How To Recognize eBay Scams and Stay Safe From it

Posted on by David Lukic in Security Tips December 02, 2020
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eBay is an online marketplace where buyers and sellers meet to swap goods for a fair price. eBay used to be a safe, equitable solution to selling valuable items and getting rid of them quickly. However, over the past few years, the landscape of eBay has changed dramatically, and it is being overrun with scammers making it more difficult to transact a legitimate deal on either end. 

What is eBay

eBay Scams

eBay was founded in 1995 by Pierre Omidyar. eBay works as an auction site but also a business-to-business warehouse for sellers who want to open up eBay shops. Buyers can use eBay for free, but sellers are charged a percentage of the sale as revenue for eBay. Along with the auction-style selling model, sellers can also list items as a “Buy it Now” and sell them immediately if the buyer is willing to pay the price. In 1998 when eBay went public with its IPO, the founder became an instant billionaire. He has since retired with his wife. eBay also owns PayPal, which handles the multitude of financial transactions between buyers and sellers. eBay is currently a multi-billion-dollar enterprise operating in 30 countries. 

eBay Seller Scams

Although it seems like eBay is suffocated with scammers these days, it is still possible to buy something from a legitimate seller. However, some eBay scams by devious sellers to watch out for are:

Empty Box or Picture eBay Scams


eBay Fraud

It’s hard to believe this one works, but there are sellers online that post pictures of the latest cell phone, a MacBook, Xbox gaming system or other desirable item and sell it for a low price. When the buyer receives the item, it is an empty box or a picture of the item. When they go back to complain and read the original description, they find that it was stated in the write-up that they were selling a “box only” or “photo” but it was so well hidden, they missed it. Now they are out the cash and left holding the empty bag.

How to Avoid These eBay Seller Scams

  • Read item listings carefully. 

  • Ask questions about the item.

  • Be sure to check the seller’s feedback rating and any negative comments.

  • If the seller did not clearly state that they were selling a box or picture, you may be able to dispute it with eBay.

  • Use caution when bidding on an item where the price is ridiculously low - let that be a red flag warning to you.

  • If they have no selling history or no feedback, walk away. Scammers open new accounts all the time and then abandon them after bilking victims. 

eBay Car Scams

There are a few variations of this one, but typically, the scammer duplicates a legitimate car ad. You can’t believe your luck. You contact the seller and pay offline. You agree to meet to complete the transaction and take delivery of your new car. The problem is you get there, and the person has no idea who you are. You were never dealing with the real owner of the vehicle, and now you have been involved in eBay fraud where you handed over thousands to a crook. 

Steps to Take to Tackle eBay Car Scams

eBay Seller Scams

  • When a seller or buyer tries to convince you to take payment and shipping details offline (out of eBay), let that be a warning to you. Generally, that means they are trying to pull a fast one. Always pay for goods through eBay/PayPal, so you have a trail of your transaction. 

  • Use the built-in eBay email system to contact the seller, so you have a record of that as well. 

  • Call the seller by phone to confirm everything and feel them out. Ask for specific details. If they are scamming you, they may just hang up.

  • Never send money via a wire transfer or other method suggested by the seller.

Seller Runs off With Your Money eBay Fraud

This one is simple, although pretty common. You see an item listed on eBay, and you buy it. You wait, and nothing happens. You never receive the item, and when you try to contact the seller, you cannot, or their account has been deleted. You were duped. To avoid this one, only shop in categories that are covered by eBay’s Money Back Guarantee. Report any scams and fraud to eBay immediately. 

eBay Buyer Scams

Selling on eBay is sometimes worse than being a buyer. There is a prevalence of buyers who are scammers, and often they are easy to spot, but not always. For some victims, it is a disastrous affair, after which they vow never to use eBay again. Some eBay scams where the criminal is the buyer are:

The Overpay Scams on eBay

Probably the most common scam which everyone has stories about is the overpay. You post an item on eBay, and suddenly you get a barrage of emails from excited buyers offering to pay more than you listed it for. They often claim to be overseas or in the military and offer up confusing and involved shipping needs, which require you to step out of eBay and move things offline. They want to move it out of eBay so they can scam you easier.

In many cases, the email you receive has overtones of urgency but is written in broken English. Sometimes they offer to send a cashier’s check or a personal check, and with the lure of extra money, victims jump at it. If you send out the goods before the check clears, you will find out; you have been scammed. A spin on this one is that they will send you an overpayment and then ask for a refund. Before their original payment clears, you send off the refund, and now you are out the extra cash and their check bounces. 

How to Stop Overpay eBay Buyer Scams

  • Never accept offers above your asking price. If it sounds too good to be true, it is. Walk away. No one offers to pay more than asking price for anything.

  • Keep everything inside eBay, so you have a record of the communication and transactions. 

  • Always use shipping confirmation so you can track and confirm the package was delivered if you need to dispute the transaction later. 

  • Never send any money/refunds out until you are absolutely sure payment has cleared. Check with your bank. Bogus checks take a few days to be spotted and reversed.

Changed Address eBay Fraud

Usually, when a user’s eBay account has been hacked, this is the result. The scammer may change the delivery address or request via email that you send the item to a different address than what is listed on their profile. They may claim they just moved or some other excuse, but they are really bypassing the real buyer and having you ship something to them for free. 

Tips & Tricks to Prevent This eBay Scam

  • If a buyer tried to get you to change the address, refuse and send it to the verified address on the account.

  • Try to contact the real buyer to confirm that you are dealing with the person who paid you. 

  • Never take things outside of eBay, or you will have no recourse if something goes wrong. 

Broken Item Scam on eBay

Scams on eBay

Another disturbing scam that is making the rounds is when a buyer purchases an expensive item from you, such as an iPhone in perfect condition. You list it fairly, and your buyer pays right off. You ship it to the address provided, and then after they receive it, they send you flaming emails about how you sent them a broken item. They may even send you pictures of the damaged product. Sometimes they have a duplicate that is already damaged, and sometimes they crush the one you send. They may threaten you and demand a refund or say they will damage your feedback rating if you don’t pay up. They will rarely complain to eBay since they are scammers and don’t want to get caught. However, often eBay sides with the buyer, so you may have to refund, and now you are out the goods and the money. 

A variation of this one is when the buyer claims they never received it, even though you did ship it on time. 

How to Avoid Broken Item eBay Fraud

  • Take dozens of pictures of the item. Make sure you zero in on a serial number or identifying marks so you can prove that what you sent was in perfect condition. You may need it in the event of a dispute with eBay.

  • Be careful of buyers who ask a lot of probing questions before they purchase. They are trying to trick you into confirming the quality and then saying you lied later.

  • No matter what the value of the item shipped, always opt for shipping tracking and a delivery confirmation signature. It’s such a small cost for peace of mind.

The Final Word on eBay Scams: Fake eBay Email

One last eBay scam to be aware of is a phishing email that looks like it came from eBay. It may say you have received a payment, or need to review a recent purchase, confirm your details, or something else that requires your urgent attention. If you click the link they provide, you will be taken to a malicious website that either infects your computer with malware or asks you for login details, and if you offer them, the hackers now have them. The website might look like eBay, but if you check the URL, you will see it is not. You have been scammed!

Steps to Take to Prevent Fake eBay Email

  • NEVER click links in emails or download attachments. Instead, use a new browser window to log into your account and check for any issues. These can be a sign of a phishing email.

  • Watch for scam emails, always be on the lookout for suspicious notices like these.

  • Verify the sender’s address, and if it doesn’t say ebay.com, it is a scam.

  • Keep your computer updated with the latest operating system, security patches, and antivirus software to avoid malware infections.

  • Never give out your login credentials or other personal details. Check URLs carefully, look for the security symbol before putting any information in an online form.

  • Never act on emotion; these emails are designed to get you to panic and click before thinking. Slow down and contact eBay directly if you think there is a problem.

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