How to recognize and avoid eBay scams

Scammers will use any available platform to trick innocent people out of their money or goods, and eBay is no exception. The online auction site launched in 1995, and scammers have used it ever since. eBay involves a lot of trust on behalf of the buyer and the seller, but it’s relatively easy for that trust to be exploited. The company has put in some safeguards, but you can do a lot to protect yourself as an eBay user.

This guide will tell you about the most common eBay scams, what to look for, and how to protect yourself.  Some are targeted at buyers, others at sellers. If you have been scammed, we’ll show you the steps you can take to report it.

Getting scammed as an eBay buyer

Buying products through eBay is usually straightforward, but some scammers work to defraud innocent people who are just trying to get a good deal. Remember that if an offer looks too good to be true, it probably is. Here are three of the most common eBay scams for eBay buyers.

Non-delivery scam

An eBay money-back guarantee protects buyers from fraudulent sellers, save for some exclusions. The following is a list of items that are not covered, which means the seller can accept payment, fail to send the item, and then you as the buyer have no recourse through the eBay website. Be cautious when purchasing items from the following list:

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

Seller ships with deliberately incorrect name on label

This scam is clever because the deceit occurs offline after the eBay transaction is complete. After completing the sale normally, the seller will post the package with the correct address but the wrong name. This leads you as the buyer to think you’ve received someone else’s parcel by mistake, and you return it or take it back to the post office. The eBay transaction is listed as refused or returned, the seller gets the product back and keeps the payment, too. There is no way to dispute a transaction once it’s finalized in this way.

The empty box scam

This is a scam to watch for if you are looking for a highly popular item that is generating a lot of media attention, has a limited release, or is difficult to get elsewhere. You may see a coveted item for sale and quickly purchase it, sometimes paying above market price to secure it. Sadly, in the rush, you may have failed to notice that the listing only specified the box the item came in, not the item itself. You end up owning expensive packaging, without the desired product.

Counterfeit goods

The downside of buying online is that there is no way to verify the authenticity of the goods before you buy them. Scammers know this and will sometimes offer high quality, brand-name items for sale at a very attractive price. Unfortunately, the items are affordable because they are counterfeit, or ‘knock-off’ replicas.

Payment outside of eBay

eBay’s security systems can only protect buyers and sellers when transactions occur directly on the website. Illegitimate sellers may offer an item for sale but then request that the payment is sent outside of the platform. For example, they may ask for cash, bank transfer, check, money order or even gift cards. Once the scammer has your money through untraceable means, they will stop communicating with you and will not send the item. eBay will not assist with a transaction that occurred beyond its purview.

Getting scammed as an eBay seller

It might come as a surprise, but many eBay scams are not targeted at innocent buyers looking for a good deal. Scammers will often pose as buyers and use consumer protection measures to help them defraud honest sellers. Here are some of the most common ways eBay sellers are scammed.

Private deal offered outside of eBay

A buyer may see your item and offer to pay for it privately rather than using eBay’s official payment channels. They may reason that when sales are conducted offsite the seller (you) can avoid paying transaction fees. You close the listing and send the item, but either they don’t pay, or they dispute the transaction with eBay, claiming the item was broken or that the listing was a fake.

Overpayment offer

If you have an item for sale, a potential buyer may contact you and offer to pay over the asking price for it. At first, it might seem foolish to pass up a generous offer, but often it’s a trap. The buyer will pay with a fraudulent check. You send the item promptly but days later you find that the check bounces, leaving you with nothing.

Changed address

This scam is a new twist on the offer of overpayment. A buyer will offer to purchase your item and send a larger payment than required. They say it’s to cover additional shipping costs, as they suddenly need it sent to a foreign country (often Nigeria, although not always). The scammers will also ask for your PayPal email address. Soon afterward, you’ll be contacted by scammers pretending to be from PayPal, asking for postal tracking numbers. The email will state that the payment will be released to you once you have proven that the goods have been sent. If you’re a trusting person, you may send the item in good faith, assuming the email is authentic. As it’s a scam, you will never see your money or your items again.

Empty box claim

In this case, the purchase may be completed without flaw. The buyer pays quickly, and you send the item without concern. The buyer receives the item but claims you sent an empty box – in other words, accuses you of fraud. eBay will demand a return and the buyer sends the empty box back to you, keeping the item and the money as it’s refunded.

Buyer claims the item wasn’t received

PayPal Seller Protection exists to help sellers trade confidently on eBay. In order for it to work, sellers must provide proof of item delivery. If the shipped item was sold for under $750, delivery notification is adequate proof. If the item is sold for more than $750 the item must have signature delivery proof. Experienced scammers know this and may take advantage of sellers that are unaware of this additional burden of proof requirement. They can claim the item was not received, claim a refund and make off with the expensive item.

Broken replica scam

A buyer happily purchases your item. Once payment is confirmed you ship it promptly. In this scam, the buyer then accuses you of sending a damaged item. They may even provide photos of the broken item. Unfortunately for you, the item is a replica of the one you sent. The buyer can report the item as damaged to eBay and get a refund, leaving you without your item or the payment.

Unwarranted chargeback

A scammer doesn’t have to try very hard to steal your money, as most transaction sites are built to protect the buyer. If you successfully complete a transaction and the buyer pays with a credit card or PayPal, they can easily contact the provider and cancel the transaction. The money will be recovered from you and you will be charged an additional chargeback fee (that’s $20 for PayPal, individual credit card companies vary). The scammer only needs to say they suspect something was wrong and most institutions will chargeback straightaway, regardless of whether they already have the item or what condition it’s in. Disputing the chargeback can take a lot of time and hassle on your behalf.

Feedback extortion

Because eBay functions as an intermediary between private buyers and sellers, the idea of building an online reputation on the site is pretty important. Each transaction creates the opportunity for both buyers and sellers to leave public feedback about the experience. It’s usually not a good idea to trade with accounts that have bad feedback. Knowing this, some scammers will buy from you and then demand money be sent through private means so that negative feedback won’t be left on your account. This is a type of blackmail. As completed feedback can’t be disputed, it places some people in a position where they feel they must comply or risk the integrity of their account.

Avoid being scammed

This looks like a long list but it’s important to be very diligent when buying or selling on the eBay platform. Some of this advice may be second nature to you, or may not apply to all sales. Be aware and act cautiously as financial dealings online can be risky no matter how careful you are.

Never accept checks as payment. It’s very risky as they are often a target for fraud. If you do accept checks, wait until they clear. After you deposit a check, the balance will show in your account, but it can take a week or two to verify. If you send the parcel before the check clears it could leave you with an empty bank account and no item. Always use approved eBay payment methods.

Always complete transactions through eBay’s official channels. Communicate using the service provided. eBay cannot follow up deals made outside of the platform and cannot verify communications or agreements made on private channels. Give yourself every chance of protection by showing eBay you’ve acted in good faith.

Document everything. Make an effort to record the packing and posting of every item, including any tracking numbers used. This will help protect you against baseless fraud claims. eBay will typically side with the buyer, so dispute any claims you think are untrue and back them up with your photographic evidence.

Along with photographing everything, try to record any identifying details about the item. Particularly if the item is expensive, popular, or desirable (such as new cell phones or gaming consoles). Record any serial numbers or unique codes.

Always arrange for a tracking number for any deliveries you send. If the item is worth more than $750, arrange for signature on delivery. This helps to cover you for PayPal Seller Protection (but not necessarily other payment methods available through eBay). Use the highest security tracking you think is appropriate for the value of the item you send. Remember that the more proof you can arrange, the more secure your transaction will be in the case of a fraudulent dispute.

You should be able to dispute a chargeback with the bank if you think it’s fraudulent but be prepared to provide proof. PayPal Seller Protection also has mechanisms to protect against spurious chargebacks, so don’t hesitate to challenge one if you think it’s incorrect. It can also be smart to issue a refund if you have an unhappy customer. It will only cost you the amount of the item, rather than the additional costs of chargeback fees if the customer takes the matter up with their financial institution.

Check to see if the image used to show the item is being used on other listings as well, or if it’s a stock image from the web. If it is, and the seller is unwilling to send other photos or information about the item, it could be a scam and should be avoided.

Compare the price to other similar items. If it’s heavily discounted without good reason (like listed damage for example) it may be a scam or even stolen property. Steer clear.

Investigate the feedback page. If the good feedback is all from sellers for low-priced items, it may be strategic to make the profile look genuine. It may also be an inexperienced seller, so don’t hesitate to open up a conversation about the item within eBay’s messaging system.

There is little you can do to protect yourself if the item isn’t covered by the money back guarantee, so investigate the seller profile in detail first, and act cautiously if the item is very expensive and outside the protection of the policy.

If you receive a parcel that is not addressed to you, think carefully. Are you expecting a parcel around this time? Check for any shipping numbers or transaction codes you can use to verify that it’s your package. If every detail matches up except the name, you may choose to open it to verify that your goods are there.

Never rush to purchase an item on eBay. Read the listing carefully. If the item is listed as the box only in the title of the listing or clearly in the description, there will be little you can do to dispute a transaction, as the information presented was true and correct.

What to do if you’ve been scammed on eBay

eBay is very aware that scams occur on the website. They readily cooperate with law enforcement and encourage scammed users to make a police report with their local authorities. If you want to understand the process of reporting a scam to police and how eBay is involved, visit the eBay Security Center.

You can report an issue with a seller to eBay directly here.

If you find an item on eBay that you think is fraudulent, report the listing directly.

Report a buyer if you think they have acted illegally or fraudulently here.