How to Recognize Common eBay Scams Against Buyers

Top eBay Scams to Avoid

Image by Theresa Chiechi © The Balance 2019 

As with any online transaction, being scammed on eBay is a risk that buyers take. Being asked to contact the seller before making a bid or purchasing steeply discounted items that are actually counterfeits are some ways scammers target buyers. The good news is that the scams that tend to occur are generally easy to recognize. Here are some common indicators of eBay scams that you should watch for in order to help you to avoid being a victim:

Emailing Before You Bid

In most cases, when you see a listing that says you must contact the seller for permission before placing a bid or your bid or the sale will be canceled, you're likely dealing with a scammer. When you make contact, this "seller" will respond with an offer of some kind, and people who accept this offer will quickly be separated from their money, personal information, or worse. Don't email before you bid, because if a transaction happens outside of eBay, you lose any protections to which you'd otherwise be entitled. 

High-Value Untested Items

Sellers that seem to be advertising large quantities of highly priced "untested" items are generally selling junk for the price of nonjunk—and getting away with it. Electronics are a big one to watch out for, like auto and computer parts. You'll typically see an as-is disclaimer somewhere in the listing. In most cases, sellers either have a very poor feedback percentage for eBay or they have a feedback profile that is continually padded with numerous smaller sales or purchases; in many cases, the profile comes from transaction in which the buyer buys from and/or sells to themselves in another account in order to keep up their feedback percentage.

Deep Discounts off Retail Price

Saving money by buying direct from China or other global manufacturing centers is tempting, and in most cases, this is a fine thing to do. But when you see listings that offer "genuine" brand-name goods at 70, 80, or 90 percent off their retail cost, you're likely either getting low-priced counterfeits or you're simply getting nothing at all after you pay. 

Requests to Pay by Wire

The reason sellers want you to wire money by Western Union or a bank check is that money sent this way is virtually unrecoverable and untraceable once you realize you've received nothing in return. When you make an eBay purchase, pay by PayPal or by credit card. 

Requests to Work With Escrow, PayPal, or eBay Agents

Don't believe this one. eBay will never send you a phone number or initiate a phone call with you. What you're actually being led to do is talking to someone totally unrelated to eBay who will claim in a very professional and official-sounding way to be working for the company. Never work with any kind of "eBay agent" (or "agent" or PayPal "agent") to complete a transaction, no matter how professional and above-board it all sounds.

"Missing" Transactions

You've been bidding on an auction item and suddenly it's no longer there. Then you get an email from the seller telling you that you've "won" or that a "bug" or "unknown problem" with eBay resulted in the listing being removed. However, you learn that you can still complete the sale by following their directions.

Whatever those directions are, don't do follow them. Either the listing is gone because eBay has suspended the seller, or the seller has canceled it in order to get you to trade with them offline, where they are not subject to eBay rules and oversight and no record exists of whatever you and the seller do in the transaction. If the listing disappears, move on and find another one.

Second Chances

This one is tricky because legitimate second-chance offers can come your way on eBay. Real offers always have a few things in common: they'll be offers on items that you actually bid on, didn't win, and for which the listing is now complete and bidding closed. Real offers will always lead back to an auction listing on the real website and will also appear in the messages area of your My eBay account. Any second-chance offer that doesn't meet these criteria, or that asks for wire transfers or any other form of money, is a fake designed to separate you from your money.

Super-Secret Information for Sale

This scam comes in a variety of forms, but it always involves super-secret and super-valuable information that will do something truly amazing: allow you to levitate and control the weather, get you all the free consumer electronics that you want without paying a dime, help you to earn six figures every month, give you the secret to losing 100 pounds in 100 days, and even more outlandish claims.

If it sounds too good to be true, it almost always is.  Your desire for the impossible shouldn't trump your common sense. The information, if it's worth anything, is generally already free. More to the point, the information that you get is rarely actually worth anything at all—which is why it's often being sold for peanuts. If someone did really have the secret to astral projection with scientific research to prove it, would they be selling it on eBay? Probably not.

Phishing Emails Pretending to Be eBay

Known as phish emails or spoof emails, these messages look like they've come from eBay and ask you to do specific things. Sometimes they are related to a transaction, sometimes under the threat of investigations or criminal charges, sometimes with "special offers."

In all cases, they either ask you to provide information or click a link in the email that takes you to what appears to be the eBay (or or PayPal) website. Only it isn't, and the message is a fake, and if you do what is asked, you're going to lose your money or your identity. Never provide confidential information, like banking details, inside an email message or click a link inside an email message if you don't know its origin.

If eBay has sent you any communication, you'll see it in your account on its site.

What If I've Already Been Scammed?

If you've already fallen prey to one of these scams, your best bets are to work through buyer protection and, if necessary, a credit card dispute, assuming that the transaction went through eBay and you were wise enough to pay with a major credit card.

Apart from these two options, you're generally out of luck. Live and learn—and never make the same mistake again.