Best safety and security tips

Best garage sale safety and security tips

Unfortunately there will always be that element of risk when dealing with strangers. There is the risk to you, to them and to your property. Incidences can be accidental or intentional. These tips will help you minimize the risks.

Don't leave electrical appliances and tools plugged in or batteries in battery-powered tools

People may trip over the power cords or pull the appliance down onto other things. Children (or some unsupervised adults) might accidentally turn something on - like a circular saw! Oops, I think you're going to need more than that box of tissues.

Keep your yard and garage clear of hazards

This includes tripping hazards, low tree branches, unstable tables, large objects on the edge of tables, etc.

Don't include your address in your ads or flyers

Apart from the reasons mentioned in the other sections, without an address, you don't need to worry about being a target for burglars before your sale.

Always have at least two adults present during your garage sale

Three would be better as there will be times during the day when one person will need to quickly drive around and check the signs are still up or prepare lunch, etc.

Be visible

Resist the urge to go inside when there is no-one around. You may miss some customers and some of your merchandise while you are all inside.

Position yourself at the front of your garage in view of the street

Apart from helping to make sure your garage sale doesn't look deserted (a bad sign to people as they slowly drive by) it is safer for you than being at the back of your garage sale where you can't be seen from the street.

Don't block the view to your front door or side gate

Don't hang clothes up or position a large cupboard so that you can't see who is loitering at your front door, side gate or other items for sale in your yard.



Be vigilant

Thieves often work in pairs or groups where one will try to distract you while the other will steal small valuable items or your cash box. Quite often they'll be there with the early birds while you are trying to set up or during the rush when you have 10-12 shoppers all haggling over prices, so be vigilant.

Another technique I have heard being used is a person will ask something to try to get you to go inside while they help themselves to your tables. They might say they're looking for any sort of jewelery (perhaps you have some that you hadn't considered selling until you heard how much they were prepared to spend) or that they like fixing things and are keen to buy any old televisions, computers or broken electronics (that you were planning to throw out and so hadn't included in your sale).

If you go inside, always make sure you let one of your helpers know so they can keep an eye on things while you are inside.

How to deal with a suspected pilferer

If you suspect someone is trying to steal something from your tables, make yourself visible by walking around tidying up and re-arranging items. Ask what they are interested in and whether you can help. The close scrutiny will dissuade them from trying anything.

Lock up the house

Always keep your house locked and no windows left open and be careful not to lock yourself out!

Never allow anyone to go inside your house

If they need a toilet (even for a child), direct them to the nearest gas station, fast food restaurant or shopping mall. Have a sign up saying NO RESTROOM AVAILABLE may avoid you having to refuse a request. If they want to try on some clothes, have a full-length mirror outside that they can use.

Watch out for people who are wearing a fanny pack

Most serious buyers will be wearing a fanny pack but one might be there to pretend to be the owner and sell some of your items pocketing the cash!



Try to only have one person as the designated money-person

Having only one person designated to handle the money prevents a shopper claiming that they paid for the item with someone else or you asking a customer twice for payment.

Always check what's being bought

If someone tries to help by totaling a number of items for you and just gives you the total, always have a quick look through the items to make sure they haven't slipped a high value item in there without including its correct price.

Use your Inventory Record to check what's being bought

If you have an Inventory Record handy on a clipboard, each time you make a sale check the id number on the price tag to your list to ensure the correct tag is on the item and hasn't been swapped with a cheaper price tag.

Don't accept a check or payment other than cash

There isn't any way for you to know if there are funds available or if the check was written on a closed account. If they don't have enough cash on them, tell them where the nearest ATM is.

Try not to accept deposits

If you accept a deposit, try not to miss out on a sale

If you do accept a deposit, and you have enquiries from others later, make a note of their name and phone number so you can ring them if the original buyer doesn't complete the sale.

Don't be too nice to customers by helping to carry out their large purchase

This is a tough one. Be careful if you're asked to help take something out to the person's car and/or load it for them. This can take more time than you would like, leaves your garage sale one person down and you may miss a sales opportunity.

This distraction may also be what the 'buyer' wants to happen while an accomplice helps themselves to your merchandise.

The buyer might also come back claiming that you didn't load all their purchases and they'll want a refund for the 'missing' items. They could be right because it's unlikely you can remember their exact purchases. They could also be trying to con you. You could test them by saying "You're the third person to try that stunt today and it won't work". Chances are that if they're trying to con you they won't be bothered to try to get away with a $5 con.

If you have other shoppers browsing, be clear that you can only offer a quick help (if you have helpers to mind the store) or that you can spend more time later when it's less busy. I've been caught a couple of times. Once where the person needed me to help re-arrange their full trunk trying to fit in the chair they bought. Another time was to help them retie down their trailer.



Protect yourself with these signs

To protect yourself and in case a customer comes back later wanting their money back, display these signs prominently:

Also, don't put yourself in a position where you may get an unhappy customer:

Advise your local community crime watch leader

Not only will they pass on security tips but they may also help spread the word that you are having a garage sale to other residents.

Having said all that - don't be put off. It's unlikely that these things will happen to you but it's better to be safe than sorry.

Best tips when handling money

Don't use a cash box

It is too easy to steal. Instead, wear a money belt/fanny pack or carpenter's 3 pocket apron on you at all times.

If you do use a cash box - make sure it's lockable and not transparent

Don't use a transparent plastic cash box because people can see the money inside and may be tempted. Make sure you keep it locked at all times.

If you do use a lockable and not transparent cash box - secure it to a table

Attach it to the leg of the table with a strong cord or chain. It won't stop someone grabbing and running off with it but it will sure slow them down dragging the table behind them. It may make them think twice about trying it in the first place.

Don't accept personal checks unless you know the person very well

Even then, it may be less embarrassing if the check bounces later to just not accept checks at all.



Watch out for counterfeit bills

Get familiar with how various bills (especially $20) look and feel. When a bill is handed to you, quickly check the security features, color and quality of the printing. If possible, discretely compare the size of the bill with another similar one. Consider buying one or two types of counterfeit detector pens to check the paper used or for counterfeit ink printed on washed or bleached $1, $5, or $10 bills.

Be suspicious if someone tries to buy something for $10 with a $100 bill! Why do they only have $100 bills at a garage sale? Same applies with $50's too. If someone tries to use a $100 or $50 bill for a small purchase, politely say "Sorry, this is a garage sale, not a bank. I won't have enough change left for other customers."

While there have been reports of counterfeit bills being used in garage sales, busy and dark locations with constantly moving traffic, like bars and restaurants, are more popular targets though.

You can find more information at these sites:

Avoid 'confusion' when handling money (1)

When someone hands you a bill to make a purchase, leave the bill out in view (may be under something heavy to stop it blowing away) until you've given them their change. This will help clear up any 'confusion' when they claim they gave you a larger bill.

Avoid 'confusion' when handling money (2)

Another strategy is put it in an empty front pocket of your money apron. After you have given their change and they have left, you can safely take it out and put it in another pocket with the other bills. This way, even if they are half way down your drive when they come back to 'query' the change you gave them, you can put your hand in the apron pocket and show them the bill and that there aren't any other bills in there either. It isn't perfect as it's still their word against yours but the fact that it's the only bill in the pocket weakens their argument.

Avoid 'confusion' when handling money (3)

When accepting the payment, always say aloud the details of the transaction.

"OK the price was $6 and you have given me $10 so I owe you $4?".

When giving the change, always count out the money so you both can see it's the correct change.



Don't collect a large wad of bills or large bills

Only keep the minimum amount on you. When you start to accumulate too much, discreetly go inside or have your helper go inside and hide the money.

Speaking of money aprons...

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Buy our $h*t apron
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For Sale By Owner apron
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Best tips for personal safety

Always have at least two adults present during your garage sale

Three would be better as there will be times during the day when one person will need to quickly drive around and check the signs are still up or prepare lunch, etc.

Position yourself at the front of your garage in view of the street

Apart from helping to make sure your garage sale doesn't look deserted (a bad sign to people as they slowly drive by) it is safer for you than being at the back of your garage sale where you can't be seen from the street.

Don't include your phone number on signs or give out your phone number

If someone wants to check if an item is still for sale near the end of your garage sale, get their number and ring them. A thief with your number could ring later to check if you are home or not.

Avoid confrontations

If someone is insistent that you short-changed them and are getting aggressive then it isn't worth getting into a physical confrontation over $10 or whatever the amount. Give them the money and send them on their way. Make a note of their description though in case they come back to try it again with another purchase.

If someone is confrontational for some reason, check that it isn't just a tactic to distract you while an accomplice 'pockets' some high-value items. A good way to counter a confrontational person is simply suggest that you will have to contact the Police.

Don't worry about 'shop-stealers'

You won't be able to realistically apprehend someone who you think is shop-stealing. You would be putting yourself at risk physically for little gain. It's better to make yourself visible to your customers by walking around tidying up and re-arranging items (and you'll also be making yourself easily available to make a sale). Ask what they are interested in and whether you can help. The close scrutiny will dissuade them from trying anything.

If something is stolen, it depends on how much it's worth to decide if you should bother filing an insurance claim.

Don't argue with a thief with a weapon!

Nothing is worth your life. If they want you fanny pack, cash box or whatever, immediately throw it gently to them ensuring you keep your distance from them. Hopefully you've been taking money inside when it builds up so there shouldn't be too much to lose. That should keep them happy but if they say there should be more then just tell them that that is all you've sold. It's a garage sale for crying out loud.

Keep a mobile or cell phone on you at all times

Just in case you need to call the police. And make sure it's charged the night before.

Finally, if you are still concerned about safety, don't have it at your own home

Rent space or a table at a community sale or flea market instead. You won't be on your own and no-one will know where you live.