Ebay’s corporate mission takes a unique approach to trading. Consumers can buy anything they want, no matter where they are. And sellers get a large client base to grow their e-com brands. eBay’s corporate mission is to:
to provide a global trading platform where practically anyone can trade practically anything.”
What makes eBay different and perhaps more appealing than Craigslist or Amazon?
- eBay charges low service fees. In turn sellers can sell for cheaper.
- Fair trading. Buyers bid how much they want to pay for an item.
A lot of people are moving money on eBay. There’re two ways to win — either by earning customer’s trust or making a quick buck. Although most brands are legit, a smaller group will pull eBay scams to profit.
- eBay Fraud Explained
- Why We Fall For eBay Scams
- 5 Red Flags Of An eBay Scam
- Types Of eBay Seller Scams
- Types Of Buyer eBay Scams
- Don’t Get Ripped Off: Anti-Scam Security Questions
- How To Prevent eBay Scams
- Can You Get Your Money Back?
- The eBay Verdict: Is It Worth It?
eBay Fraud Explained
What would you do if you could get a giant reward for low risk? Most people would take it. Combine it with this year’s digital marketing correction, and you’ll find thousands of fake sellers trying to deceive their customers.
Scammers on eBay — sellers mostly — rip off clients by making them overpay for a product that’s fake or doesn’t exist. As a con man, you want to:
- Get as much money as possible quickly
- Put victims on a spot where they can’t protect
- Remove the clues to not get caught
Now, eBay offers sellers many e-com tools to manage their business. That allows scammers to be extremely creative with their schemes.
Why We Fall For eBay Scams
People know these exist and cost you money: Why can’t they avoid them? An eBay scammer — seller or buyer — will target an unsuspecting victim with an offer they can’t refuse.
A scammer needs to get a kind of “permission” to in order to steal from you. You grant him this permission bu giving him your confidence or he exploits your unawareness. Every action they take is designed to reduce your control, so they can manipulate the deal.
Scammers optimize their listings on eBay to attract their target victim:
- A high-ticket buyer who is unaware of e-com fraud.
- Frugal buyers looking for the next super-deal
The hook is the price, the images, or something they mention. This time-limited offer screams: “take action now!”
The Credibility Marker
In eBay’s early days, you could fool anybody with little effort. But today you won’t sell unless you have track records.
When did they open? How many sales have they completed? How are their reviews? How fast do they respond? A good history will instantly disqualify the seller as “scam”, unless their account was stolen.
Note: eBay impersonation also counts.
5 Red Flags Of An eBay Scam
As online shopping evolves, so do the dozens of scam variations. It’s impossible to beware of all at the same time, but all of them follow a pattern. Watch out for these red flags, and you’ll avoid 90% of scams.
Unusual Payment Methods
Gift cards? Bitcoin? Checks? It’s not a good sign. The scammer makes an excuse to trade outside of eBay and take control.
“This method will save you money on eBay’s service fees.”
A 10% fee isn’t a big deal compared to other platforms. Tell you will only buy/sell on eBay; most scammers will resist or stop replying (aka fraud alert!). If they do respond, look for the other red flags.
Messaging Outside Of eBay
Buyers can find the seller’s email and phone, which are intended to follow-up on the order. But why would you “discuss the order details” outside of eBay?
You don’t need to listen to people who redirect you to Skype, FB Messenger, Whatsapp, or Line. You put yourself at risk for no benefit.
Language And Tone
Scammers make more money by luring more victims. They use an urgent tone, vague information, and only contact you when they need it.
Do you talk about the product, never going into detail? It could be a generic mass email or a bot.
When you message, pay attention to the wording: grammar misspells, broken sentences, abstract terms, and filler words such as “kindly”.
Are you a brand-new seller offering expensive items? If you get a sale the same day you list it, it may not be luck.
People can be impulsive under $50 deals, but want to “think about it” for bigger deals. If you sell a $500 product within, say, one hour, it could either be a client or a scammer.
Easy sales are only a red flag when combined with any of the other four. How do you know you’re an e-com genius and not a scammer magnet?
New International Buyer
Sellers add pictures and optimized descriptions to let buyers know what to expect. To avoid confusion, mentioning what you don’t include matters as much as the product features.
Imagine a buyer asks you about international shipping, but your listing clearly explains you don’t. They keep asking obvious questions, maybe offering a better price if you change your conditions. Is this client suspicious?
What’s the buyer’s history? Does most of his rating match with the same day, week, or month? Is it a new account?
Most of international buyers are normal buyers of course. However, you should do just a little bit of extra homework checking these.
Types Of eBay Seller Scams
eBay has over 160 million buyers and 25 million sellers. What audience do you think a scammer would pick?
That’s why buyer rip-offs happen more often than seller scams. According to the fraud triangle, sellers are more prone to eBay fraud. One fraudulent listing is enough to scam dozens of buyers.
Why are buyers less likely to do so? If a buyer wants to scam a seller, he will only scam on that deal. Unless it’s a high-ticket product, there is less motivation to do it. Even when a buyer looks suspicious, chances are he’s only a normal buyer wanting to buy, not scam you.
Yet, a buyer might scam you posing as a “business partner:”
- Seller: Thanks for buying the product [after the (fake) client buys it]
- Buyer: I really believe in your brand and love your quality. I could bring you more buyers and get dozens of reviews for you [lures new seller]
- Seller: Really? How?
- Buyer: I’d share your listing with my friends. You pay me a commission for every sale I get you.
- Seller: Sounds like a great deal.
The scammer (fake buyer) poses as an agency/evangelist/business partner. Let’s say he brings ten buyers to the listing and gets ten commissions via Paypal. The seller can see the sales completed on his eBay balance. Good investment? Think again.
The catch? These ten buyers may be fake accounts. As soon as the scammer receives the commission, he can cancel/refund the order of all of them.
The result? The scammer gets the money. The seller loses money in eBay fees and the commissions he paid.
Why would someone pose as an agency? Scammers know sellers have the money they want. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have a store.
Let’s say you are a new seller and want to give a quick push to your new business. It’s against the rules, however you anyway go to social media and ask for five-star reviews to gain some credibility.
Someone messages you on Facebook or email and offers to bring reviewers if you pay him a chunk of your profits.
Once the dozens of (fake) buyers complete the order, they threaten you with bad reviews. If they ask for money, it’s common sense to pay. Better to lose a few hundred dollars than ruining your credibility?
You either hope for the five-star review promise or fear the dozens of bad ratings. Thankfully, this rip-off won’t affect your long-term success if your clients really get a super product as those reviews will level out the negative reviews.
Be careful whenever you are trying to game a system, because it might backfire.
Similar extortion trick might happen with any buyer as well. For whatever reason a buyer might tell you to give them a refund or they will give you a bad feedback. Even though there is no evidence that there is something wrong with the order.
Usually this happens with low value items, because scammers know you will likely just give them the product than risk a bad reputation. Make sure to report the buyer with as much evidence as possible.
Overly Committed Buyer
Good products are worth sharing. Some clients may fall in love with your brand and offer to pay more for it. Yes!
However, it only makes sense when your product is new, unique, or underpriced.
“It’s impossible to imagine a future ten years from now where a customer comes up and says, ‘Jeff I love Amazon; I just wish the prices were a little higher,’ [or] ‘I love Amazon; I just wish you’d deliver a little more slowly.’ Impossible.”Letters To Shareholders, Jezz Bezos
Bait & Switch
Sellers who don’t record and track their shipping may fall for the bait-and-switch. Here’s how:
- Step 1: The scammer finds a broken item, or buys a new one for the retail price.
- Step 2: He finds the exact listing on eBay and places an order.
- Step 3: When shipped, he replaces it with a faulty replica and returns it.
If you can’t prove it wasn’t broken, you pay an unfair refund. The scammer gets a free new item. Recording the package will save you from the broken item scam, but not from counterfeit switches.
Advance Fee Fraud
On eBay, you can sell a lot if you rank well for your keywords. You need a high sales volume and a good rating.
A person will offer as a partner to bring buyers for a commission. Like clockwork, you get the exact number of sales you asked for, all of them coordinated at the same hour of the day.
You can see the money on your balance (minus your product expenses and eBay fees), so you pay the fellow partner the commission, usually hundreds of dollars. They’ll say:
“Before I get tomorrow’s clients, pay me with this method or with Paypal using “Friends and Family” to avoid fees.” (you get no purchase protection)
The catch? The moment you pay the scammer, he retires his “working capital.” All orders cancel (because he controls those ebay “buyer” accounts) and your balance goes back to zero. Actually, you lost hundreds of dollars lost to pay for his commission, your revenue expenses, and eBay’s fees.
Further more, you get no ranking boost. At best, you recover the products (because buyer addresses are fake). Be grateful eBay didn’t close your account for the high refund rate.
Empty Box Complaint
Unless you have evidence, the customer will always win eBay’s trust. The empty box trick works like the Bait and Switch, except that the seller gets nothing in return.
Complaints also put you at risk of feedback extortion, especially when coordinating several fake buyers.
Types Of Buyer eBay Scams
A fraudulent seller has two ways to trick customers.
- Low risk and reward. Hard to detect.
A subtle scam is more likely to work with hundreds of victims, which adds up quickly. The issue is either hard to spot (ex: counterfeits) or easy to forgive (cramming).
- High risk and reward. Easy to detect.
If the loss is impossible to ignore, the victim will panic and report (ex: phishing, high-ticket rip-offs). High-risk scammers know how to hide their identity and prevent you from solving the problem.
In specific, you’ll see five tactics:
Smart sellers build brands and customer bases. That’s why they may want you to buy through their website. You get a discount, and they get your email.
Sellers with websites make a better impression.
If you buy on eBay however, outside messaging is a risk. Don’t visit their websites, unless the brand has an obvious history. It could be a phishing website trying to steal your data.
A tricky seller sells you the package of the (expensive) item you want. You may have bought in a rush due to the limited-time offer.
Although it’s hard to read, the description mentions Package Only, No Refunds, even Free International Shipping. How?
The scammer ranks the listing as if it was the main product. He uses the same keywords and images to show you the best price. Who knows if he has manipulated reviews too?
A great example happened when xbox360 first came out. There was a huge demand for it and they were selling like cupcakes. So in all this chaos, someone had the idea of selling an xbox BOX.
Yes, just a box, he clearly did write he is selling a box from xbox 360. In the description he added all the necessary information for xbox 360, but in the bottom of the post he mentioned he does not sell an actual xbox 360, but a regular cardboard box written xbox 360 on it.
Because buyers did not read properly, they bought it anyway. And even though the offer was very fishy, it was clearly written that the buyer is buying a box. And that is why he lost the refund case.
You make an order, it ships, all as usual. But the seller has misspelled your name or written a fake one before sending it.
You’ll get the package thinking it’s not yours, so you return it to the post office. Depending on the tracking number provider, this may mark your eBay order as completed and your package as received.
And you can no longer qualify for opening a dispute because of a package that was not received. Once returned, you can’t prove the item is yours.
Websites? Real estate? Vehicles? Some categories don’t qualify for the 30-day guarantee. It could last less than 14 days, be partial, or none.
Your money will not be protected by eBay and sellers can lie in their descriptions. A scammer can choose to give you no guarantee and still advertise it on the listing. Or perhaps they make up a 60-day, two-year, or lifetime guarantee they don’t have.
eBay Email Impersonation
Scammers can pose as eBay employees to make you follow their steps. The hook? A big discount, an “action required on your account,” or a fake invoice.
The target? Both buyers and sellers.
“You need to take action on this [generic template] recent order. Please, verify it by clicking on this one-time link [phishing site] that expires in 24 hours [urgent call to action].”
Someone has created an email account named eBay and bought a misspelled eBay domain. Once you click, they ask you for your credentials, then redirect you to the real website.
Don’t Get Ripped Off: Anti-Scam Security Questions
No matter our suspicions, we know nothing until we talk to the other person. Since scammers’ favorite weapon is hidden information, we need to ask for details.
As A Buyer
- Ask about their “unique proposition.” Why are you buying from them? It could be free shipping, a deep discount, or the description. Why is the offer so good? They should explain why if you ask them.
- Observe How they say it. Make them any question — even if you have no doubt — to see how they reply. Accurate? Fast? Correct grammar? Tone?
As a seller
a) They want a refund.
- Did you open or throw away the package?
- Will the returned item be the same we’ve recorded on delivery?
- Do you meet the refund guarantee conditions?
Customers who buy in a rush may miss them and not qualify. Be clear about the terms, but be ready to refund if they look frustrated. It’s better than a bad review.
b) They want to change the order after having paid.
- Did you miswrite the delivery details?
- Can we make a new order?
You lose your seller protection the moment you change an on-going order. Instead, cancel on “Buyer’s Request” and refund. The client can try to buy again as if nothing happened.
How To Prevent eBay Scams
Don’t confuse: amazing deals do exist on eBay. But they are rare, most of them are scammers disguising as an opportunity.
You know the red flags. Don’t work with suspicious dealers; it’s not worth it.
“If most deals are scams, should we use eBay at all?”
Most buyers just want to make a quick order, no headaches. And sellers want to stand for an honest, high-quality brand.
You will rarely get into scams once you prevent them the right way.
As A Seller
Accurate descriptions prevent confusion and filter out the wrong clients. You also want to get it straight with scammers from the beginning.
- “We record all our packages.”
- “US Shipping Only”
- “We won’t follow up outside of eBay.”
That should discourage them from trying to mess with you.
Avoid Problematic Niches
As a new seller, the niche you choose defines the future of your brand. If you are not experienced, it is advisable to avoid categories with naturally high return rates: Computer & Electronics, Apparel, restricted products.
Instead you could choose Garden & Outdoors, Home & Kitchen, Office Supplies, Baby, or Pet products, for example.
Avoid complexity at all costs: fragile materials, complex parts, different sizes, color variations, big products.
Get Good Feedback And Rating
We know high ratings attract buyers. They also repel scammers. A seller with hundreds of reviews says: “I have a lot of experience. I know the eBay marketplace.”
Con men look for new sellers who are unfamiliar with the platform. As soon as you gather reviews, scam alerts will be less and less common.
As A Buyer
Protection is vital when buying large quantities or high-ticket products. An escrow service is a neutral third party that will prevent payment fraud.
You pay a service fee to keep your transaction safe, reserving the amount until both parties are satisfied. Both need to create an account on escrow.com, then sign the agreement. The transfer is automatic.
Stay On The Platform
None of the excuses are worth the risks. You can only protect your order when you buy and message on eBay.
They may send you to their brand website which may have a money-back guarantee. But will they keep their word? Trusting them is your choice.
Opt-in pages, however, are normal and have nothing to do with scams. Sellers may want you to visit their website to get a discount (and your email), then redirect you back to their eBay listing.
Watch the listing
Have you found a great deal? It may be too good to be true. Take time to double-check the description and make seller questions.
Is it the real deal? Put the listing on your eBay’s Watch List to see any changes or replies. Ask about the images, the features, and buyer conditions. Or you may receive an empty box.
Note: Flash deals could be red flags. It’s a short auction (<3 days) or limited offer to urge customers to buy expensive discounted products. When paying hundreds of dollars, ask the seller to inspect it before ordering.
Can You Get Your Money Back?
Some schemes are hard to detect, and you won’t know until it’s too late. But you can still protect yourself, even after losing your money.
If you used a method with buyer protection, open a dispute to get your money back. The more identification you provide, the sooner they will fix it. Do it as soon as you detect fraud; if you wait, your bank may make you responsible for your losses.
As a buyer, stop talking to the seller; don’t pay anything else. If they keep replying, you can block them or report to eBay.
As a seller, cancel the order with hard-to-sell customers. If you suspect to get a bad rating for no reason, block the buyer.
If you’re dealing with an honest brand, asking for a refund will be enough. Sellers value their reputation over money. Report scammers to eBay and they will block their accounts if your suspicions are right.
Perhaps they trick you with the Wrong Name Package scam. If eBay can’t help you, report to the Federal Trade Commission.
Need a fast response? Call to eBay (866-540-3229) or FTC (1-877-FTC-HELP or 1-877-382-4357).
The eBay Verdict: Is It Worth It?
eBay has a bright future and will continue to attract buyers. Despite the evident fraud risk, we expect it to reduce as security improves.
At the end of the day, everyone wants a place to trade fairly. The community will raise awareness and teach how to prevent fraud. If any new scheme comes up, it won’t be long before they take it down.
eBay helps sellers to grow with their tracking tools, low fees, and branding freedom. And buyers will find the best deals for their day-to-day needs.