I buy a lot of music gear on Ebay, and I have been a user and browser for the best part of 6 years. Like most users (and paricularly buyers of expensive items) I have been the target of scammers. I regularly report these fraudsters to Ebay, but have grown tired of their (apparent) inability to prevent these unscrupulous individuals from hacking into my personal email and attempting to steal my money or otherwise deceiving me into paying for items that they do not own. It is with that thought, that I submit this guide, to help others not to get caught by the scammers.
This is a brief introduction to the scams that I have come across in the short time that I have been using Ebay. There may be others of which I am currently unaware, and I will periodically update this Guide as I become aware of others, so please do re-visit this Guide from time to time. If anyone is aware of other scams, please do get in contact with me (through Ebay of course!) and I will incorporate them.
- SCAM 1 - the "second chance offer" scam - The most common scam appears to be the "second chance offer" type scam, whereby one is approached by the scammer at the end of an auction and supposedly offered the chance to buy the item, despite the fact that it was "won" by a higher bidder. I am extremely dubious about this type of offer, in any event, and I take the view that a seller should not be permitted to offer the item to "losing" biddders. If Ebay withrew this right, then this type of scam would be nipped in the bud immediately. As a first-off, unless the offer is made from within Ebay itself (which you can access through your "Messages" browser), it is immediately revealed as a scam, since any such offer, if it is legitimate, MUST be made through Ebay. Any offer made to your personal email address is a fraud, and should be reported. Secondly, the fraudulent offer will usually ask you to reply to a Yahoo or Hotmail email address. These addresses can be opened by anyone, without cost, and cannot be traced to the fraudster. Never deal with anyone via such an email address regardless as to whether you buy from them through Ebay or elsewhere. This type of scam is evolving all the time (as us honest punters have become wise to it), and the current trend is for the scammer to pretend that he/she will only deal through Ebay, but to invite you to "show your interest" by responding to a personal email outside Ebay (again, usually a Yahoo or Hotmail address). Do not be tempted, however the offer is phrased, to contact anyone outside Ebay. Simply delete the email from your browser, then check in Ebay to see if the true seller has contacted you (by clicking on the "Messages" button in your Ebay browser). This fraud has become so common that I will no longer respond to any second chance offers, even if they are legitimate (and I have yet to receive a legitimate offer of this type).
- SCAM 2 - the "I want to end the auction early" scam - Again, you will be approached by the fraudster outside Ebay, and he will tell you that he wants to end the auction early, and he will offer you the chance to "purchase" the item for your current bid. The scammer will typically use the excuse that he is desparate for the cash, and so is prepared to end the auction early for fast payment. Again, he will ask you to reply to a private email address (again, usually a Yahoo or Hotmail account). Should you do so, you will not receive any item, nor will you see your cash again. The whole story is, of course, a complete fabrication, since the scammer has simply browsed through Ebay, noted that you are the current high-bidder on an item (usually something expensive), then has managed to hack into your private email (Ebay tells you that it does not disclose your email address to anyone without your permission!) and is now pretending to be the real seller.
- SCAM 3 - the "Chinese" scam - These are easy to spot. So easy, in fact, that it makes one wonder why the scammers even bother! The scammer will offer an item that was previously offered by a legitimate seller, but pretend that it is his own item(s). The scammer typically uses the same textual contents and photographs. I have seen this scam used merely a few hours after the legitimate auction has ended! These scammers typically have zero feedback, and I wonder that Ebay even permits these users to register! I have made countless complaints to Ebay, and something finally seems to have been done, since this type of scammer has seen a marked decline over the past 4 months. Well done, Ebay! However, do be on your guard about this scam, because there is nothing to stop a UK or European resident user from copying the scam. These scammers will obviously get caught the first time they use this scam, so the obvious safeguard to employ is never to buy from anyone who has a zero feedback score, and never use anyone who has negative feedback, especially those with a low-feedback rating, since they have already shown that they are unreliable.
- SCAM 4 - the "fake/replica item" scam - This seems to be rife with the Chinese scammers, too! But is is also used by UK and European resident scammers, particularly with such items as software, dvds and cds, guitars, watches and jewellery. If you must buy expensive jewellery or watches from Ebay-based sellers, establish very early on that the Seller will permit you to have the item verified by an expert before you part with your cash. If you experience any resistence whatsoever, and especially if the seller professes outrage that you should distrust him/her, do not bid! An honest seller will never refuse your request to verify the authenticity of an item, and an dishonest one always will. Report any suspicions you have regarding these sellers immediately to the police, since they are probably perpetrating fraud and deception on a major scale, or are part of a network that is doing so. With software, dvds and cds, be aware that if you knowingly purchase items from sellers that are copies, you are committing the offence of piracy. If you receive items that are obviously copies, report the seller to Trading Standards, whose contact details are easily available over the web.
- SCAM 5 - the "pyramid selling" scam - Occasionally, you will see items advertised for sale that require you to contact the seller before you bid. The fact with these "auctions" is that the seller does not actually own the item; all he is interested in, is getting hold of your personal email details, or in selling you something else. Never respond to these adverts, since you will inadvertently be putting yourself onto a database that will be released, without your consent, to all-and-sundry, and you will thereafter be bombarded with junk mail. Either that, or your details will be used for purposes that have nothing whatsoever to do with the item in which you are interested. The easiest way to test this seller is to email them through Ebay, and ask them if you can go and inspect the item (either prior to bidding, or before parting with your cash), as this will flush out whether or not they do actually hold the item. It is a criminal offence for someone to offer for sale an item that they do not own (it's called deception).
- SCAM 6 - the "hawker" scam - This is not necessarily a theft-type scam, but I include it here, because it can be just as unwelcome. With this scam, you will typically be approached by someone who tells you that they have seen your bidding on a related item, and they will invite you to bid on their similar item; or they will invite you to contact them outside Ebay in order to do a private deal. By all means, look at their item if it is listed on Ebay, but never be tempted to contact a seller outside Ebay, since you will lose gthe proctection that Ebay offers. Again, this scam can be used to place your details on a database that the user then sells to junk mail hawkers, causing you endless grief for many months to come.
- SCAM 7 - the "update your PayPal account" scam - This is a nasty little scam which is aimed at getting you to provide details of your PayPal account to the fraudster. Again, you will be approached outside Ebay, to your private email address, and you will be told that PayPal needs to update or verify your account details in order for you to continue to pay via the PayPal service. I have seen a number of variations on this type of scam, from the simple "we need to update your details" to the down-right threatening "act now or your account will be suspended." The latter is, presumably, designed to frighen and panic you into dealing with the matter immediately, and perhaps thereby encouraging you forget to confirm with Ebay that the message has, in fact, originated from the PayPal service provider. However the message is phrased on no account respond to the message. If the message has not originated from within Ebay it is a fraud; and if you reply to the email you will give sufficient details to the fraudster to enable him/her to access your bank account and empty it. Delete the message immediately, so that neither you nor anyone else in your household inadvertently replies to it.
- SCAM 8 - the "shadow bidding" scam - This is a sophisticated scam and a very difficult one to pull off. The scammer will list an identical item behind a genuine auction. It could be listed typically 24 to 48 hours behind the genuine item so that it ends after the genuine auction, and it will be identical in every way. There is a reason for this. The scammer does not actually own the item, but is hoping that his auction will attract higher bids than the genuine item. At the same time, the scammer bids on the genuine item, but always at a price below the highest bid currently being bid on his own "item." If he wins the genuine article at a price less than the highest bid on his own fake item, he simple sells it on for the higher sum, and makes an easy profit. If he fails to get any higher bidders for his own fake auction, he simply stops bidding on the genuine item, and withdraws his own item at the last minute on the pretext that he has sold it elsewhere. As mentioned, this is an extremely difficult scam to pull off, for the obvious reason that the scammer has to list his behind (or shadow) the genuine auction, which makes him vulnerable to discovery. The safest way to guard against this scam is to get into the habit of viewing all items that are up for sale at the same time as the item that you have your eye on, and compare the descriptions. If one item looks suspiciously like another (same type, year of manufacture, defects, colour, etc) investigate further, and look carefully into the histories of the sellers. The scammer will typically have a lower or even zero feedback score. If in doubt, bid only in the auction that is listed to finish first.
STEPS TO PROTECT YOURSELF:-
- Observe the Golden Rule: Never Never Never reply to, or deal with anyone outside of Ebay. If they want to get you outside of Ebay, it is because they do not want to be identified.
- Never buy from anyone who has zero feedback. We can all prove our worthiness by being good "buyers" first!
- Never buy from anyone who has less than a 100% positive rating on a low feedback score: the person has demonstrated that he is unreliable, so why should YOU trust him?
- Insist on speaking directly to the seller when you propose to purchase expensive items (set yourself a limit eg items over £1,000 on which you will only bid if you can speak to the buyer).
- Insist on paying for expensive items cash-on-collection. This is the best method that I know of which will absolutely sort the con-artists from the genuine sellers.
- Always insist on verifying the authenticiy of an expensive item, and never buy from anyone who refuses to do this. You will have to pay the valuers' fee, of course. If the item is overseas, you can arrange for a local expert to provide you with such a valuation report. A con-merchant will always try to dodge this one, for obvious reasons!
- If something seems to be suspicious, it usually is: go with your gut instinct and leave the bidding to the idiots.
- If you have any suspicions whatsoever that the person you are dealing with is not the true seller of the item, use the "Ask Seller A Question" option in Ebay to ask them if they are the person who has contacted you. It takes 5 minutes but could save you from falling victim to fraud!
Remember, that the scammers are criminals, and when they approach you it is with the intention of stealing from you. They do not deserve any respect and they should be reported to Ebay and (preferably) the police every time. They see you as an idiot, and it is right that you should feel angry and disgusted by this.
I trust that this Guide has been of use to those who read it. If you've read this far, please click on the button to say that this guide was helpful, so that others can be encouraged to read it.
With people power we can keep Ebay safe!
Les Lawrenson (Solicitor, and honest Ebayer (100% rating))