counters). We just redid our kitchen and listed the island, and someone came to look at it this morning. She offered the list price for the island but also wanted the chairs included, and said she’d leave me a check for part of it and come back on Sunday to pick it up (it obviously would not fit in her car today). So… from this it sounds like I should ask for cash and leave the item listed until she… Read more »

Brigid
Brigid
10 years ago

LOL! I agree – there are a LOT of people out there that need grammar lessons. I can barely read some people’s emails.

Great article!

Cheers!

jtimberman
jtimberman
10 years ago

I have bought and sold countless items via craigslist, including cars, collectibles, mundane every day items and more. It’s a great way to get rid of some junk and find some new treasures.

There’s a reason why craigslist has multiple warnings about mailing payments, wire transfers, direct deposit and other non-cash methods of payment.

For some reason, it warrants repeating. Only deal face to face directly with the buyer/seller. Only pay or accept payment in cash. If someone isn’t willing to meet you in person, or won’t make the deal with cash, it’s a scam. Period.

dqualey
dqualey
10 years ago

Loved the story, I have sold many many things on Amazon and Ebay and have (knock on wood) not had the problems I have heard so much of on Craigslist. I agree with your story and am in the process of weeding out lots of “stuff” as I type. I believe I will try craigslist for the large furniture pieces and keep writing 🙂

Amy
Amy
10 years ago

If you pursue the barter – make sure the person has the skills necessary to get the job you negotiate done correctly. I would remind you, like others have, that 1) you’re trying to make cash off this sale and 2) long winded stories riddled with bad grammer is a huge red flag, scam or not.It may not be worth your time to try and deal with this individual. Proceed with caution, but enjoy the new sales venue! I love craigslist, it’s really a great way to clear out bulky items that wouldn’t be easy to ship and there’s no… Read more »

John Steed
John Steed
10 years ago

“There are a lot of people on Craigslist who should be shopping for books or software that will improve their spelling and grammar.” Funny but sad as well. To a certain extent, I think this reflects a shift in the way we communicate. We have embraced e-mail, texting and tweeting, and many seem to believe that the rules of grammar do not apply to these forms of communication. But the larger problem is the general decline in literacy (and numeracy) in our society. I wince at bad grammar, poor sentence structure and spelling mistakes that occur with alarming regularity, even… Read more »

Jane
Jane
10 years ago

I also agree about the “nice” furniture that you thought you needed. Both my sister and my brother-in-law are looking to unload their expensive dining room sets that they bought when they were young. My sister is newly divorced, and while she is still in the same house, they never use the dining room set. And frankly it’s too big for the room anyway. My brother-in-law is widowed, and of course he couldn’t have anticipated that tragedy, but it was still too big for the room in their original house. I guess they bought it thinking that they would move… Read more »

elisabeth
elisabeth
10 years ago

I agree, we are fortunate here that the posters at GRS look at their emails and fix spelling etc. before posting!
I also second the suggestion above about consignment shops — you make make a little less, but you are spared all the hassles and you are supporting a local business. Similarly, I’m likely to take things to goodwill and get a donation receipt instead of trying to sell things myself (also love shopgoodwill.com when I want to buy — a win-win since I’m also supporting a good charity!)

Bear
Bear
10 years ago

Suzanne @ 29/30 – you can put a bit of lock tight in the screw holes if they are the ones with metal internals. If it’s wood put in a little bit of all purpose glue. Either way it should hold the screws in place.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
10 years ago

Robert and J.D,

Great article, but the BEST part was this statement:
 There are a lot of people on Craigslist who should be shopping for books or software that will improve their spelling and grammar.

Laughed out loud as I sipped my morning coffee. My favorite dry humor.

(Hope I spelled everything right…)

Suzanne
Suzanne
10 years ago

Thanks Bear.

And maybe someone can point out how to make edits to a comment from my Blackberry without accidentally re-posting. (That was a rhetorical question; I’m just technologically inferior).

Jason
Jason
10 years ago

Luckily my employer has an online forum for selling things to other co-workers. Since we all work at the same company, at least you have some assurance that the person is legit and not scamming you. I’ll accept a personal check from a co-worker, but generally cash it the medium of exchange. It’s also been a great way to get rid of free stuff without using something like freecycle. With stuff I’ve sold on craigslist, the only option is CASH. No checks, no IOU’s, livestock, trades, payment plans or the like. eBay seems like more hassle than it’s worth for… Read more »

John DeFlumeri Jr
John DeFlumeri Jr
10 years ago

Those scumbagscambags are waiting for us. They want to overpay by check and have us refund the “difference”. Yeah, Right!

John DeFlumeri Jr

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