Garage Sale Scams for Buyers to Avoid and 3 Fun Tips

Garage Sale Scams for Buyers to Avoid and 3 Fun Tips

by Leslie Freeland, July 7, 2017

Early Saturday mornings, cash in hand, and sign sighting

– all hallmarks of a perfect garage sale day.

Garage sales, also known as yard sales, are a staple of summer.

But, as much fun as it is to rummage through boxes of old collectables, there are safety tips to keep in mind. Most people who host garage sales are friendly and honest, but a few will try to trick you for a little extra profit.

Shady Dealings

Some of the most common scams:

  • The ‘it-doesn’t-add-up‘ scam: The seller might add a few dollars to the total price, hoping you won’t notice. An easy way to avoid this is to pre-add the total yourself – then see if your total matches theirs.
  • The ‘false-advertising‘ scam: Items advertised in the newspaper or online are not actually available or much more expensive than advertised. They do this just to get more people to come to their garage sale. There really is no way to avoid this type of scam. Just expect those garage sales to be packed with people, and hope the item advertised is actually there!
  • The ‘price-is-wrong‘ scam: Sometimes you may go to pay for an item only to be told the item costs more. The seller might say the tag was switched (either on purpose or by mistake). They tell you the ‘real’ (and much higher) price. Since you already want the item, they hope you will be willing to pay more and not argue, so the seller insists the price is wrong. Just like the previous scam, there is no way to avoid this one. Just be prepared to defend your position or walk away from the item.
  • The ‘what-you-see-is-NOT-what-you-get‘ scam: This scam is particularly offensive. A seller might purposefully put a used item in a new box and reseal it, explaining that it is brand new and has never been opened. For example, you see a pristine box, completely sealed up, with (what you assume) is a brand new camera. You get home, and much to your surprise, when you open it, it’s an older camera. The way to avoid this is to always open sealed boxes at garage sales before you pay.
  • The ‘you-didn’t-pay-for-that‘ scam: This usually happens when you find something you like, pay for it, then decide you want to look around more. When you bring your new purchases, plus the one you already paid for, up to the seller, they charge you for everything – charging you twice for the one item. They claim you never paid for that first item. At this point, you are left with three options, argue about it and hope they ‘remember’ you already paid, leave it there or pay again. The way to avoid this is to gather up every item you want and pay for everything at one time.
  • The ‘cover-up‘ scam: Watch out for this. This is when the seller strategically places the price tag over a chip or stain. This most often happens on glassware and smaller, collectible items. The way to avoid this is to take each sticker off as you pay. Make sure you pay first; then remove the stickers very close to, or in front of, the seller. If you find a chip, you can deal with it right there. You can just be upfront and honest as you remove the price tags – and tell them you are just making sure there are no chips.
  • The ‘tape-it-down‘ scam: A seller may tightly tape lids to the top of pots, pans, baking dishes, storage containers and more – basically anything with a lid. But the catch is the lid doesn’t actually go with that pot or pan. Maybe it’s a complete mismatch, or chipped, or even warped. The point is, you can’t tell with all that tape on. In this case, ask the seller if you can remove the tape first before you make the decision to buy.
  • The ‘it’s-gone‘ scam: This next scam has to be one of the most disappointing. You fall in love with a large item, like a sofa or dresser, but you can’t take it with you at that moment because your car is too small, so you pay for it and plan to come back with a truck later to pick it up. The seller takes your money and promises to hold onto the item. Later, when you return, the item is gone! The seller says you never paid for it. You most likely won’t get the item or your money back. Some people avoid this by doing their garage sale shopping in a large truck or car with enough room to take furniture items. Another tip is, after you pay, take the removable parts of the item with you. For example, you can take all the sofa cushions when you buy that sofa or all the drawers in the dresser. There is no chance they will be able to sell the items with important parts missing. Then you can come back later to get the rest. If there is no way to remove parts from the item, have the seller write out a receipt for you with the item description, the fact that you paid and have them sign it.

Don’t let this list prevent you from enjoying the adventure of garage sailing – they are just safety tips to keep in mind!

We’ll end our article with 3 fun – and unconventional – tips you might like to try!

  1. NO PLANS: Most advice articles say to plan your route out in advance, but what about just driving with no plan at all! Just follow one garage sale sign after another (there will probably be signs at most major intersections), and see where you end up!
  2. AVOID CROWDS: Instead of being the first one to the garage sale, go later in the day or even on a Sunday. If there is anything left, and there usually is, the items will be very inexpensive or even free. Plus there won’t be as much to pick through – which might be good if you don’t like to sort through mounds of items. If you like a low-key sales environment, love extremely low prices and prefer fewer items to dig through – then this is your plan.
  3. FIND HIDDEN GEMS: Last – many people advertise their garage sale online or in the local paper. Keep in mind, those advertised garage sales are going to be packed! Unless you get there extra early (sellers hate this) and fight your way in, many of the more valued items will already be snatched up. Instead, avoid the advertised garage sales and just drive around (see Tip 1). There are many garage sales that have not been advertised. Some of the very best ones are hidden away, found only with a small sign taped to a light pole. Finding these can be an adventure all on their own!




Asurea offers Life Insurance, Mortgage Protection Life Insurance, Medicare Supplement Insurance, Final Expense Insurance, Disability Insurance, Long-term Care Insurance, Retirement Planning products and more. For additional information, click on the ‘Learn more’ button below. Want to have articles just like this delivered to your inbox? Just enter your email address in the box below and click ‘Subscribe.’

This information is provided for general consumer educational purposes only and is not intended to provide legal, tax or investment advice.


Leslie Freeland

Leslie Freeland

Marketing Communications Coordinator at Asurea
Leslie joined Asurea as the Marketing Communications Coordinator in February 2015. Since then, she has been working closely with insurance professionals to educate the public on the importance of life insurance and protect the public from common scams with informational articles.
Leslie Freeland

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