Like it or not, being able to spot scams is a crucial part of buying or selling on eBay or any other online marketplace. It is easy enough to understand how eBay buyers could be defrauded by unscrupulous sellers, with broken and counterfeit items being widespread. Those who are looking to scam sellers have to work a little harder, but it is unfortunately just as frequently seen. eBay sellers, however, can avoid most scam situations by recognizing the most common warning signals, or red flags. Some are larger and more obvious than others, but all have their part to play in helping eBay sellers from becoming defrauded.
Major red flags for eBay sellers
The following two scenarios, and their variations, are the most important red flags that eBay sellers should look for when dealing with possibly unscrupulous buyers.
Buyer wants to continue sale outside of eBay
One of the most easy scams to spot on eBay involves buyers trying to continue the sales transaction away from eBay. This often involves the buyer asking whether they can send payment via check, money order (Western Union, Money Gram), wire transfer or third party escrow. Alternative scams include the buyer requesting to move the sale to another selling platform completely.
There is a very simple reason why a fraudulent buyer would want to move the transaction away from eBay – they do not want the seller to receive any seller protection from eBay or PayPal. So in the event of a scam, the seller has no method to dispute the fraudulent transaction. Commonly in this scenario, the check or money order will be counterfeit and therefore worthless.
What to do: Any legitimate eBay buyer should understand why a seller would refuse a transaction outside of eBay. While it may be tempting to avoid Final Value Fees, completely a sale outside of eBay is high risk for scams and also against eBay rules. eBay members who contact each other to sell or buy outside of eBay risk suspension.
Buyer offers more than the listed price for an item
This scam occurs in a couple of different forms. One of the most often seen involves the buyer sending a fake PayPal notification of an (inflated) item payment. Seeing the payment receipt, the seller will send out the item and pay the excess amount back via a money order company such as Western Union, at the buyer’s request. Of course, the buyer then discovers that the PayPal transaction never happened.
Other variations of this scam include:
- The buyer making an offer above the asking price to cover ‘agent fees’ or miscellaneous extra shipping fees, often abroad.
- The buyer makes an over payment by mistake
- The buyer really wants the item and is willing to be generous
What to do: If a buyer offers to pay more than the asking price, sellers should immediately be on guard. There is no legitimate reason a buyer would pay a higher price than what is required. Beyond this, sellers should always be careful to check PayPal payments directly on the official website. Do not rely on email notifications or receipts.
Other warning signs
The below list details smaller red flags that may indicate that the potential buyer is a fraudster. These examples do not prove unscrupulous activity by themselves, but sellers should be wary if a buyer displays multiple red flags.
For instance, it is not an unreasonable request for a buyer to want to change their shipping address. Mistakes happen and some people do move home more often than others. If a buyer wants to change their address and demonstrates one or more of the below listed traits, this would be appropriate cause for suspicion.
Smaller red flags include eBay buyers who:
- Want to change shipping address
- Are vague and refer only to “the item,” not the specific object
- Use broken English with poor grammar and misspellings
- Are fond of using the word ‘kindly’
- Include detailed explanation of why they want the item (usually for a specific family member)
- Are currently out of the country (often working at sea) and using an assistant or secretary to help with the purchase
- Ask for a phone number or offers their own
- Want to use a ‘moving company’ to pick up the item
- Offer money to delete the listing and reserve the item
- Hints or threatens bad Feedback
- Are over-eager to complete the sale or tries to hurry things along
- Request to make payments for additional shipping after the initial transaction
How to recognize common eBay scams: key lessons
There are two important things to remember when considering whether a buyer is attempting a scam.
First, consider that if something looks too good to be true, it probably is. Don’t take everything at face value. Think about how the buyer would benefit if you accepted their request. If there are no obvious advantages for the buyer, there is probably an ulterior (and fraudulent) motive in mind.
Secondly, if the situation feels strange or ‘off’, it probably is. Always take a step back and read any buyer messages for a second or third time before reacting. Ask a friend or family member for a second opinion. If the buyer is using demanding language, don’t allow yourself to be pushed into making a quick decision. If in doubt, contact eBay.