As the recent popularity of Marie Kondo’s decluttering show demonstrates, a lot of us have more stuff than we really want or need. Turning things we don’t need into money (which we almost always do need) is a popular option, using established sites like eBay, Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace or their mobile-centric competitor, OfferUp.
The app-driven convenience of OfferUp makes it a strong challenger to the older, better-established selling platforms, but new users invariably want to know, “Is OfferUp safe?” The answer to that question, as with the other services, boils down to a qualified “yes.”
How OfferUp Works
OfferUp’s basic premise is pretty simple. You start by downloading the app from the Play Store or App Store; you’re guided through setting up an account; and then you’re ready to either list products to sell or browse for products to buy. The company boasts that you can be up and running in under 30 seconds.
The app includes secure messaging between buyers and sellers, to provide a measure of safety and anonymity. The app and the OfferUp community are primarily centered around in-person buying and selling, like a virtual version of an old-school garage sale, but there is also an in-app shipping option for making purchases outside of your own geographic area.
The company makes its money by charging a small percentage on those shipping fees and by offering sellers the opportunity to make their listing more visible in exchange for a fee.
So Is OfferUp Safe?
Unfortunately, wherever people meet to buy and sell, someone will inevitably want to get their hands on the money or the goods by cheating. At its simplest, this might mean they’ve misrepresented the product by lying about its condition or its history. At worst, you might be scammed with a fake payment or outright robbed at gunpoint.
In its July 2020 report on consumer complaints, the Consumer Federation of America ranked both fraud and internet sales in its Top 10 list of complaints, and these also accounted for two of the three fastest growing complaints. The bottom line? As always, it’s “buyer (or seller) beware,” and OfferUp offers numerous tools and guidelines to provide you with a safe and lucrative experience on the app.
It starts, of course, with user ratings. Users with a lengthy history and high ratings are generally safer to buy from. The company also offers the optional TruYou identity verification process, meaning they’ve vetted those buyers and sellers and believe them to be who they say they are. Finally, like other online sellers, OfferUp has partnered with police forces and retail businesses across the country to provide safe, on-camera meet-up spots to complete your in-person transactions.
Spotting OfferUp Scams & Dangerous Transactions
Protecting yourself also extends to being familiar with the most common OfferUp scams. For the most part, these aren’t new. Human nature is a pretty consistent thing, and tactics that work well for scammers on one platform usually adapt well to another. The good news is that it makes scams easier to spot, and any advice you’ve read for detecting scams on Craigslist or other sites is equally applicable on OfferUp.
A few important red flags include:
On any platform, from dating sites to classifieds sites, persuading you to go off-site and communicate directly is one of the scammer’s first tactics. Protecting users is a core part of the business model for any site or app like OfferUp, which is why authorities like the Better Business Bureau strongly recommend you keep all contact on-platform.
If you’re meeting in person, you can accept cash. Checks take time to clear your bank, so giving your product right now in exchange for a check that might bounce or be outright fraudulent is a bad idea. If your buyer (or seller) claims to be nonlocal, and wants to make payment arrangements outside of the OfferUp app, that’s among the biggest and reddest of flags. Just don’t do it.
Seller/Buyer Is Shifty About Where and When to Meet
If the buyer won’t commit to a face-to-face meeting, or insists on meeting at an unusual time or out-of-the-way place, that’s a high-risk transaction. It might be legit, but why take the chance?
Photos Are Bogus
Many sellers include a photo in their profile, and listings generally show photos of the item for sale. You can use common Catfish-catching tactics like Google’s reverse image search feature to verify that the photo is indeed of a real person who lives in your area. It will also tell you whether the photo of that suspiciously good-condition item has been swiped from an online source and is therefore bogus.
Too Good to Be True
That designer-worthy apartment for $200 less than anything else in your area? The shiny new iPad, “bought last week,” that’s selling for half the retail price? Your mom was right: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Do Your Due Diligence
The bottom-line rule for dealing safely on OfferUp is to exercise due diligence, just as you would for any other transaction. If something doesn’t look or sound right, dig into it and look for clarification.
If you’re uncertain the photo in the listing is legitimate, for example, press the seller for additional photos from other angles. If they can and do oblige, you know they actually have the item in their possession (and the photos will show if its condition is as described). If you reverse search the seller’s photo, you might find them on social media. With a real name, or a social media username, you can turn to Spokeo’s people search tools to learn more about this person you’re dealing with. If those details don’t coincide with the information the seller (or buyer) gave you, that’s a clear sign of danger.
If you have already begun to communicate off-site before reading this, it’s not too late to claw back a bit of security. Use Spokeo’s tools to search the phone number, email address or social media identity you’ve been given. If the person appears to be legitimate, well and good: If not, you’re forewarned and can break off negotiations. Should the potential scammer persist in contacting you, you’ll also be in a position to report their real identity to law enforcement.
Knowing these danger signs and using the tools at your disposal (including Spokeo) to avoid unsavory buyers and sellers will help make your experience on OfferUp a pleasant and profitable one.