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10 eBay Scams to Be Aware Of

eBay is a great idea on paper, and I’ve had good experiences using the site, but the growing prevalence of eBay scammers has turned it into a shady marketplace. I don’t feel safe on eBay anymore.

But sometimes you don’t have a choice. As a buyer, some items can only be found on eBay, and as a seller, eBay might be the most profitable platform for you to sell on. If you must use eBay, then you must be wary of eBay scams.

Here are the most common eBay scams to know about: three as a buyer, six as a seller, and one that applies to all eBay users.

3 eBay Scams to Avoid as a Buyer

In general, eBay buyers have less to worry about because eBay tends to side with buyers in disputes. Buyers don’t need much evidence to claim foul play—in most cases, eBay will take you at your word. But there are still a few ways you can be taken advantage of. 

1. Seller Runs Off With Your Money

The Scam

The scam is simple: you send payment and nothing happens.

For most listings, the eBay Money Back Guarantee protects you if the seller never actually ships you the item. But there are several categories of items that aren’t covered by the eBay Money Back Guarantee:

  • Vehicles
  • Real estate
  • Items sold by Sotheby’s
  • Websites and businesses for sale
  • Classified ads
  • Services
  • Some kinds of business equipment

Note that these don’t include many of the best-selling items on eBay; rather, these tend to be high-value transactions, typically in the range of thousands of dollars. It’s reasonable for eBay to make exceptions for these kinds of items.

How to Avoid It

Even if you check the seller’s feedback and it looks overwhelmingly positive, you can never be sure that such items aren’t scams. They might be playing the long con: building up a spectacular rating over tons of tiny transactions, then scamming you out of this one huge transaction.Advertisement

All you can do is avoid shopping in categories that aren’t covered by eBay’s Money Back Guarantee.

2. Seller Ships With an Incorrect Name

The Scam

The seller puts up a normal listing, usually with a Buy Now option but not always. When you purchase it, the seller properly ships the package to your address but mangles the name, making you think that you received someone else’s package.

So you return the package to the post office, as any good citizen would do. Unfortunately, this marks your package as “Refused” or “Returned,” and that voids the eBay Money Back Guarantee.Advertisement

The money that you sent to the seller is now his to keep, and you have nothing to show for it. The worst part? This counts as a resolved dispute and you can’t leave feedback after dispute resolutions.

How to Avoid It

There are no good options here. The best one, which might be ethically gray, is to open all packages that come to your house as long as: you’re expecting a package, the address matches, and the tracking says delivered.

3. Seller Literally Sells an Empty Box

The Scam

The seller puts up a listing, usually for a hot new item with a lot of mainstream buzz (e.g. new smartphone model, new gaming console, etc.). The price is set to far below market value. The hope is that you’ll see the listing and get so excited that you rush to buy it before someone else does.

Unfortunately, the listing clearly states that the seller is only selling the box for said item. When it arrives, you open the package and splutter with excitement—only to realize the box itself is empty and you’ve been bamboozled.

How to Avoid It

Never rush to buy items on an open marketplace. Always read through a listing before committing. You might be able to dispute the purchase if the seller intentionally hides the fact that it’s just a box. But if the first line of the item description explicitly states that the listing is for the box only, then you may not win a dispute.

6 eBay Scams to Avoid as a Seller

Sellers definitely deal with the bulk of all problems on eBay. It’s far too easy for scammers to hit sellers without much fear of repercussions, so if you want to stay safe, you can only rely on yourself.

1. Buyer Offers to Overpay

The Scam

A buyer contacts you and offers to pay a lot more money than you’re asking for your item. They’ll send an empty cashier’s check or a bogus personal check, neither of which will clear. By then, you’ve already sent the item and it’s too late.

This one is easy to fall for because the promise of extra money is just too hard to resist. Who wouldn’t be enticed by the offer of $500 on a laptop listed at $300?

How to Avoid It

Never send items until you have the money in hand or in the bank. Note that when you deposit a check, it may appear in your bank account right away but can take up to two weeks for it to be marked as “bounced.” To be safe, wait until you know for sure. To be safer, never accept checks of any kind on eBay.

A similar scam also happens outside of eBay, so keep your eyes peeled for it. Any time someone wants to send you more money than necessary and requests that you pay some of it back (or to someone else), you can be sure the check is bogus and won’t clear.

For help pricing your items correctly, take a look at ways to estimate eBay prices and find what items are worth.

2. Buyer Wants to Settle Outside eBay

The Scam

If your listing is an auction, you may get a buyer who offers to pay an immediate amount as long as you close the listing and settle outside of eBay. You oblige. It seems like everything went fine, but soon they’ll complain to eBay that your item was defective or false or non-existent.

You can try to dispute it, but eBay won’t help you. eBay can’t know about anything that happened outside of eBay, so they will only help you if all communications and transactions went through eBay’s platform.

How to Avoid It

Never agree to move beyond eBay, even for a quick buck. When communicating with buyers, always do so through eBay’s channels. That way, eBay can easily verify the buyer’s messages for things like intent to defraud.

3. Buyer Claims You Shipped an Empty Box

The Scam

The buyer purchases one of your listings as normal. You ship the item to the buyer as normal. When he receives the item, he opens an eBay dispute and claims that you sent him an empty box. eBay forces a return, the buyer ships back the empty box, and keeps the item that was inside.

How to Avoid It

Check the buyer’s feedback history, which may indicate potential problems. If you contact eBay, they’ll tell you to appeal the dispute. You’ll need all the evidence you can muster (e.g. photo proof that you actually shipped the item), and anything less than comprehensive proof will rule in the buyer’s favor.

To be safe, always photograph the entire process of packing and shipping every item you sell through eBay. The more proof you keep, the safer you’ll be.

4. Buyer Threatens Refund With Broken Replica

The Scam

You’re selling a used item that’s in relative high demand, such as an iPhone 6 Plus. The buyer purchases it from you, but before they do, they have an exact replica of the item—except it’s broken or damaged.

You ship it, they receive it, and then complain to eBay that you sent a defective item. If you can’t prove that you sent a working item, they’ll get their money back and you’ll be out an iPhone 6 Plus.

How to Avoid It

Record all unique details of the item before you ship it: serial number, IME number, etc. This may not always be possible, but when it is, it can help you win any disputes against you.

5. Buyer Claims “Item Not Received” to PayPal

The Scam

When selling with PayPal, you are covered by PayPal Seller Protection. However, to be protected, you must have proof of delivery for all items. For transactions under $750, delivery confirmation is enough. For over $750, you must have signature confirmation of delivery.

Scammers know that most non-business sellers on eBay aren’t aware of this prerequisite. The scammer purchases an item worth over $750 through PayPal, then claim the item wasn’t received. If you can’t provide signature confirmation of delivery, you have no protection.

How to Avoid It

Always track your shipments, and for sales over $750, always get signature confirmation of delivery. It’s a small price to pay for peace of mind and protection against scammers.

6. Buyer Issues a Chargeback

The Scam

Whether using a credit card or PayPal, buyers can always reverse a transaction using a chargeback. A chargeback is essentially a forced refund: the bank (or PayPal) cancels a transaction, taking the money back from you and returning it to the buyer.

Not only that, but you’ll usually get hit with a chargeback fee. In the US, PayPal’s chargeback fee is $20 per transaction. Banks typically have a chargeback fee between $15 and $25 per transaction.

Unfortunately, chargebacks are notoriously easy to initiate. A buyer only needs to raise suspicion that you’ve done something wrong, and most banks (and PayPal) will tend to go through with it, no questions asked.

How to Avoid It

PayPal Seller Protection does guard you against frivolous chargebacks, so make sure you adhere to all the rules and regulations therein.

As for banks, all chargebacks are followed up with an investigation. If you can show documented proof that the transaction was valid, you may be able to overturn the chargeback.

Note that if a buyer politely requests a refund and you can’t convince them otherwise, it’s always in your best interest to issue the refund. If they’re desperate, they’ll resort to a chargeback and you’ll eat the fees.

And One More eBay Scam to Avoid…

The Scam

You receive an email that looks like an official notice from eBay. It might ask you to do one of many things: review your security details, update your password, confirm a recent purchase or sale, etc. What’s important is that the email includes a link to log into your account.

This fraudulent link takes you to a copycat website that looks like the real eBay website. You try to log in, but it doesn’t work. Too late! The website now knows the login credentials you just typed in, and the scammer will use it to access your actual eBay account.

How to Avoid It

This technique of impersonating a website and getting you to give up your login credentials is called phishing. Learn how to spot a phishing email so you never fall for one of these again.

Furthermore, never click on links in emails! Never. Even if the link looks legitimate. Fake links are extremely easy to insert, and you can never really know if an email is real because email headers can be spoofed. To be safe, always type in URLs by hand.


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