The beauty of self-contained e-commerce websites like eBay.com is that pretty much the whole transaction takes place online, from the buyer placing an order and paying for it to the seller getting the order ready to ship. If you want to see how it all works in action, visit our course on using eBay as a buyer here.
You may think that having a middleman company overseeing shopping deals like this means that there’s less risk involved than there is when buying or selling through classified advertising. Most of the time, you’d be right. However, there have still been devious people who have pulled tricks on unsuspecting buyers and sellers on eBay, defrauding them of their money and/or personal information.
Fortunately, these scams don’t happen that frequently, and security experts at eBay and beyond have seen them enough to know how to avoid and counter them. And believe it or not, all it takes to outsmart a fraudster in most cases is a few common-sense precautions. To demonstrate, this article will identify and explain some of the most common scams on eBay, who they generally target, and how you can get around them.
Top 6 common scams on eBay and how to avoid them
1. Gift card code theft
Who it targets: Buyers
How it works: When you place an order and express a desire to pay using an eBay gift card, the seller contacts you (usually outside of eBay) and asks you to provide your gift card’s number and/or redemption code by email, phone, etc. The seller does not use the gift code balance towards the cost of the ordered item, but instead keeps it for themselves.
How to counteract it: There are two basic things that you can do to avoid this scam. First, don’t give your gift card number or redemption code out to anyone. Second, only use gift cards to pay for items that you can pay for immediately as you order them, via eBay Checkout.
2. Fake eBay phishing emails
Who it targets: Buyers and sellers
How it works: You receive an email that looks like it’s from eBay or someone who claims to work for them. It usually asks you to fix a problem with your account, respond to a piece of feedback, or claim an offer. It may prompt you to reply to the email, or to follow a link to a website that looks just like eBay. When you respond with the personal information it asks for (such as your user name, password, or credit card number), the scammer uses your information to commit crimes at your expense.
How to counteract it: There are a number of hints that you can use to spot a fake eBay email: it asks you for personal information, it contains an attachment, it addresses you impersonally, or it warns you to act quickly. The biggest giveaway, though, is that it shows up in your regular email account but not in your internal eBay one (or vice-versa).
If you receive a phishing email like this, forward it to firstname.lastname@example.org and then delete it. Don’t do anything else with it, like open an attachment or click a link. For more advice, see our guide to identifying and avoiding phishing scams.
3. Counterfeit items or returns
Who it targets: Mostly buyers, but sometimes sellers
How it works: A seller may sometimes send a buyer an item that has a company’s logo on it, but isn’t made or endorsed by them. Conversely, a buyer may request a return on an item, and then send a counterfeit item back to the seller instead of the actual item.
How to counteract it: The best way to stop this scam before it starts is to only deal with eBay users whom you trust. Look for users with high feedback scores, especially those with the “Top-Rated” or “Top-Rated Plus” distinctions. Be sure to read feedback on their previous sales (especially of the item you’re looking to buy), their detailed seller ratings, and their return and refund policies. Maybe even see if you can find anything out about them outside of eBay.
If you think you’ve been sent a counterfeit item, contact the other party and ask them to help you sort things out. If they don’t fix the problem within 3 days, get in touch with eBay customer service and report your item as fake.
4. eBay Motors scammers
Who it targets: Buyers
How it works: A person outside of eBay sends you an email or posts an advertisement on a different online marketplace, claiming that they are selling a car or other automotive-related product through eBay Motors. They may claim that they are associated with eBay, or that you will be covered by eBay Buyer Protection during the sale. However, the deal usually ends up being a scam.
How to counteract it: Many of the same techniques that work against phishing scams can be used here. Log into your eBay account, go to “My eBay,” and look at your buying activity or messages. If you don’t see information relating to an eBay Motors purchase in either of these places, then you’ve encountered a fraudster.
If you spot someone fraudulently claiming to sell through eBay Motors, don’t send any money or personal/financial information to them. Simply report the scam by forwarding the relevant information to email@example.com. Then delete the email or move on from the ad.
5. Scams on transactions external to eBay
Who it targets: Buyers and sellers
How it works: A buyer or seller may ask you to complete a deal outside of eBay. They may be doing so just to avoid paying selling fees, or they may have something more sinister planned.
For example, a buyer may send you a check or money order for more than the purchased item is worth, and then ask you to pay the difference. Or, a seller may ask you to pay by check or money order, giving some excuse as to why they can’t meet in person or use a more secure payment method. Or, a seller may ask for payment in advance, often insisting on using an unsecure payment form and/or putting pressure on you by claiming that they’ve already shipped your order. In a lot of these cases, the other person is just looking to take your money and run.
How to counteract it: Not only is it against eBay’s rules to finalize deals with its members outside of the website, but it also strips you of any oversight or protection that eBay might have given you in the process. Always insist on finalizing deals through eBay if you can, and always use a secure, traceable form of payment.
If you’re hesitant about using your credit card online, consider using a payment processing service like PayPal. In fact, eBay prefers that its users deal through PayPal, and a lot of the users themselves prefer it, too.
6. Feedback extortion
Who it targets: Mostly sellers, but sometimes buyers
How it works: A buyer may threaten to leave neutral or negative feedback for you in order to pressure you to accept a return, issue a refund, sell an item for less money, include extra items in an order for no cost, or give them a positive rating. By the same token, a seller may withhold an item, refund, replacement item, or positive rating – or not allow you to return an item or use the warranty for it – until you give them positive feedback.
How to counteract it: Contact the buyer or seller and see if you can resolve the issue in a reasonable manner, but don’t give in to any of these demands. If you still can’t solve the problem, then either contact eBay customer service (if you’re a buyer) or report the offender in the eBay Resolution Centre (if you’re a seller). If you have a valid case, eBay will erase any undeserved feedback that you get, and make sure that you get what you are entitled to.
Let us once again reassure you that shopping on eBay.com is safe, as is doing so on many other online marketplaces. Many of these websites work hard to weed out and punish people who deal in bad faith, as well as make their users aware of how scams work. For these reasons, fraudulent activity doesn’t happen on e-commerce websites as often as it used to.
However, it still can – and does – happen. That’s why it’s important for you to know how to stay vigilant and make smart choices when doing anything online, especially shopping. We hope that this article helps you do that. Visit our guide to safe online shopping for more tips on how to buy and sell safely on e-commerce websites around the Internet.