How to Avoid Fraud on eBay – A Buyer’s Guide

ebay fraud confusion
Image by DrJohnBullas via Flickr

The world of fraud is constantly evolving. There are droves upon droves of individuals who will always find it more rewarding to pilfer than to earn. I won’t call these people lazy – they put effort into what they do, and this makes them dangerous (well… on your wallet). Anywhere from bank robbers to sleazy salesmen to the tricksters you’ll find all over the internet – including eBay – there are people who are trying to take your money from you and give nothing back.

Compared to what other schemes you may run across on the internet, eBay is a relatively safe place, especially for the astute – but you need to know the most common and pervasive tricks to take your safety one step further.

Here are some signs that should have you turning tail and running should you come across them in an eBay listing – or anywhere on the web, for that matter.

“I Can’t Access My eBay Messages, So Send Me an Email Here If You Want the Item. DON’T BID.”

This is more or less code for “I’m using someone else’s account and they could find out at any moment and shut me out, so hurry and email me at this other place.”
Usually you’ll see this on a reputable PowerSeller or Top Rated Seller’s account for an expensive item where none of the text in the description is highlightable because it’s in an image. Fraudsters put all of their tricks in an image to try and make it more difficult for eBay to detect and remove.

These people often get into the accounts by directing sellers to another site that looks like eBay and asks them to sign in with their user ID and password. Once they have this, they log in to the seller’s account and use their good reputation to lure people into their scam.

It’s bad news bear. Don’t fall for it. Don’t bid. Don’t email them. Don’t click on anything unless it’s your back button.

“Click here to send your money through the eBay Financial Center who will hold it until you get your item.”

It sounds all secure, right? I mean eBay is a reputable organization and you’re sending your money to their financial center for purposes that are described as an escrow service. Problem is – there is no eBay Financial Center. You’re money goes nowhere near eBay or any other reputable firm – it goes straight into the fraudster’s bank account whose contact information, IP and any other set up they had for this operation will be gone with the wind by the time you realize the truth.

You almost never see this one on actual eBay listings. People tend use this elsewhere, primarily Craigslist, but sometimes AutoTrader or through a mailing list.

Should you send money to the scammer this way, there is little likelihood you’ll ever see it again. Your chances are best if you paid with a credit card and are able to get your bank to allow you a charge back, or if you sent a check that hasn’t arrived or cleared yet. If you Western Unioned it, that money is gone. Long gone.

Should you decide to call eBay about getting your money back, it won’t happen. They had nothing to do with these shenanigans and won’t be able to get you back a cent. Their name was misused – beyond that, they’re not involved.

Your best bet is to contact USA Cops to get the matter reported if not resolved.

“I Can’t Ship Your Item Until I Get Positive Feedback.”

You’ll see this when there’s some concern with the seller’s account and they’re experiencing PayPal holds. That’s when PayPal freezes the money in limbo between buyer and seller until one of three things happens:

  • The seller receives positive feedback
  • Tracking shows that the package was received at the buyer’s address, or,
  • 21 days has passed.

Sometimes this hold gets placed on an account because the seller has a history of not getting their items out to buyers and PayPal deems it time to step in and protect the buyer, or it could be an innocuous enough reason such as the seller is new.

Basically, in these cases, PayPal is acting as an escrow for sellers who statistically pose a risk. The qualifications for the seller getting their money are to ensure that the buyer get the item.

Sellers often get the misconception that that means the buyer needs to go ahead and leave the feedback now because they won’t ship the item without their money. Sometimes they think the buyer is somehow keeping it on hold and won’t give it to them (because they’re clearly so good at reading the emails that PayPal sends out about these sorts of things). Or sometimes, they know the drill, and want to find some way to slither out of it still. (And sometimes, these sellers will have good intentions, sharp focus and will actually – shockingly enough – read through the emails and figure out that all they need to do is ship the item first and the rest will fall into place. But we’re not really focusing on them right now). In any case, many are going to try and weasel the feedback out of you before you ever see the item. Don’t do it.

If you leave feedback before you get the item like some sellers will ask, PayPal will release their money. This is the point when the bad guys take it and run. Not saying that’s your seller, just saying, if you leave that feedback first, you’re leaving yourself wide open to get the shaft.

Don’t be getting all mopey and depressed on me now. It’s not all drab and dreary – scam and scurry – the vast majority of people out there are just looking to put in a day’s honest work while contributing a little something something to the rest of the world – usually in the form of colorful, materialistic goodies, which I love so much. Nom nom nom.

As mentioned at the beginning of this article, fraud is constantly evolving. It doesn’t just come up with a scheme and chill there. Once people catch on and the scam stops working, they’ll devise something else.
In other words? Don’t take this as an all-encompassing, exhaustive list – just a few pointers, because there will always be some new plan out there, ready to be put to nefarious uses.