Trash or treasure: are garage sales good deals?

By Dennis Horton 
Better Business Bureau 

Starting with today’s column I will be bringing you, on a bi-weekly basis, information from the Rockford Regional Office of the Better Business. I’ll try to provide you with topics on marketplace and consumer issues that are beneficial or in some cases harmful; either way my goal is to help you be an informed consumer.

This week it’s all about garage sales. You can see them everywhere – signs for garage, yard, and rummage sales.  They pop-up like blades of grass in cities, suburbs, and in rural areas. Looking for a bargain these sales draw buyers from near and far.  But the Better Business Bureau (BBB) wants you to know, whether you are a buyer or seller, you can get ripped-off.

Regardless of what it’s called, on either side of the sales table, there are people who are scammers so it’s important to know the tricks of the garage sale con artist and also what it takes to be a savvy garage sale shopper.


Know what you are buying. There are certain items you should never buy at a garage sale, no matter how much you might save. Bike/motorcycle helmets, child car seats and infant cribs should all be bought new. There’s no way of knowing if they’ve been damaged and poorly repaired or if they no longer meet safety standards. If you have any concerns about purchasing items, refer to the Consumer Product Safety Commission website at, where you can find lists of recalled items and unsafe products.

For these products always search and shop for accredited businesses at

  • Is it really cheaper in the long run? If you’re looking for a big ticket item, remember many garage sale items – including jewelry, expensive dishware, furniture, TVs, etc. – may look cheap, but could be very costly if items break down or are not what they appear to be. Always consider the value of the safety and satisfaction you will get buying a higher ticket item with a warranty at a BBB Accredited Business.
  • Try before you buy. This is especially true with electronics and mechanical items.  Be sure to plug them in and test them before purchasing. When buying anything battery-operated, be sure to check the battery compartment for corrosion.
  • Talk to the seller. If you’re looking for a specific item, ask the seller directly if they have it. You’ll avoid wasting time and potentially buying items you don’t need.
  • Get a receipt. Always ask for a written receipt of any item of a refundable value and get any implied verbal guarantee in writing.
  • Beware of accepting bills larger than $20. Counterfeiters can use untrained merchants as easier targets to unload fake currency.
  • Purchase a counterfeit money detection pen. It’s a small investment to help you to be sure any large bills are the real thing. Always report fake currency.
  • Don’t let people into your home. If you’re holding a Garage sale avoid allowing anyone you don’t know into your home.  They may be nice and polite, and also be looking for valuables to steal then or later on during a break in.
  • Keep the event in your yard.  If possible, keep your garage closed and make your garage sale more of a yard or driveway sale. Lots of homes have access to the main house from the garage, lock it up.

To find trustworthy businesses at no cost and for more important consumer information visit Also like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and add us on Pinterest.

Dennis Horton is Director, of the Rockford Regional Office of the Better Business Bureau.

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