How to Protect Yourself Selling Items Online

how to protect yourself selling online

As much as I love selling things online, there are downsides to it too. In April of this year, I attended Poshmark’s PoshNation tour in San Francisco, where I met several other women who buy and sell on Poshmark.

Of the four women I spoke to in depth at the event, two of them asked me about how to deal with scammers and receiving items not as described. Because they were newer buyers and sellers who brought these questions up on their own, I think it’s a legitimate concern and must be on more people’s minds.

So today I want to write about ways to protect yourself when selling items online. (Buyers may find the tips helpful too.) I don’t mean to villainize anyone who engages in buying or selling online, but we all know that there are people out there who try to take advantage of others. We could probably all recount a story or two of it happening to us or someone we know. Shady online transactions are no surprise to anyone anymore.

I’ve been very fortunate to have very few issues of my own as a buyer or seller. I think most people are honest and fair. Still, it’s important to do your part to protect yourself if you’re selling online. Here are some tips to help you do just that.

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Examples of Online Scams

Here are some examples of scams that people pull online. I’m sure there are many more out there, but these are the ones I’ve heard or read about most frequently.

  • Someone buys an item (often new) and uses it, then returns it saying the item was not as described. Sometimes the buyer returns the item used or damage or returns a completely different item.

  • Someone asks you when you send your items out or if you have already sent it. Once you’ve shipped it, the person cancels the order so that he/she can hopefully receive both a refund and the item.

  • You trade an item with another Poshmark user (aka Posher) for $3. The $3 covers Poshmark’s commission and generates a shipping label. You send your item and the other user either sends an item not as described or doesn’t send an item at all.

  • A buyer states that an item was not received hoping to receive the item and a refund. This is not so much of an issue on Poshmark as much as on other sites such as eBay. On Poshmark, if an item is marked as delivered by USPS, the company will eventually release the funds to you.


Ways for Sellers to Protect Themselves

1)  Read a site’s rules & guidelines

One of the best things to do when first on a site is to read the rules or guidelines. It’s easy to overlook them because you just want to get on with selling, but it really does help to know them. Once you familiarize yourself with a site’s rules, you’ll know what you can and can’t list so as to be in compliance, which will work in your favor if there’s ever a dispute. You’ll soon find out who reads the rules and follows them too.

Knowing the rules will help you build a strong case if you find yourself involved in a scam. For example, on Poshmark, it’s smart to have lots of pictures of items and a detailed written description of what you’re selling. Any communication between a buyer and seller should be kept on the app. Comments cannot be deleted and can be evidence in your case.

It’s also good to know that Poshmark completes all customer service through email. That means that it can take a day or two to receive a response. It can take even longer if this is over a weekend. Knowing that before you encounter a difficult situation will help you keep sane as you wait for an answer.


2)  Check the buyer’s feedback

On Poshmark, you can click on a person’s About page to view how long they’ve been a member of the app, their average ship time, and the positive feedback they’ve received and given. If a person is a new user or does not have any apparent buying or shipping experience, you may want to decline or cancel a sale, especially for a high-priced item.

On eBay, you can view a person’s feedback as well. The more positive feedback, the better. You can decide how many negative or neutral reviews are acceptable to you to still be willing to sell to him/her.


3)  Set criteria for buyers

One way to deter scammers is to set criteria a potential buyer must meet before you will sell to him/her. You can state that a person must have good feedback or a certain number of reviews before purchasing an item. If a person has a questionable history or does not meet your criteria and makes a purchase, you can discuss it or cancel the order.


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4)  Ship packages to arrive on certain days

On Poshmark, everything is shipped through USPS Priority shipping, which takes between 1 and 3 days. A buyer gets 3 days from delivery to accept the item or contest it. Ship your item so that it arrives on Monday and the buyer must accept it by Thursday. Most events like weddings happen on Friday through Sunday. By requiring acceptance by Thursday, you reduce the likelihood that a person will try to use the item and then attempt to return it the next day. While I haven’t tried this method myself, I think it’s reasonable for high-end items that run a high risk of use and return.

You might wonder if it’s worth delaying your shipping because your average shipping time is public on Poshmark. I think it is worth it in order to protect your items and reputation. If you do this for only a few of the many items that you sell, your average shipping time will still be reasonable. You can also let a buyer know that you’re delaying shipping for this reason so that he/she understands and doesn’t leave you bad feedback on that point.


5)  Record yourself packaging the item

Another way to deter scammers is to video record yourself packaging an item for shipment. Show the item in detail on camera to record its condition. For items that have serial numbers, record that as well. Then record yourself packaging the item, adhering the shipping label with the recipient’s name shown, and, if possible, putting it in the mailbox or passing it off to the post office worker. It’s best if you can show all of this in one unedited recording, although it may be difficult to do so.

This method isn’t completely foolproof. A seller could redo the package with a damaged item. But it is a good deterrent to make would-be scammers think twice before purchasing from you.

As a buyer, you can do this too. I’ve heard of buyers recording themselves opening up packages and documenting the condition of an item upon arrival so that they have evidence in case the item didn’t come as it was described.


6)  Put your own tag on an item

For high-end items, it might be worth putting your own tag on the item. You know those tags on new dresses at the department stores? They say that the dress can’t be returned without that tag attached. It’s a great deterrent for people want to buy, use, and return an item.

You can do the same by attaching a tag to your item. You can use a clothes tagging gun or unrippable Tyvek wrist bands. These things can only be removed if you cut them off. When someone makes a purchase, write identifying information on it such as your username and attach it to the item.

Make sure the tag is in an obvious place such as on around the strap of a purse so that it cannot be hidden. If a buyer wants to return the item, you’re pretty much guaranteed to receive your same item back in the condition you sent it versus receiving a knock-off or having your item used. Just be sure to let the buyer know that you do this. A would-be scammer will be deterred and pass on your item or cancel his/her order.


7)  Block buyers

The easiest way to deal with difficult buyers is to block them. I’ve heard of sellers blocking people who make low-ball offers or those who ask too many seemingly ridiculous questions. Those people can become difficult buyers once an item is sold and in their hands. Once you’ve sold to someone and they bring up issues with the item, you can direct them to contact customer service and then block them from contacting you directly or purchasing from you again.

I’ve been fortunate never to have this issue arise on Poshmark, but I have had to block non-paying buyers on eBay. That’s because Poshmark requires immediate payment, while eBay allows time for the buyer to pay.


8)  Sell what you can afford to lose

I’ve liked the saying “only lend what you can afford to lose” since I first heard it several years ago, and I think it holds true when talking about selling online. If I lose dress or pair of shoes to a scammer, I’d still be able to pay my bills and buy groceries this month. I’d be sad but I’d be okay. I think selling lower-end items also greatly reduces the amount of returns and scammers I encounter.

Some people might disagree with me and say that it’s worth your time to sell only high-end items like Chanel or Louis Vuitton bags. You make more profit for the same amount of time researching and listing items as you would with low-value goods. In this case, it may come down what you have available to sell (I don’t know where to source LV bags!) and personal tolerance for the likelihood of losing an item.


9)  Accept it and move on

Sometimes, no matter what you do, you end up on the losing end of a transaction. One of the women I met at the Poshmark event had sold less than 50 items on Poshmark and had 5 contested for not being as described. She actually came to the Poshmark event that night hoping for tutorials on how to use the app and to speak with Posh employees about the cases she lost. Surprisingly, she wasn’t deterred and continued selling on Poshmark as well as other sites and apps.

Sometimes you have to put negative transactions and feedback behind you and keep going. Try to remember the positive experiences you have, the good buyers and sellers you encounter, and why selling online is worth it to you.  It’s enough for me to move past any issues I’ve had and keep on selling.


After writing this article, I hope I haven’t scared anyone away from buying and selling online. I still think the benefits of selling online far outweigh the negatives. You can clear the house, earn money, make online friends, and have fun while doing it. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the topic too.


Have I scared you away from buying and selling online? What are some of the good and bad experiences you’ve had buying and selling online? Do you have any tips to protect yourself from would-be scammers?

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