10 Common eBay Scams and How to Avoid Them

Last Updated on July 25, 2023

A few years back, I was into collecting vintage cameras. So, I searched eBay for rare and distinctive models.

I found a listing for a lovely Leica M3 camera. The photographs were great, and the description said everything worked perfectly. I couldn’t pass up such a rare item even though the price was considerably high.

The seller was friendly and knowledgeable about cameras whenever I asked questions. They said the camera was in perfect working condition and offered to email me more photos.

So, I felt confident and went ahead and made the purchase. BUT when my new camera arrived, it was different from what I was expecting.

The camera had scrapes and dings everywhere. The shutter jammed and the lens was filthy. This camera was NOT in “perfect working condition,” as the seller claimed.

The merchant ignored my return request and since I had left a positive rating for the vendor, my eBay dispute was difficult to prove.

Eventually, I had to accept that I was tricked, but I learned to be more careful while shopping online.

Now, before buying on eBay, I do my research on the seller and the item. I also wait before rating the merchant.

warning in computer

Credit: Vecteezy

Scams on the Rise

One of the most well-known online marketplaces in the world, eBay brings together millions of consumers and sellers from around the world. However, as eBay becomes more prominent, scams are more likely to occur.

In this post, we’ll review eBay scams, how they work, and what to do if you become a victim.

Scammers, hackers, and con artists are commonplace, particularly on eBay. Unfortunately for the average user, eBay scammers have perfected their craft over time. 

However, there are specific ways to protect yourself and steer clear of hazards, even when these eBay scams are tough to spot.

What is an eBay Scam?

Most eBay scams try to take advantage of people who are too naive or not as careful as they should be when doing business. But there’s no shame –  it’s a well-known fact that Internet scams have become more complex over time.

With all the ways scammers can try to get you to send them money or things, it’s becoming increasingly important to understand the risks and know what to do. So, what are some of the most common scams on eBay? Let’s take a look…

Scams Against Buyers

1. The Empty Box

Imagine eagerly awaiting your desired package from an eBay merchant only to be met with disappointment when you receive an empty box.

Yes, you read that right – an empty box.

Don’t let this happen to you. While not a complete scam, this particular situation preys on the buyer’s sense of urgency and potential oversight.

Beware of the empty box scam!

This sneaky scheme tends to target highly sought-after items in short supply. Discover the world of flippers – savvy individuals who purchase highly sought-after items at retail prices and resell them at a premium on eBay.

Discover the secret: Always scrutinize the complete listing description, even if the price tag appears steeper than the retail value.

The packaging is often mentioned in product descriptions, leaving you with no way to get your money back.

Protect yourself from scams by carefully reviewing the product listing and its details before purchasing

Sellers on eBay who sell empty boxes don’t take responsibility for what seems like an honest mistake to the buyer. If you complain to the seller or to eBay, you won’t win the claim, unfortunately. 

In this situation, the seller did say that the item for sale was a box that was empty. Even though the seller may have tried to hide the truth, you won’t be able to get your money back for the fake listing.

phishing in computer

Credit: Vecteezy

2. Phishing

Phishing emails from eBay are a common scam that can be hard to spot. These emails might say something about a recent transaction or offer a special deal.

The emails may look like they come from eBay, they just don’t.

The message always asks you to do something, like give them information or click on a link that takes you to a fake eBay or PayPal site that looks safe. To ensure you don’t fall for this kind of scam, check your eBay account immediately, since all communications from eBay will be found in the website’s messaging system.

3. Gift Card Scams

eBay gift card scams are one of the most popular types of fraud. Scammers may buy gift cards you’re selling. Once they’ve used the card and drained the balance, they’ll file a dispute with eBay or PayPal, claiming it was an unauthorized purchase. In this case, the buyer loses the gift card and has to pay back the fees. 

Only use gift cards to purchase gifts. 

To evade these scams, it’s best to not buy or sell gift cards on the platform. In the same way, someone may call you and say they need you to buy an eBay gift card right away and give you the redemption code. 

This is another type of eBay scam where you will be left with the cost of the card and scammed outside of eBay. If you want to use a gift card, only share the code with trusted friends and family.

4. Shill Bidding

Shill bidding” is placing bids on an auctioned item on the seller’s behalf to drive up that item’s price artificially.

One frequent occurrence is when a seller makes a fake account, or more commonly, two fake accounts and bids on another person’s product. 

Naturally, this makes the price go up and up, and the seller thinks he’ll make a lot of money. Then, when the sale ends, they stop communicating with the seller. Finally, they close the fake accounts and put their product up for sale since it recently “sold” for a higher price and seems to be more valuable now.

According to eBay’s policy, “Shill bidding happens when anyone—including family, friends, roommates, employees, or online connections—bids on an item with the intent to artificially increase its price or desirability. In addition, members cannot bid on or buy items in order to artificially increase a seller’s feedback or to improve the item’s search standing.”

When you initially check to see if an auction might have been shilled, there are a few things to look for, and in reality, it’s relatively easy to spot.

Look at the bidders in those auctions first. They’re probably phony accounts if you find there is no feedback for the buyer or seller. 

Not all zero feedback accounts are fraudulent – some users are new to eBay so they will not have feedback. Still, do your research.

Red flag. It is uncommon for someone to suddenly start bidding on items worth thousands of dollars on eBay if they’ve never purchased anything before. Be cautious.

5. Counterfeit Items

If you’ve spent enough time on the Internet, you’re probably aware that counterfeit goods and knock-off reproductions are as “genuine” as they come. Unfortunately, eBay is filled with these “real” products.

Although some sellers are upfront about their products and state they are high-fidelity replicas or perfectly functional copies, there are folks – scammers – that will not be forthcoming. 

Sellers go to great lengths to build legitimate-looking scams – some will even post bogus serial numbers or other forms of product identification to confirm that the products they offer are 100 percent genuine.

Although there is no foolproof way to avoid this scam, you should prevent brand-name products from being sold at meager costs, as they are either stolen, counterfeit, or knock-off replicas.

It’s also a good idea to watch the seller’s feedback score and their previous sales history. Also, instead of looking at the merchant’s top ratings, look at its lowest one-star ratings to see if previous buyers have had negative experiences with the vendor.

6. Incorrect Name

Imagine this…

You received the item you ordered, and it was delivered to your address, however, the package had the wrong name. “I’ll just take it back to the post office and give it to them,” you say. “I’ll call the seller and inform them that it was misdelivered.”

The scammers foresee your move and have devised a strategy to oppose it. They know that eBay’s money-back promise will not apply in this case because you technically refused to accept the product.

Sellers are not required to return your money in this scenario.

The eBay money-back guarantee system can check the tracking numbers of delivered items, but it does not validate the address. As a result, eBay may wind up settling the disagreement in favor of the seller.

Sellers frequently take advantage of this and repeat eBay fraud with new customers.

Scams Against Sellers

1. Bait and Switch 

In a “bait and switch” scam, someone buys a product you’re selling, which is usually something more expensive like an iPhone or some other electronic device. 

The transaction will go off without a hitch, but they will send pictures or complain about a broken screen or part when they get it. Then, the scammer will make a claim with eBay’s Buyer Protection Plan, which forces you to give them their money back

While it’s hard to avoid this kind of scam after it’s happened, having buyers buy insurance for high-value items you sell is usually a good idea. 

2. Non-eBay Payment

This is the exact same way that you can get scammed as a buyer, but now the roles are reversed. No, you’re not the scammer, you are just about to be scammed by a buyer who offers you a private deal outside of eBay.

As mentioned above, eBay offers some great protection programs for both buyers and sellers, but you must abide by its policies if you want to benefit from them. For example, one of eBay’s most important rules is that you shouldn’t do any business outside of eBay, where it can’t keep track of it.

In the non-eBay payment scam, a fake buyer contacts you about a product you’re selling and asks if you accept payments outside of eBay’s official channels. They could even defend their stance by saying it could help you avoid paying eBay’s merchant taxes.

If you accept, close the ad, and send the item, a few things could happen. In a perfect world, you get your money, the buyer receives their goods, and everyone is happy.

But if it’s a scam, the buyer either doesn’t pay or disputes the transaction on eBay in different ways such as reporting the listing as fake, saying they got an empty box, or claiming the item doesn’t match what it says on the listing.

3. Poor Feedback Blackmail

Unfortunately, this is one of the most common ways for someone to scam you, especially if you are a new merchant just getting started on eBay. 

To quickly outline how eBay’s platform works: merchants create listings of their products, customers buy those products, and then they get a review based on their experience with the seller. 

If the review is positive, the seller receives a high feedback score, and the score changes with subsequent reviews, for better or for worse. This is one of the biggest scams on our list because as the seller you have no control over the reviews buyers leave. 

The scam is as follows… 

You make a listing for your product, someone makes you an offer, they pay for the item, and you shut down the ad, and deliver the product. So far, so good, but then the scammer contacts you and it’s not about a broken item or anything of that nature. 

Instead, they tell you to transfer a certain amount of money to a specific account or else they will write a critical review of their experience with you and leave a negative feedback report.

Unfortunately, many honest eBay sellers who were starting out fell for it and deposited the requested amount of money, thinking their reputation would be tarnished. Since this is blackmail, you can report the email or correspondence to eBay and even contact the authorities. 

4. Overpayment Scam

The first red flag should be when a scammer approaches you and offers to pay a price higher than what you listed. Even if the deal seems too good to pass up, you should probably pass.

However, if you are contacted by a random buyer who offers to pay more than the amount you indicated in the listing, you should avoid it at all costs. You will most likely receive a forged check that will bounce when you attempt to pay it, resulting in the loss of both your money and goods.

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Credit: Vecteezy

How to Avoid eBay Scams

More and more people are falling for shopping scams and it’s up to you to know how to protect yourself. So when you buy from a seller on eBay, make sure you keep the following tips in mind:

1. If you’re a Seller – Avoid accepting checks as a form of payment. Protect your investments by being cautious. Fraudsters often target investment opportunities, so it’s essential to be aware of the risks involved.

Wait until the checks have cleared if you do accept them. 

Note that verification may take up to two weeks. Don’t risk losing your money and package by sending it before the check clears. Instead, wait until the review has been processed to ensure a safe and secure transaction. Ensure secure transactions by utilizing eBay’s approved payment methods.

2. If you’re a Buyer or Seller – Complete all transactions via eBay’s established channels. Remember that eBay cannot track transactions outside its platform or authenticate discussions or arrangements made on private media. Maximize your protection by demonstrating that you have acted in good faith to eBay.

3. If you’re a Buyer or Seller – Capture every detail. Ensure that every item’s packing and posting is meticulously documented, including any tracking numbers utilized. Safeguard yourself from unfounded fraud allegations with this solution.

Don’t let false claims bring you down on eBay. With photographic evidence, you can dispute any untrue claims, and rest assured that eBay will side with you as the seller.

4. If you’re a Buyer or Seller – Keep a record of everything. This rule applies even more so when it comes to pricey, sought-after products like the latest smartphones or gaming systems. Capture all serial numbers or specific codes.

5. If you’re a Buyer or Seller – Request a tracking number. Ensure secure delivery of high-value items by requesting a signature upon receipt for any item valued at over $750. Ensure your protection with PayPal Seller Protection, available exclusively on eBay.

This protection does not extend to other payment methods offered on eBay. Ensure the utmost security for your shipment by selecting the most suitable tracking option based on the item’s value.

Maximize the security of your transaction by providing ample proof in the event of a fraudulent dispute.

6. If You’re a Seller – Provide evidence when disputing a chargeback. It’s crucial to be ready with concrete evidence to support your claim. With PayPal Seller Protection, you can rest assured that your business is safeguarded against fraudulent chargebacks. If you believe that a chargeback has been issued in error, don’t hesitate to dispute it.

Boost customer satisfaction by offering refunds when necessary. Save on chargeback fees by paying only the cost of the item instead of dealing with the hassle of customer disputes with their financial institution.

Ensure that the image depicting the product is not a stock photo sourced from the internet and is exclusive to the listing. If the seller needs to be more cooperative in providing additional pictures or details regarding the item, exercise caution as it may be a potential scam, and best to steer clear.

7. If You’re a Seller – Price match. Beware of heavily discounted items without a valid reason, such as listed damage, as they may be a potential scam or even stolen property. Avoid it at all costs.

8. If You’re a Buyer – Explore the feedback page. Are you looking to boost your profile’s credibility? Consider this strategy: if most of your positive feedback comes from sellers of low-priced items, make your profile appear more authentic. Don’t let an inexperienced seller deter you from making a purchase. Instead, strike up a conversation about the item using eBay’s messaging system.

9. If You’re a Buyer – Explore the seller’s profile before purchasing. If the money-back guarantee does not cover the item, exercise caution, especially if it carries a hefty price tag.

10. If You’re a Buyer – Take your time before purchasing on eBay. Carefully peruse the listing. Ensure that you carefully review the title and description of the listing before making a purchase. If the item is explicitly listed as “box only,” you may have limited options to dispute the transaction.

eBay Scam Victims: What to Do Next

eBay is well aware of the fact that scammers target its users. As a result, eBay will gladly comply with law officials, and defrauded individuals are encouraged to file a police report with their local authorities.

For more information on how to report a scam to the police and how eBay is involved, go to the eBay Security Center. If there is an issue with a seller, you can also report it directly to eBay. You should also report any items you think are false when you find them there.

Conclusion

Whether you’re an eBay buyer or seller, you should always be careful of what you’re getting into because many scammers are looking to take advantage of you. 

Unfortunately, most fraud attempts are successful, which is why care is required. Check out these tips to better protect your security while shopping online.

Consider getting an identity theft protection service in case you fall victim to an eBay scam. There are many benefits to services like Aura’s which provide monitoring of your accounts, insurance, and more. Get peace of mind when you shop online.


Other Types of Scam You Should Know: