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  • Writer's pictureHannah Beckett

Top 3 Craigslist Scams to Avoid

I think it's pretty obvious at this point that scammers are here to stay. While I can't stop the thirty spam calls I get every day, I can at least do my part in combating scammers by giving my readers the opportunity to spot the scams and head for the hills. Retail scammers love an industry where most of the sales go to people who know nearly nothing about the product, can pay in cash, and are probably too busy to take any real action once the jig is up. Sound familiar, NoVa? Pianos are cash cows for an unfortunately growing number of local scammers, and a lot of those unsuspecting victims end up being my clients. During my years of evaluating hundreds of pianos on Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace, I have walked into many dens filled with potential victims who didn't think to call me first. Here is a list of the top three dens you don't want to find yourself in:

1. The Music Studio Sale

This scam works so well on non-musical parents shopping for a piano for their kid. Most inexperienced piano shoppers only know to ask their piano teacher about pianos, so advertising the piano as coming from a music studio immediately sounds trustworthy to the average parent who knows nothing about pianos. The ad will say something like, "Our music studio is downsizing and we need to sell our instruments." Or, "I'm a piano teacher who sells pianos to my students." The Unsuspecting Parent (UP) thinks, "Oh great, it's coming from a musical person who clearly knows all about musical things." So the UP goes to the "downsizing music studio" or the piano teacher's "house" and finds lots of pianos floating around. UP thinks, "Wow, must have been a big music studio," and then for some reason is not concerned when the "cash-only" discussion comes up. The piano is delivered, UP calls me because it "only needs a tuning", I arrive to find extensive water damage in the piano and then I get to have the super fun convo I like to call, "Sorry, bud, ya got scammed."

If you're an UP, here's some important info to keep in mind when navigating these waters:

First, even IF a music studio is legitimately downsizing and needs to sell inventory, do you really want a piano that has been pounded on for hours a day every day? Institutional pianos get beaten to death far sooner than an in-home piano does. The hours of wear these poor pianos have on them shortens their lifespan and introduces lots of extensive-use issues that you do not want to deal with on a piano for your six year old.

Second, I work for a lot of piano teachers. None of these wonderful people have garages stuffed with pianos for their "students." Any legitimate teacher who is asked about piano sales usually refers their students to a dealership or a technician who can assist them in the shopping process. Piano collecting is not exactly a convenient side hustle for someone who has dedicated their life to music pedagogy.

{A quick side note: When shopping for a piano, do not ask your piano teacher to evaluate a piano you are interested in. Asking your piano teacher to evaluate the function of a piano would be like asking a taxi driver to evaluate the used Honda Civic you're considering. While teachers know a great deal about how to play the piano, their knowledge ends at the keys, which excludes the thousands of parts inside that should be examined with detail before a purchase is made. Call a tech.}

Third, anyone who does not understand the product they sell cannot be trusted to sell a quality product. Most of the people running these "studios" (and I can say this because I have literally been there in person and seen the product) have recognized a way to get rich quick by taking unwanted instruments that have been circling the market, dusting them off, and attaching the teacher approval card to the piano. They have no idea what a piano is and have no business selling these to UPs.

2. The Warehouse Sale

There are LOTS of pictures of pianos on concrete floors with aluminum siding on Craigslist. This is a very visible red flag for piano shoppers. Why? Because pianos need 30%-60% humidity levels to live happy, stable, and structurally-sound lives. If you didn't know already, most homes in NoVa drop far under 30% in the winter and way over 60% in the summer. If your house has humidity levels that are unhealthy for pianos, what kind of shape do you think a piano shoved in a garage or warehouse is in? Right. Big problems. People who store tons of pianos in unregulated environments are selling a product that is instantly compromised. Prolonged exposure to this type of environment leads to major structural failure in a very short amount of time. While the intent may not be outright scamming, this level of irresponsibility is unacceptable, and this rules out about 50% of the pianos that are floating around in the private marketplace.

3. We Can Move It For Free

Have you ever gotten a quote for a professional piano move from a licensed and insured moving company? It's not cheap. You know why? Because pianos like to cause huge amounts of property and bodily harm. Moving a piano the correct way involves education, equipment, and insurance. One wrong move during a piano move can let lose a (minimally) 700 pound box of sustained tension on anyone or anything in the wrong place at the wrong time. Under no circumstances should this be done by someone who is not experienced, licensed, and insured. Anyone claiming to move a cheap piano for free is using shortcuts that at best, only damage the already-damaged piano while en route to your house, and at worst, could lead to extensive damage to your home. If they're willing to scam you in the move, then you've already been scammed at the purchase.

If you're buying a piano private sale, be sure to come to an agreement with the owner on a moving company that will do a professional job. Do not trust someone you don't know to enter your home with an enormous, heavy object. If you are a glutton for real-life horror stories around piano moves, give me a call some time. I have plenty.

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