Is eBay Safe, Reliable, and Trustworthy?

Last updated: April 14, 2017 - 4:39pm EDT

Now that you know a little bit about what eBay.com is, the most important thing to consider before using it is whether or not you can trust it. When you’re buying products online, your personal safety, privacy, and financial security are of the utmost importance. Here at TechBoomers, we know this, and we want to ensure your experience using eBay is a positive one. So, is eBay safe to use?

How safe is eBay?

eBay.com is as safe to use as any ecommerce website, as most people who sell items on eBay do so honestly.  eBay also protects the use of your credit card through its online transaction services, and has money back guarantees. eBay is one of the oldest and most popular online marketplaces for reasons such as these.

With that said, eBay is like most other e-commerce websites, such as Amazon.com, where you pay third parties in advance in exchange for goods. That is to say that there is always the potential for people to try and cheat the system. You should take similar precautions to the ones that you do when ordering items through the mail, as well as when entering personal information (such as your credit card number) elsewhere on the Internet.

Whether you’re buying electronics, collectibles, beauty products, toys, or a car, it’s important that you keep yourself safe. Check out our list below of 5 safety tips for using eBay, no matter what you’re buying online.

5 safety tips for eBay

1. Research the item and its seller.

Before you buy, bid on, or make an offer for an item that someone is selling, take some time to do some research.  See what kind of condition the item is in, what parts it does or does not include, and so on.  More importantly, though, do some research on the seller.  See how highly they're rated, and check what people who have bought items from the seller have specifically said about them.

Most importantly, check the fine print of the seller's various policies. Some sellers may give you a refund if you cancel or return a purchase, but they may only give you a limited time to do so, or may force you to pay return shipping. Others may have a "no refunds" policy. In addition, some sellers may only ship to certain countries, or may only accept certain forms of payment.

Knowing this information ahead of time can help you avoid problems and disappointments with your item or its seller. It can also even help you avoid doing business with someone who's actively looking to scam you.

2. Make sure that you really want an item before submitting a bid or offer for it.

eBay's legal policies appear rather slanted towards protecting sellers, so make sure that your buying intentions are pure.  While it is possible to cancel purchases, bids, and offers for items, it is more difficult to do so on eBay than it is on other e-commerce websites.  It often requires you to contact either its customer service department or the seller directly. 

In addition, bids and offers for items on eBay are considered legally-binding contracts between buyers and sellers.  This means that if you win an auction for an item or a seller accepts an offer you made them on an item, very rarely will a seller be under any obligation to let you cancel your purchase.  This can lead to you receiving penalties on your account for refusing to pay for items, which can eventually lead to your account being restricted or suspended.

3. Never respond to emails that ask for your personal information, even if they appear to be from eBay.

eBay will never ask you to provide or input information such as your credit card number, social security number, or account password via email.  Nor will they put a link directly inside an email to a web page where you must enter this information.

If you are unsure whether an email regarding your account is really from eBay, you can cross-check it against eBay's internal email system by logging into your account, moving your mouse cursor over My eBay, and clicking Messages. If an important message about your account shows up in your regular email but not there, it's probably a fake, and you should delete it.

4. Never offer or agree to complete a transaction outside of eBay.

Always complete a transaction for an item being sold on eBay through eBay itself and its electronic transaction services.  Buying an item from outside the website may help you avoid things like tax and shipping charges, but more likely than not, you will be walking right into a scam. 

In addition, people who sell items outside of eBay (if they aren't trying to outright scam people) are often trying to cheat eBay out of selling fees.  So by agreeing to buy from them, you're helping them break eBay's rules. It is better to simply refuse any offer like this, and perhaps also report any seller who tries this to customer service.

5. If all else fails, contact the authorities.

If you have a problem with a seller or an item that they sold you that you can't resolve by contacting the seller directly, then contact eBay's customer service department.  (See our customer service article for instructions on how to do so). If you think you've been the victim of a scam, it would also be a good idea to contact your bank, credit card company, and/or local law enforcement.

Is eBay reliable?

Usually, eBay is a reliable place to buy things over the Internet. But, again, the important thing is to do your homework regarding the item you're buying and who you're buying it from. Ask yourself questions like: where is the seller shipping from? Where does the seller ship to?  What does the item look like? Has the seller indicated that the condition is less than stellar, or the item is missing parts? How happy have other people been with purchases from this seller?  How much is the seller charging for shipping (if anything)?

How to know if an eBay seller is trustworthy

An eBay seller is generally trustworthy if they have a high feedback score and a high percentage of positive feedback on eBay.  However, be sure to look at how much positive, neutral, and negative feedback overall they’ve received from other eBay users.  Also, judge this against how many orders they’ve completed.

Review seller rating and buyer feedback

In general, the higher the percentage of positive feedback on eBay, the more trustworthy the seller is. However, there are a few other things you should take into consideration:

1. How many orders has the seller filled?

A 100% feedback rating is great…right? But what if the seller has only ever filled two orders (both of which could have been to a close friend or family member)? Knowing how many ratings a seller has received is just as important as knowing how much of each kind of feedback they’ve received. Make sure to take a look at this number, as the feedback scores for sellers who have filled thousands of orders is more reliable than the feedback score for a user who has filled very few orders.

This is not to say that a new seller on eBay is automatically untrustworthy or that you can’t have a great experience with them. But you’re taking a bit more of a risk by going with a new seller who hasn’t yet established a reputation on eBay. If you do use a new seller, be sure to rate them after you receive your order to help them build their reputation, or to discourage others from using them if you have an unpleasant experience.

2. How old are the ratings?

A seller could have tens of thousands of ratings and a high percentage, but that doesn’t mean that they are automatically a safe choice. If you look at the most recent reviews, especially those from the past 6 months, you could find that the seller has actually had only negative reviews recently. And since you’re buying from them now, how great they were running their business eight years ago isn’t always relevant to you. Be sure to read the most recent reviews to see what’s in store for you.

3. What specifically have people noticed about this seller?

Look for keywords within ratings that are important to you based on the product you want to buy. Many sellers on eBay sell all kinds of different products. Their ratings on book sales may be 100% across the charts, but if you’re buying makeup from them, is that really the same thing?

Be sure to click Search Seller Feedback when reading reviews to look for products that apply to you, or what’s most important to you. If you need the product as soon as possible, search for keywords like “speed,” “slow,” “late,” or “lost” to see if there are negative ratings regarding that particular characteristic of the seller's shipments.

Search for keywords in seller feedback

4. What is their percentage rating, and what is their star rating?

On eBay, your feedback score from other users is calculated on two levels.  As a buyer, you should look at both of these scores for the sellers you’re considering.

The first is the percentage rating, which is a score out of 100. eBay takes the number of positive feedback ratings and divides it by the total number of feedback ratings. For example, a user with 50 positive ratings and 0 negative would have 100 %, while a user with 50 positive and 5 negative would have a rating of 90%, and a user with 50 positive and 25 negative would have 66%.

Each user also has a colored star beside their name, which indicates their feedback score in a different way. Starting at 0, each time a user gains a positive feedback review, their number increases by 1; each time they receive a negative feedback review, the total score goes down by 1. As you increase your score, the color of your star will change, making you appear more trustworthy to eBay buyers.

What do the eBay stars mean?

A tiny icon with a number will appear beside the seller’s name. The number indicates what their feedback score is, and a small icon of a colored star represents a category of ratings. As the number increases, it is more and more likely you can trust the seller. Negative feedback will cause their score to go down, likely meaning that they aren't as trustworthy.

This is a great way to determine if a seller is reliable, because each person that has taken the time to rate them (which is most eBay users) must decide if their experience was positive or negative (or neutral, which would cause the score to remain the same). This star-rating system tracks a seller’s service over time, for the duration of their entire account. You can likely trust a user that has any shooting star, as this means people have bought from them numerous times, and have more often than not been satisfied with the service they received.

The star rating system on eBay works as follows: 


Color of star

Rating score

Yellow star

10-49

Blue star

50-99

Turquoise star

100 – 499

Purple star

500 – 999

Red star

1000 – 4999

Green star

5000 – 9999

Yellow shooting star

10,000 – 24,999

Turquoise shooting star

25,000 – 49,999

Purple shooting star

50.000 – 99,999

Red shooting star

100,000 – 499,999

Green shooting star

500,000 – 999,999

Silver shooting star

1,000,000 +

 

Checking out the details page of an item or its seller will go a long way towards helping you reliably get good-quality items promptly at a reasonable cost. To learn more about the process of buying items, visit our eBay course page for step-by-step tutorials that cover how to buy on eBay and how bidding works. We’ve also got lots of tips for bidding, which will both keep you safe AND help you find great deals!

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