Common eBay Scams for First Time Sellers to Avoid

Unsuspecting sellers are vulnerable to become victims of fraudsters. Being aware of some of the most frequent scams is a great way to lower the chance of it happening. 

New eBay sellers should remain cautious, but remember that not everything that initially reads as a scam actually is one. Here are some tips, tricks and warning signs to help you avoid the most frequent spam situations on eBay.

Items arriving ‘damaged’

eBay’s Money Back Guarantee provides buyer confidence but has the potential to do the opposite for sellers since they are responsible for any item damage until it is delivered. A common scam involves a fraudster purchasing a new item from eBay that they already have a broken version of. Once the new item arrives, they will claim the broken item is the recently delivered one and ask for a refund. It is good practice to ask for the item back before taking any further action.

How to avoid the scam: Take a catalogue of photos of the item before sending it out, including any serial numbers and special identification marks if applicable. With electronics, consider taking photos of the item working/running. Always send items with adequate insurance for cover any damage claims.

The fake PayPal notification

In this scheme, a successful buyer contacts the seller to ask for more photos or information regarding the item(s). Sometimes, a PayPal invoice is requested. The catch is, they want the details sent to them via email. On the surface, this seems like a reasonable request. When the fraudster has the email address however, they will use it to send the seller a fake PayPal ‘payment received’ notification. The seller, believing they have received notice the funds are in holding, sends out the item.

How to avoid the scam: Keep all communication with purchasers through eBay and verify your PayPal account before shipping items. Do not rely on emails for payment confirmation. More tips on how to spot PayPal scams here.

Asking to sell an item outside of eBay

A request from a buyer to cancel the sale of an item and purchase it away from eBay is a warning sign for a common scam. The idea of avoiding eBay’s selling fees can be appealing to sellers, but it is not worth it in the long run. Cancelling a listing to sell to a buyer who found the item on eBay is against the rules and offers the seller no protection against potential fraud. The scammer can threaten to report the seller to eBay and potentially have their account suspended for violating this rule.

How to avoid the scam: If a buyer wants to purchase an item immediately and the price is agreeable, offer to finish the auction early with the buyer as the highest bidder. Complete the rest of the transaction as normal. This is not against the rules and still protects you as a seller.

Shipping to a different address

Have you ever purchased an item online and wanted to ship it to a different address than normal? It happens often enough, but on eBay it can be a red flag for a scam. If a buyer asks for an item to be sent to another address it could be that they have hijacked someone else’s eBay/PayPal account or intend to claim that the item has not been delivered to the correct address. Either way, shipping to a different location than the buyer’s on file address invalidates both eBay and PayPal’s seller protection.

How to avoid the scam: After explaining the problem, ask the buyer to cancel the transaction and repurchase after changing their address on eBay and PayPal. It’s a bit of hassle and you may lose a sale, but if it is a scam you potentially stand to lose both your item and the cash.

Quick pointers

  • Fraudsters purchase and shop items in every category on eBay but electronics (think laptops, smartphones and cameras) are especially vulnerable.
  • New sellers are often specifically targeted by scammers, who look to take advantage of people with less experience. Consider starting small with low value items to gain experience and avoid being targeted when just starting out.
  • If you do not feel comfortable shipping items to countries with a bad reputation for scams consider blocking purchases through ‘Buyer Requirements’ (Account > Site Preferences > Buyer requirements)
  • Very new eBay members or those with low feedback scores can be seen as high risk buyers, but keep in mind that positive performance does not necessarily equal no chance of a scam.
  • Conduct sales accurately and carefully – photograph the item well, include a detailed description on the listing and keep meticulous records of communication.

Have you ever been a victim of one of these scams? Do you have any advice of your own to offer first-time sellers to avoid some of the most common scams?

Gemma is our all things eBay expert. Originally from the UK, she now lives in Canada and travels extensively. You can read about her travels at her blog Off Track Travel.

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