5 Red Flags to Avoid When Buying Secondhand Items

Craigslist. Freecycle. Facebook Marketplace. Goodwill. Your local consignment shop. Yard sales. All of these are wonderful places to pick up used items at a low price, which can really help out your bottom line.

There’s a catch, though: Not everything that’s used is exactly what it seems. Sometimes, you’ll buy something used, take it home and find that it’s far more trouble than it’s worth.

Here are five signs that you shouldn’t invest your money in a used item.

[See: 12 Shopping Tricks to Keep You Under Budget.]

It smells bad. Nearly everyone has smelled items that repelled them, made them cough or sick to their stomach. Items that smell of cigarettes, mold or old pets can be truly repulsive, and you don’t want that at home. If your nose says no, you’re better off leaving the item alone and letting someone else pick up that “bargain.”

The issue with a smelly used item is that when you bring it home, that smell is going to fill your living space. It is likely that the smell will be something you can never fully remove, which means it’s going to be a persistent issue in your home. Even if you can get rid of the aroma, which is never a guarantee, it’s probably going to take a lot of additional work. Plus, a smelly item can be indicative of other issues, such as hidden mold.

[See: 10 Money-Saving Websites to Check Before Shopping.]

It’s an older item that you intend to use to handle or hold food or drink. Older items can make wonderful decorative pieces, but you should be very careful about using older items for actual food preparation and serving.

The big reason is that older dishes were often made or finished with materials, such as lead, that were later discovered to be poisonous or harmful for those who have repeated contact with them. Many older crystal dishes and older enameled items have significant amounts of lead in them, and lead is a known carcinogen, something you don’t want to be eating off of on a regular basis.

Pick up that beautiful older dish as a vase or as a decorative item, but if you’re looking for dishes to use in your kitchen, stick with newer stuff. You can still buy them used, but avoid anything that looks particularly old.

You’re not able to plug in an electronic device and verify that it works as advertised. This is a great rule to follow: Never buy anything that can be plugged in unless you can plug it in first.

Why? If you take that item home and plug it in, only to discover that it doesn’t work, you usually have no recourse. You’re stuck with this broken item that you paid good money for, and unless the seller is kind, he will probably just shrug his shoulders.

Never buy a used item that you can plug in without testing first. If you do, you’re begging to be stuck with a broken piece of junk and less money in your pocket.

[Read: Secret Ways to Save More at Secondhand Stores.]

The seller wants any amount of money without handing over the item. Used item sales are extremely common tools for scammers to rip off people, and one of the most common ways to pull off that scam is to convince the buyer to give the seller some money in advance without receiving the item. This often happens with online sales but can sometimes involve mail fraud as well.

You almost never have a clear contract with the seller and, most of the time, you don’t have any real way to contact the seller or confirm his or her identity. If you give that person money without any sort of item in return, there’s a good chance that the fraudster will vanish with your money.

Don’t hand over a dime unless the item you’re buying is being directly handed over to you.

You’re going to be sleeping on it. Used mattresses and pillows have a bevy of problems that make them simply not worth buying.

First of all, used mattresses and pillows are often homes for small bugs and other pests, such as bedbugs, which you don’t want in your home. Once they take root in your living space, they can be difficult and expensive to eradicate, and it’s tough to be perfectly confident that a used mattress doesn’t have bedbugs or another type of pest infestation.

Second, used mattresses often have worn out springs, which means that it can be difficult to get a good night’s sleep on a used mattress. A bad mattress can cause back problems and other issues that you don’t want in your daily life.

Simple solution: Don’t buy used mattresses or pillows, no matter how good the “deal” is.

If you follow these five strategies, you’ll avoid many problems that come with buying used items.

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5 Red Flags to Avoid When Buying Secondhand Items originally appeared on usnews.com