Woman taking a photo of shirt to sell online

Protect Yourself from Identity Theft While Selling Online

By the Mercury Team

Whether you’re looking to declutter your home or make a few bucks on items you don’t need anymore, selling online tends to be easier than organizing a garage sale or hunting down a local consignment store. Platforms like Facebook Marketplace, eBay, and Craiglist simplify creating a listing and communicating with interested buyers. While selling online comes with its perks, you need to remember there are still crooks out there, especially on the internet. 

Many online sellers fall victim to identity theft, one of the fastest-growing crimes in the country. According to the Federal Trade Commission, reports of identity theft skyrocketed to nearly 1.4 million in 2020, more than double the number in 2019. Keep reading to learn more about identity theft and how to sell online safely.

What is Identity Theft?

Identity theft is when someone steals your personal or financial information to commit fraud. Typically, criminals obtain your Social Security number, credit card number, or bank account information. This sensitive data allows them to make unauthorized purchases or transactions, steal your tax refund, open new credit lines, or use your insurance to receive medical treatments, among other fraudulent activities.

The Most Common Methods of Online Identity Theft

Criminals use several methods to steal your sensitive information online. Here are some of the most common identity theft examples:


Phishing is when a cybercriminal attempts to trick you into giving them your personal information via email or text. Criminals usually pose as legitimate organizations in these messages, asking you to open an attachment or click on a link. Ignore unsolicited emails and text messages requesting sensitive information.

Using Public Wi-Fi

Don’t use free public Wi-Fi for shopping, banking, or performing any sensitive transactions. Hackers have easier access to your personal information when you connect to these unsecured networks. They may also deceive you by creating fake Wi-Fi hotspots that look legitimate.

Fake Online Profiles

Scammers often use fake profiles on social media or other platforms to swindle you into providing sensitive data. For example, they might pretend to be working for an insurance company or bank and ask for your personal information. Crooks may also lure you into a fake online relationship via a dating app or website and eventually ask for financial help or gifts.


Cybercriminals can fool you into downloading malicious software — or malware — onto your computer to access information on that device. Update your computer operating system often and consider installing security software to protect you from malware attacks. 

How to Prevent Identity Theft Online

Here are some of the ways you can protect yourself from identity theft:

  • Go through your credit card and bank statements thoroughly each month.
  • Report suspicious activity and transactions to your bank or credit card company as soon as possible.
  • Inspect your credit report at least once a year. Contact the credit bureau if there are any questionable entries.
  • Shred receipts, account statements, and other documents displaying any personal or financial information.
  • Create strong, complex passwords.
  • Always change your password whenever a company you have an account with suffers a data breach.
  • Install firewalls and virus-detection software.
  • Use a virtual private network (VPN) if you connect to public Wi-Fi.
  • Unless you trust that person or business, don’t share personal information such as your Social Security number, bank account number, or birthdate.
  • Don’t click on suspicious emails and links.
  • When possible, activate multi-factor authentication, which requires you to enter your log-in credentials and a secret code sent to your phone or another device.

How to Sell Things Online Safely

Whether you’re selling items on Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, eBay, or some other online platform, keep these tips in mind to ensure you don’t get scammed.

  • Make sure your ad sticks to the facts of the item you’re selling. Don’t post any sensitive information like your phone number or home address.
  • Show photos of only the item. Make sure house numbers, license plate numbers, and family members are out of the pictures.
  • Don’t use your personal email or phone number. Create a dedicated email address for selling online or use a temporary number app like Burner to communicate with the buyer.
  • Don’t interact with a buyer who claims to be from another area. There is a good chance they are a scammer.
  • If you can easily transport your item, always meet in a public place during daylight hours. Bring along a friend or family member for extra security. A police station or bank is an excellent place to meet up.
  • If you have a bulky item that’s hard to transport — e.g., piano or sofa — try to move it to your driveway or front lawn. Don’t invite the buyer inside. The less they see your house, the better.
  • Accept only cash if you’re meeting locally. Cash is still one of the safest ways to receive money from a stranger. Other payment methods, like personal or cashier’s checks, could be fraudulent.
  • Get shipping insurance. If you’re shipping your item and the buyer claims the item was damaged, shipping insurance will help cover that loss.
  • Require a signature at delivery. This helps prevent the buyer from falsely claiming they never received the item.
  • Trust your gut. If communication between you and the buyer seems strange, stop all contact.

The dangers of identity theft and cyber-attacks are everywhere. Mercury offers both Identity Management Services and Home Cyber Protection to help protect your online presence. Get a fast, free quote and sign up for these services today!

Mercury Team

The Mercury Marketing Team is made up of professionals in the fields of Content Creation, Public Relations and Social Media. The team works together to deliver professionally written and researched content to provide information for consumers.

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