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Garage sale security: how to stay safe and scam free

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“A bright yellow hoodie? Did anyone see it? It was on that clothes rack over there by the Little Tikes toys. It said “Hollister” on the front and it was 100% cotton.” The garage sale seller scratched her head, figuratively, that is, wondering and wondering. “It did not just walk away by itself and it was too bright to misplace. Did someone try it on over their clothes and just walk away? Did they tuck it under their arm and act as if it was purchased? Golly Gee (or some non-publishable expletive)! Why didn’t the ‘thief’ just ask to pay a dollar for it or explain that they really needed it?”

Unfortunately, it is not unusual to hear an exchange like this at a garage sale. All too often a theft occurs and the garage sale seller is surprised, if not flabbergasted, by it. Even at a garage sale, where the monetary stakes tend not to be high, folks do not want to be taken advantage of or duped. It rarely feels good to be tricked or subjected to theft.

There are ways to minimize theft and to maintain your personal safety at a garage sale, and despair not; it can be done without much effort. Take simple precautions and pay attention, remembering that you are dealing with strangers, not friends or associates.

  • Safeguard your money. Never leave your money unattended. Carry that money in a secure way or place, such as in a fanny pack or carpenter’s apron. Periodically take the large bills out of that fanny pack into an even more secure place, inside your locked home.
  • Keep your garage sale efforts and results a private matter. Do not discuss your garage sale proceeds or results. There is no need to disclose your garage sale cache with anyone at the sale. Similarly, refrain from displaying a wad of cash during the sale or counting that same wad of cash in front of anyone at the sale. By all means, do not chat, let alone boast, about the money you have earned in your de-cluttering, recycling efforts.
  • Create boundaries. Keep all entrances to your home and car locked and secure. Do not allow anyone into your home; even if they claim to need to use a bathroom or want to try something on to see if it fits. Similarly, you should not share any personal information about yourself at your garage sale, in conversation or otherwise. (This includes information about your job, your home, your marital status, etc.). There is no need to give “ammunition” to a potential intruder.
  • Don’t go it alone, literally. There is safety in numbers so make sure you have a helper or two with you at all times. One of you can keep an eye on the customers and the merchandise, especially the most expensive items at your sale and the items which seem to disappear most easily (e.g., CDs, DVDs, jewelry, purses, and small items). One of you can “stand guard” while the other gets a snack or uses the restroom. Keep a cordless phone or cell phone with you in the garage in the unlikely event you need to call in an emergency.
  • Take precautions which minimize opportunities for thievery. These include placing your most valuable merchandise under your watchful eye, so that it cannot be easily stolen. Keep it closest to your “check out” table and furthest from the street. Bright lighting helps to minimize stealing as well. It is best not to have your sale after dark or before sunrise.
  • Familiarize yourself with common garage sale scams and tactics. Forewarned is forearmed. Consider for example these common scenarios:
  1. The price tag switcheroo involves changing prices from one item to another. Know your prices so that this can be spotted and caught at the time of check out. If you put information on the price tag to label or identify the item beyond just its price, it is less likely to be switched. (Example: American Eagle tee shirt $2 can only be reapplied on another Am Eagle top.)
  2. Additional items are placed within the items paid for at the sale. Check the drawers or insides of items which might contain other garage sale treasure.
  3. Counterfeit bills are tendered, usually a $20 bill or a $100 one. A counterfeit pen can help here. Alternatively, you may invoke a policy not to accept large bills.
  4. Complaints about change or getting the right change can turn into a scam. Someone might ask for change for a hundred dollar bill without giving you that bill. Someone might say that he or she paid with a $20 and received change back for a $10. Keep the bill tendered out in front of you and the shopper until the transaction is complete. Indicate, with a sense of humor, that you cannot make any change.
  5. Self-tallying by a shopper can be un-kosher or helpful. Be sure the addition is accurate by adding the items yourself.
  6. Groups and gaggles of shoppers together can be untoward as well. It is easier to scam a seller when a buyer works in a pair or group, often operating to create a diversion or distraction. Keep those eyes and ears open.

Remember to remain as vigilant and as visible as possible during your sale, without being unfriendly. Most shoppers are not liars, cheats or thieves. They just want your great bargains. Make sure that is what they get, bargains, and not more, especially not more about you or the cool things in your house which are not for sale or for the taking!

Let your Garage Sale Examiner know your best tips to safeguard your money and keep safe during your yard sale extravaganza. As always, happy hunting!

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