How to Use Selling Apps Safely, Online, and In-Person

Sell your used stuff online and stay safe while doing it

Photo of a woman with sale signs above her head.

Petr Kratochvil /

Along with eBay, Craigslist, and Facebook Marketplace, there are a ton of cool apps to sell stuff you no longer need, like Letgo and Offerup.

We can break these apps down into two basic categories:

  • Apps for selling items locally: These apps include Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace and focus more on advertising your article, which means doing the exchange and getting paid is largely left up to you.
  • Apps for selling items online: If you go the eBay route or use a similar service like Reverb, you'll generally need to ship your item to the customer, but the app should help take care of the payment itself.

With so many ways to hold a digital garage sale, it's just as important to learn how to use these buy and sell apps safely, including how to sell an item in-person or what to know when selling online.

General Tips to Stay Safe With Selling Apps

We'll start with some basic tips that apply to both types of apps. No matter which app you use, there will be some common factors. You'll probably be posting a picture of the item along with a description. You may also receive inquiries about the item, even requests for more photos. Here are a few guidelines to follow:

  • Don't give out your real email address: The message system embedded within selling apps not only allow you to keep your email address private, but they also keep a record of the entire discussion.
  • "Will not respond to messages that don't mention the item in the body of the message." This is a good sentence to add to the end of the item's description and a great rule of thumb. This will help you avoid phishing scams from people or bots that have no interest in your item.
  • "Will only sell to people with multiple reviews and good feedback." This is another common sentence to add to an item's description. If you're selling something inexpensive, you won't need to go this far, but for expensive items, ensuring the buyer has successfully bought items from the app before and received positive feedback is a good idea.
  • Remove that geotag: If you're posting a picture of an expensive item, make sure any photos you post don't have a geotag. A geotag stores information, including the location the photo was taken.

How to Remain Safe When Meeting up in Person

Apps like Craigslist are great because you can get paid immediately, but meeting up with someone for an exchange can be stressful, especially if you have high-value and highly-portable items like a smartphone or tablet. You should pick the location of the exchange carefully, avoiding parking lots and even public places like restaurants. 

Even if a person arrives, buys your item, and you watch them leave in their car, a second person could be waiting to follow you home. So how do you stay safe?

A picture of two safe exchange parking spots at a police station.
 Carrolton Police Department
  • Meet at a police station: Many police departments now have a safe area for exchanges. If your local police department doesn't have a designated area, they may let you do the exchange in the lobby of the building.
  • Meet inside your bank: This is great for small expensive items. Not only are there a lot of cameras inside of banks, but you can also deposit the money immediately.  
  • Meet at the food court of a mall. If you absolutely must meet somewhere, the inside of a mall is ideal. It's big, it's crowded, and it is hard to be secretly followed.
  • Bring a friend: This is always a good idea. However, you should still avoid parking lots, coffee houses, and similar public areas.
  • Do not ship your item: The meet up may be scary, but there are plenty of scams involving having the item shipped, including the buyer reversing their PayPal payment. If you're going to ship the item, use an app like eBay.