When Nathan Clarke bought a pair of New Balance shoes on eBay, he was excited by his purchase. But when they arrived in the mail, to his dismay, he discovered the shoes were knockoffs. He became the latest victim of one of many eBay scams.
Clarke contacted eBay about it, and they refunded the money back to his eBay gift card.
However, the seller got angry and started making threats at Clarke. They demanded Clarke do one of two things: Ship back the shoes or refund the money.
“I probably would have [returned them] if I had paid for them with cash, but eBay told me not to do anything and I could keep them,” said Clarke, who is a blogger at Millionaire Dojo. “Although I ended up with counterfeit shoes, it worked out in the end.”
How common are eBay scams?
While it’s tough to pin down exactly how common eBay scams are, let’s start with some general numbers: In 2019, the value of all goods sold on eBay’s platforms amounted to $90.21 billion. There are about 1.4 billion listings, and the eBay international community of buyers and sellers is 183 million buyers strong.
With such a large volume of sales and a vast community of buyers and sellers, one might expect scams to happen occasionally. And depending on how active one is and what types of goods they’re selling, scams can happen quite often. For instance, one member claimed that only about a quarter of the transactions they made on the online marketplace were legitimate.
What’s more, there have been news headlines of sellers being scammed by supposed buyers who only turn out to be con artists.
eBay scams to watch out for
Like Clarke, sellers and buyers both can experience scams during transactions on the platform. Strangely enough, what makes eBay a relatively secure online space for P2P transactions is also what makes it exploitable by both parties involved in a sale. Here are some common eBay scams to be watchful of:
eBay seller scams
This is when the buyer purchases an item that’s never delivered. These are common for goods that aren’t guaranteed by eBay, so the buyer has no protection against fraud, explained Paul Bischoff, a privacy advocate with Comparitech. For instance, this might include the sale of websites, real estate and vehicles.
Wrong shipping label
The seller will intentionally put the wrong name on the shipping label. “If you assume it’s not yours and return it, you lose the item and the seller keeps the money,” said Bischoff. As far as eBay is concerned, the item was delivered as promised, and you have no way to prove that it wasn’t.
Empty box scams
This occurs when you spring for a hot, trending item. Think a new game console or the latest iPhone. The seller lists only the box for sale in the hopes that someone will unknowingly buy it without noticing that it doesn’t include the actual product.
As in Clarke’s situation, the seller will claim to sell an authentic name brand, only to sell a knockoff version. They might post photos of the name brand product, only to send you fake ones.
Payment outside of eBay
In this scam, the thief will reach out to the buyer to arrange payment outside of eBay’s official payment system, explained Bischoff. They might drum up some fib to persuade you to cooperate. For instance, they’ll claim some technical problem prevents them from using eBay. “After they’ve made off with your money, eBay won’t be able to help,” said Bischoff.
eBay buyer scams
On the flip side, here are some common eBay scams perpetrated by buyers:
Payment outside of eBay
Similar to how sellers might try to get you to make a payment outside of the platform, buyers can also try to pull the same trick. “Again, they may claim there is some technical problem, or they just want to avoid extra transaction fees,” said Bischoff. “But their goal is to make an untraceable transaction with no recourse for the victim.”
Some scammers will actually pay too much, claiming it will cover extra shipping costs incurred due to a change of address, possibly to a different country, explained Bischoff. Next, they’ll send a fake PayPal email asking for postal tracking numbers, promising the payment will be released once the goods have been sent. “Not realizing the email is fake, the seller sends the item and never receives payment,” said Bischoff.
Empty box scams
If the scammer is a buyer, they’ll receive the item purchased, but will then file a claim with eBay alleging that you only sent an empty box. eBay will then demand a return. The buyer only sends the empty box back, and they pocket the refund.
Here’s the thing: Items valued at $750 or higher must get proof of delivery in the form of a signature. If the item is being shipped via USPS, this is called a “signature confirmation.” Shipping via FedEx or UPS? You’ll need to mark the box for “required signature.”
“If the seller is unaware of this, they may not specify to their shipping company that a signature is needed,” said Bischoff. “This allows the scammer to claim it was never delivered.”
This is when a scammer cancels or disputes a transaction with PayPal or their credit card. In turn, a chargeback is incurred that’s burdensome for the seller to argue.
The buyer gets to keep the item plus the money. The seller, on the other hand, loses in the form of the item, shipping charges and packaging costs, not to mention any fees charged to your bank account.
If you don’t refund the money, the scammer threatens to leave bad feedback if you don’t pay up. As feedback can make or break a seller’s reputation and in turn success on the platform, this could be a powerful way for the buyer to get what they want.
Red flags that might signal eBay scams
When engaging in a sale on eBay, you’ll want to be aware of the usual telltale signs of suspicious activity. For instance, if it’s too good to be true, it likely is, said Whitney Joy Smith, president of the Smith Investigation Agency and Smith Training Centre. Someone selling a car in great condition for way below the sticker price? Unlikely.
In most cases, there will also be a language barrier, explained Smith. “Check for the odd communication or misspellings of certain words,” said Smith. “Watch for stories and excuses that seem far-fetched. Many scammers want to pull on a person’s emotions to have them not question anything.”
And if someone on eBay asks you to communicate or pay outside of eBay, it’s probably a scam, pointed out Bischoff. All communication should be conducted on the platform. That way if you have to file a report, you’ll have that information and transactions documented.
How to try and spot eBay seller scams
It starts with the pictures posted. Before making your purchase, take a close look at the picture and really evaluate if it seems like a real product, said Smith. “If you’re paying attention to the details, you should be able to notice the difference between Shutterstock pictures and a real item that a normal person has taken and posted themselves.”
Pay close attention to the information provided. The more details they provide, the more likely it will be real, explained Smith. On the flip side, the more vague and ambiguous the description is, the more likely it’s a scam. “A real seller will know all there is about their product and will have plenty to share about it, whereas a scammer will likely not understand what they are selling and will have just stolen pictures online,” said Smith.
What’s more, if the description seems suspicious, do a quick copy and paste to see if the description was pulled from a retailer’s site. If it’s generic information, that’s a red flag that it might be a scam. If the seller is providing specific information unique to the listed item, along with pictures to match, then the greater the odds it’s a legitimate listing.
How to try and spot eBay buyer scams
There’s no legitimate reason for returning the product. Typically, the first thing you’ll notice for a buyer scam is if they are quick to return the product and have no real concern or reason for doing so, said Smith.
The buyer threatens to post negative feedback. You’ve done everything correctly as a seller, including delivering the item to the correct address, but the buyer finds some reason to be dissatisfied. They’ll threaten to post negative feedback in order to leverage you into giving them what they want. This is another telling sign of a buyer scam, said Smith.
Precautions to take to avoid getting scammed on eBay
To try and avoid getting scammed on eBay, consider doing the following:
Always complete transactions through eBay’s official channels. If a seller or buyer wants to do a transaction outside of eBay, just decline and move on.
Pay using PayPal and a credit card. This ensures you have the maximum afforded buyer protection, explained Walsh. “If at all possible, pay on collection, and only purchase items that will be posted with a reputable courier that provides tracking.”
Document everything. Don’t delete any messages on the platform or any emails sent to your inbox.
Always arrange for a tracking number. Whether you’re a buyer or seller, have a tracking number to see exactly where the package is being shipped. You can also track the package as it’s en route to the recipient.
Read up on common scams. Check to see if the item is a common one that people are scammed with, suggested Smith. “Scour the eBay community forums of people who have been scammed on that particular product to know what to watch out for.”
Reach out to the seller or buyer. Worried you might be engaging in a scam? Don’t hesitate to ask questions and request more pictures of the item, said Smith. Check their feedback, and talk to them on the phone or video chat. You can also use an online people search to attempt to find more info about them, such as social media profiles or email addresses.
Check listings carefully. Look to see if the same item has been sold before by that seller, explained Ray Walsh, a digital privacy expert at ProPrivacy.com. “Sellers who sell counterfeit goods will often claim to be selling an item because it is an unwanted gift,” said Walsh. “However, on closer inspection, it will usually be possible to find other listings by the same seller for the same item, or a history of the seller has sold the same item before.”
Look carefully at the entire description and all the images to make sure the item is exactly what the seller claims it to be. “If the item is suspiciously cheap, start asking questions,” said Walsh. “And if you are still suspicious, do not bid on the item.”
Check their history. You’ll also want to see how many items the person has sold or bought previously, recommends Walsh. “Checking to see how they have been rated as either buyers or sellers can be a good way to spot potential problems,” said Walsh. “It’s also important to note that some of the product reviews may have been created by the seller in order to make their product seem more tempting.” An online people search may also help you confirm that they’re a real seller and not a scammer.
Oops, I got scammed anyway
In the worst-case scenario that you get scammed anyway, here’s what you can do:
Reach out to your payment provider. Whether it’s PayPal or a credit card issuer, contact your payment provider and dispute the charge, recommended Smith.
Contact eBay. After that, reach out to eBay and notify them of the situation. You can start by reaching out to a support member through eBay’s Resolution Center. You can also report a problem with the buyer or seller. Always communicate with eBay and start an official case, advised Walsh.
Leave feedback. Leave a negative review on the buyer or seller’s page, mentioning your experience and what the issue was.
Update your settings. Concerned that your account or password has been breached? Change your settings, such as your password, right away, recommended Walsh.
You might also want to report the fraudulent purchase or transaction to law enforcement by making an official police report, said Walsh. What’s more, you can report the scam through the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) Complaint Assistant page.
It’s always been a matter of trust
While there’s always a chance you might get caught up in an eBay scam, knowing the common scams and telltale signs may help safeguard you. And bottom line: It really boils down to trust.
“Stick to sellers with a good reputation that have a history of being honest sellers,” said Walsh. “This will ensure that you are buying from somebody who is an experienced eBay member and not a one-off scammer.”