Watch for These Signs of Scams When Selling a Camera Online

The decision to sell my old camera gear felt a bit like deciding to re-home a puppy. I still had feelings for my Nikon D850, lenses, and flashes, yet I knew they would be happier in a new photographer’s hands. I switched from DSLR to mirrorless several months before and I knew it was time to part with my old system while it still held some value.

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I nearly accepted a trade-in offer twice. But, eager to squirrel some money away before my truck hits 200K miles, I decided to try to sell it outright. Of course, when you sell a camera online, there are a few risks. Chief among them is the risk of being scammed by a buyer. Using a platform with some seller protections helps, but I quickly found out even legitimate selling platforms can be rife with scams. 

After listing my camera kit on both Facebook Marketplace and, later, eBay, I received more scam offers than legitimate ones. By the time I finally sold my gear (one lens to another local wedding photographer and the remainder to a beginner upgrading from a bridge camera), I learned a few things about selling a camera online. Before you sell a camera online, look for these red flags.

Misunderstanding the Platform’s Policies

Before you create an online listing, make sure you understand what protections the platform offers and the requirements for meeting those. eBay, for example, has seller protection but there are some rules, including keeping the entire transaction and all cimmunication entirely within eBay.

Understanding these protections is key to deciding when and where to sell your gear. For example, Facebook Marketplace’s purchase protection doesn’t cover anything over $2,000. When I listed there, I selected the local pickup-only option and refused lucrative offers to ship, many of which were scams.

The Higher the Value, the More Scam Offers You’ll See

I’ve sold items online before, but these were largely outgrown childhood items not worth a large sum of money. As soon as I listed my camera, the scam offers came in quickly and frequently. My theory is that items smaller in value aren’t worth the scammers’ time. The higher the amount you are asking, the more likely it is that you’ll get some scam offers.

Scammers Often Have a Sob Story

The first offer that came in begged me to ship, even though my Facebook Marketplace listing clearly said local pick-up only. The reason? They were buying it for a nephew’s birthday present and it needed to arrive quickly. Many of the scam offers I received had a similar story — they were purchasing it for someone in their family who was celebrating their birthday or had fallen on hard times.

The average seller won’t tell you their life story.

Scammers Will Often Offer to Pay More

The saying that “if it’s too good to be true, it probably is” applies here. Both on Marketplace and eBay, I received several offers that were more than what I had the gear listed for. These offers can seem legitimate at first glance. eBay’s Best Offer option is made for buyers who want to purchase before a bid ends. Others were making higher offers because they wanted to ship right away and cover the cost of overnight shipping. But, when I added it all up, the offer was more than what the buyer would have paid if they bought each lens and accessory separately. 

Scammers May Ask You to Send an Email

I nearly got scammed out of one particular eBay offer for what, at first glance, seemed like a legitimate request. The buyer asked if I could text or email more photos so that he or she could see that it was in good condition. It sounded like something I would ask, so I emailed a few more photos without even thinking about it. Big mistake. Never take conversations off the selling platform.

By emailing him photos, the scammer then had my email. This person then sent me an email that looked like it had came from eBay saying that the buyer had paid. Of course, this email came with several red flags, starting with the email address and bad grammar. The email was plastered with notes like “eBay sent this message.” It contained a laughable explanation as to why my eBay account wouldn’t show the payment just yet. And the seller had emailed me to check my junk mail folder, which of course was right where the email went. Emailing photos didn’t set off any alerts, but that email had blaring alarm bells. I reported the seller, re-listed the item, and got the exact same offer from a different account, which I rejected.

So, What Happened to My Poor D850?

I eventually did sell my camera online for more than the trade-in value. However, it took a few weeks and a lot of wasted time on scammers. I sold my 24-70mm f2.8 lens on Facebook Marketplace, where I did a local meet in a busy public location for a cash payment. The rest also sold on Marketplace weeks after first listing it at a similar local meetup with safety precautions. I still felt a bit like I had found a puppy a new home, but I feel better knowing that my D850 went to a photographer who will cherish it as much as I did. I did receive some legitimate offers on eBay, but after eBay fees they would have been less than the trade-in value. What an item is listed for isn’t necessarily what it is selling for.

Would I sell a camera online again? That depends. I ended up with about $1,000 more than the trade-in value for selling a camera and four lenses. But, if the math equates to only a few hundred dollars difference, I would probably save myself the hassle and the risk, opting instead to trade with a reputable retailer.

Hillary Grigonis

Hillary K. Grigonis is a photographer and tech writer based in Michigan. She shoots weddings and portraits at Hillary K Photography. A mother of three, she enjoys hiking, camping, crafting, and reading.