Ways to trade safely on ebay and avoid scams & theft

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After nearly 9 years trading on Ebay I have come across every scam and trick there is, and have always managed to avoid losses.  The secret is to adopt some important practices when using Ebay and Paypal which will ensure you don't fall victim to the increasing number of con artists out there across the world.

Over the next week or so I will be building up this guide to list everything you need to know to trade safely on Ebay.  Although some people may think some of these tips are stating the obvious, I hope they will be of use to many, particularly those who are just starting on Ebay.  Worth printing and reading....

1. Passwords

Probably the most important thing to get right. 

* Ensure your Ebay and Paypal passwords are different from each other and also different from any password you use on other sites.

* Always avoid obvious passwords that others can guess such as family names, pet names, your car, phone numbers etc.  Work on the basis that if someone else knows this fact then they can guess your password with relatively little information (particularly now many of us also use sites such as Facebook, Myspace etc where personal information is easy to come by)

* Make the password secure.  For example if you used the word "everybody" for your password then you could make it stronger by changing some of the letters to capitals and numbers as follows "Ev3ry80dY"  Still looks similar but is a lot more secure.  Now try replacing some of the alphanumeric characters with symbols as follows "£v3ry&0dY" - very secure.  Ideally you should generate a nonsense password such as "£^Ydsg63h7hes(" but remembering it and not having to write it down (where someone could find it) is pretty important too !!

* Never use this password elsewhere and never give it out.  Ebay and Paypal staff will never ask for it - in fact no-one but yourself should have it.

* Finally change the password at regular intervals to keep it fresh and secure and always change it immediately if there is any concern whatsoever that your password has been discovered.

2. Always work within Ebay and Paypal

Again one of the most important things - never follow links from emails or any other source such as instant messenger, Skype etc.   Admittedly 99% of the emails you will get will be genuine, but it only takes one realistic looking scam email and you could loose your account and potentially a lot of money.

Everything you need to do when buying and selling on ebay will be available from the Ebay or Paypal sites.  For example if you get an email asking for you to pay for an item you have won then log into Ebay and click on the "Won" link.  If you recieve a message from another ebay member then it will always be available under the "My Messages" link. 

Scam emails are very common - I probably get about 10 a week !!!  Examples are ebay members writing to say they "love the watch you have sent" and asking you to respond by "clicking the yellow button" in the email - Eh ? what watch was that !!!  Another example is Paypal writing to you to advise your account will be suspended if you don't follow the link given to update your security - again Paypal would never do this.  An increasingly common one is someone sending you a second chance offer for an item you didn't win and all the details look correct - again if this is a genuine second chance offer then you will see it when you sign in properly to Ebay and not by following the email link.

In fact be aware of all such scam emails - so many emails about bank details, google adwords and so on are in circulation right now so it is a great rule of thumb to never follow any links and always log into a site directly or contact the organisation such as your bank if you recieve such a message.

Top ensure you only ever log into the genuine Ebay and Paypal sites, on your own PC add www.ebay.co.uk and www.paypal.co.uk to the top of your favorites and only ever access the sites from these links.  Do the same also for other important sites such as your internet banking site etc.

3. Always use a clean and secure PC

Make sure your home PC is clean from any viruses, trojans and other nasties that could intercept your keystrokes and send all important password information to a hacker.  Most ISP's provide good free Anti Virus software and Firewalls but I highly recommend two free products called AVG (Anti Virus) and Zone Alarm (Firewall)  these can be downloaded free of charge from the internet - just search for them through your web browser.There are also a load of good commercial products out there and many available to bid on via Ebay :-)

As well as a good firewall and anti virus software I suggest you also ensure your PC has all the latest updates from Microsoft (assuming you are using MS Windows) and if you are still running XP then also ensure that Microsoft Defender is installed and up to date (free from the MS download site).

Equally important - firewalls, anti virus and MS Defender all protect your PC in real time but it is good practice to do a full system scan for viruses or problems from within the application at least once a week.

Try and avoid using an unfamiliar computers unless you are 100% happy that they are secure enough and your details are safe.  After all you are entering your password onto them and again it protects all your details and finances.  One tip here - if you want to browse for items while at work for example then browse Ebay without logging in and write down the item numbers you are interested in - you can quickly seach for these when you get home to your secure PC.

4. Use a unique email address

One of the unfortunate consequences of dealing through ebay is that your email address will find its way onto junk email lists sooner or later.  I don't believe Ebay sell this information but if you buy and sell items on Ebay, sooner or later someone you are trading with will use your addres to send out marketing information and your address will find its way onto spam email lists.

The best way to avoid this impacting your personal email is to create another email address just for Ebay and Paypal use.  That way your ebay dealings are kept seperate from the email address used by your friends and family, and in the event that this ebay email address becomes inundated with spam then you can create a new account simply and update your ebay and paypal records to start fresh again without disrupting your personal email.

Side Note:  Another general piece of advice is to use some sort of email filter that shows you what mail you will be recieving before it is actually downloaded to your PC.  This software usually costs a small amount but gives you the ability to bounce emails (giving the sender the impression the email address is no longer valid) and delete them before they actually get onto your PC where they could do damage.  That way only the emails you want will actually be downloaded.  One such program I use is Mailwasher Pro but there are many such products out there which you can find from a google search.

5. Avoid losses when posting items

* Firstly NEVER post an item before you have cleared payment.  A common scam is for a buyer to ask for you to post an item before you recieve payment.  The usual excuse is "I need it for an urgent present and will send you a postal order/cash tomorrow".  You ship the item and never recieve payment and there is very little you can do to recover the loss.  Another common payment method is Paypal Echeques - these are just like paper cheques and have the potential to bounce.  If you are paid by an e-cheque then hold the item until Paypal confirm it has cleared. 

* Only ever post to the buyer's address that Paypal or Ebay provide to you during the transaction.  An increasing scam is to ask you to post to an alternative address, often in a far away country, then a scam such as "item never arrived" or similar is employed.  It is also very common in this scam for the buyer to offer you a lot more money if you "do them a favour" and post the item before payment is made or to ship the item with the "change".  Either way you will never get paid !

* Always get proof of posting and make sure the buyers know this.  A common scam is for the buyer to claim the "item never arrived".  Its very uncommon for the royal mail to loose an item but it does happen so its impossible to know if the buyer is telling the truth.  If you get proof of posting for 1st or 2nd class packets then the buyer is insured for up to £36 even if there is no signature.  I always stress in my listings that I obtain proof of posting and in the event that an item is lost then it is for the buyer to make the claim against the royal mail.   This may sound a little harsh but the buyer needs to make a legal statement to the royal mail to state the item didn't arrive, its not something you can confirm.   Paypal should accept this as proof the item was sent and should not judge against you.

6. Don't Rely On Feedback Alone

Feedback is a great indication of a seller or buyer's reliability but it is easy for an Ebay member to gain feedback for the wrong reasons.  As well as looking at the feedback rating, have a look through the actual feedback itself for the following:

* What was the feedback for ? - be wary if you see a seller with a ton of feedback for low priced items (such as e-books or other non-physical/free items) then all of a sudden they are listing expensive items such as electronics, laptops etc.  Could this be a scammer who is hoping for high bids due to their reputation on items they may actually never send ? 

* Check the ID's for the feedback - if you see the same person or just a small number of people giving feedback constantly then could this be someone setting up several accounts and creating fake transactions just to increase their feedback. 

* Be aware of anyone who has made their feedback private or has sold a lot of private items - what are they trying to hide ?

* What was the feedback for ?  If the user has most or all of their feedback for buying items and on this occasion they are selling something then treat them as a novice seller.  This isn't to say you will have a problem with the transaction, it will probably all be fine, but just be aware they are not an experienced seller regardless of their feedback.

* Don't worry about the odd negative feedback - If a seller for example has 99.7 % positive feedback and on close inspection they have 1000 positives and 3 negatives then consider there are also a lot of buyers out there who expect gold for the price of coal and go straight for the feedback option before trying to resolve the issue.  This is becoming increasingly common now that Ebay have prevented sellers from leaving negative feedback for buyers.  If you are concerned follow up by looking at the profile for the person who left the negative feedback to see if this is a common thread.

7. Be Aware of Postage Inflation

Postage inflation isn't a scam as such but is a way for a seller to avoid some of the ebay fees by selling an item for a low price and making their profit from the postage.  This is against ebay policy but is something you need to decide on yourself.  Personally I avoid sellers who do this as it makes me wary about their overall honesty but its your choice.  The important thing to note here is not to look at the price the seller is charging for the item alone, but what the total price will be including postage.  When you search for an item now you can sort them into "price plus postage" order so you can see the total much easier.

8. Shill Bidding

Shill bidding is the process of using a second Ebay account or getting a friend to bid on your item to force the price up.  This is not always easy to spot but some of the give away signs are:

* Your highest bid for an item is an exact amount, say for example £60 and the bid below you is £59.  It seems a strange amount to bid - why would someone bid £59 and not a round number ?  Possibly the fact that the seller knows most buyers use rounded amounts and therefore they get their "friend" to push you up in uneven amounts until the next milestone.  Yep it seems a bit far fetched but I have seen it happen.

* Feedback for "bargains" seem to come from the same buyer constantly - this is where the buyer actually wins their own item to stop someone else getting it too cheaply (and ties in with the earlier mentioned feedback scam too).  The giveaway is also where the item is relisted by the same seller soon afterwards.

9. Check Paypal to confirm payment is actually there

This problem is a lot more common if you sell an item internationally and the winning bidder is in another country.  What happens here is you recieve an email from Paypal & Ebay confirming that the payment has been made and the email looks totally genuine.  At the same time the buyer has marked the item as "payment sent" within ebay.  Its easy to believe the payment has actually arrived and if you are selling a lot of items at once then it could go unnoticed forever, when in fact the payment was never actually made.

There is a simple way to avoid this - simply log into Paypal through the actual website and not an email link (see point 2 above) and check that each and every payment you expect to have recieved is actually there and has cleared before sending the goods.

10. "Untested", "Sold as Seen" or "No Returns"

If you see any or all of the above in an auction listing then leave well alone. 

"Untested" - ask youself why is it untested ?  Surely the seller would test the item and therefore earn more money for it when they list it as fully working ?  Yep 99% of the time "Untested" actually means "Broken".

"Sold as Seen" - now this is total nonsense, how can you buy something sold as seen when you can't actually see it.  What the seller is inferring here is there are no refunds so again expect to be disappointed with your purchase.

"No Returns" - pretty much the same as sold as seen.  Bear in mind this may actually not be legal - there are statutory rights governing distance selling so it is possible you would be legally entitled to a refund should the item be different to what was described but if you have ever bought a cheap item and not been able to get a refund then its usually not worth persuing.

Rule of thumb then - avoid all such auctions, if it seems too good to be true then it usually is. 

This document will be updated with a lot more information later on this week ..... Watch This Space.....

If you feel this information has been useful then please rate it below.  If you think of any other important information that I should include as well then I would be extremely grateful if you could send me a message through ebay. 

M.

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