How to Avoid eBay Fraud
eBay is a fantastic place to shop. You'll find items on eBay that you simply can't find anywhere else. If you're lucky, you'll also find some terrific deals. But let's face it, buying items in online auctions can be risky. Very successful eBay buyers know the risks and they know what to avoid. The problem is that learning all of the things that make an eBay purchase risky takes a lot of experience. It often means you've been burned a few times.
For any given eBay item, there are literally dozens of things to account for when determining whether you've got a good deal or a scam. This page provides some of the key indicators you should look for before you bid on anything.
On to the tips.
Here are some basic things to look out for when shopping for an item on eBay. Remember to always do your homework before bidding and ask questions. If a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.
1. Always check a seller's feedback.
The kind of information eBay provides through feedback is pretty limited. Most people look at total score and percent positive. However, if you really want to know whether a seller is reputable, you need to account for things like unique positive and negative feedback. For example, some dishonest sellers can pump up their feedback score and percentage through shill bidding, a practice where the seller (or seller's partner) bids on their own items using a second account. In these cases, the seller may have a feedback score of 20, but the feedback is all from one or two buyers. Neutral feedback is important too. In fact, most eBay users are so reluctant to leave negative feedback, that you should consider evaluating neutrals as if they were negatives. Be sure to read some of the neutral feedback for a seller. More often than not, you'll see that the comments left are negative. You may even see negative comments left in positive feedback! Goofbay is a handy site for viewing a seller's negative feedback.
2. Don't let shipping charges turn a good deal into a rip-off.
You've probably seen items on eBay that are priced well below what they are worth. Look more closely at most of these listings and you'll find a common thread. Shipping charges are either not specified, or they are excessive. eBay calls this practice "fee avoidance". Because sellers only have to pay final value fees on the price of the item, they will often sell an item for $0.99 and charge $10, $20, $50 or more in shipping fees when shipping should only be a few dollars. Always make sure the seller has clearly specified shipping charges in his or her listing. If shipping has not been specified or is unclear, contact the seller directly and ask for shipping charges to your specific location. If a seller won't tell you what shipping will cost, don't bid on the item. The US Postal Service has a shipping calculator to help you determine fair shipping charges.
3. International transactions can be risky.
Always be aware of the location of the item and the seller. Many of the "too good to be true" items are listed from foreign countries. Just keep in mind that if the deal seems too good to be true and the seller is located outside your local country, the odds of it being a rip-off are much greater. Be especially suspicious of CDs, DVDs and video games originating in Asia as they are often counterfeit. You should also keep in mind that international transactions will incur additional shipping charges and, potentially, customs fees. Make sure you understand all charges before bidding on an item listed from another country.
4. Read item descriptions carefully.
You can spot a fraudulent listing in much the same way you can spot email spam. The seller typically makes bold claims, the description is often filled with spelling and grammatical errors and the deal usually sounds too good to be true. Always read descriptions carefully. Poorly written descriptions are often a dead giveaway. Be on the lookout for phrases like "do not bid", "information only", "no PayPal" and many, many more.
5. Watch out for 1-day listings.
One day listings are a tool of the scam artist's trade. Dishonest sellers may use one day listings to quickly dupe eBay buyers and then disappear without a trace. Sometimes, one day listing are the result of seller account takeovers. In a takeover, a scam artist assumes the identity of a reputable seller and lists bogus items on eBay for a quick turnaround. If you find an item that is listed for only one day, proceed with caution. Check the seller's feedback to see if they have a history of successful one day sales.
Note: During the holidays, you may see more one day listings because sellers want to be sure to ship your item in time for Christmas. However, you should still be cautious. Ask the seller questions and if they don't respond or if they try to get you to transact off of eBay, don't bid.
6. Always pay with a credit card.
Be wary of any seller who doesn't accept PayPal as a payment method. This is especially true if the seller prefers Western Union, bank wire transfer or money gram. These methods of payment are not safe. Your very best bet is to rely on the protections provided to you by your credit card company. While PayPal is the preferred payment method, remember that even PayPal guaranteed transactions can't offer you the same level of pretection that comes with every credit card purchase. Make sure that your seller accepts PayPal. When completing payment, make sure that your PayPal payment is being made through your credit card, not your bank account or your PayPal balance. This is the only way to receive the full protections offered by your credit card.
7. Never, never, never complete an eBay transaction off eBay.
This one might sound a little odd at first. You may be wondering, if the item is listed on eBay, how can you complete the transaction off eBay? As it turns out, many dishonest sellers are using eBay to lure buyers into a scam. A seller may contact you, offering to sell you an item before the auction ends. The seller suggests that the two of you complete the transaction directly and often asks for payment via money gram, Western Union, or other insecure method (see above). Under no circumstances should you complete a transaction off eBay that started on eBay. This is almost always a scam.
Top eBay Myths
1. Myth: When I buy an item on eBay, I am buying from eBay.
Fact: You can think of eBay the same way you might think of the classified ads section of your local newspaper. The newspaper isn't selling the items listed in the paper. Likewise, eBay isn't selling the items you see listed on their site. Sellers pay eBay fees to post descriptions of the items they want to sell. That is why it is so important to review item descriptions and terms of sale when buying an item on eBay. Every seller is different. Most sellers are trustworthy but some are not.
2. Myth: eBay guarantees the items sold on their site.
Fact: Because eBay doesn't actually sell the item (see above), they also don't make any guarantees about the item's reliability or the accuracy of the item descriptions. On eBay, it's buyer beware. While eBay has a few methods you can use to try to get your money back, they only apply to items eBay deems were "significantly not as described" or that were never shipped. The process often takes a long time and may not be settled in your favour.
3. Myth: PayPal's 100% protection from unauthorized transactions means I'm protected if the seller doesn't ship an item or if the item is not what I expected.
Fact: PayPal's 100% protection only applies to unauthorized transactions. This is limited to a breach in PayPal security that causes your card to be fraudulently charged. Transactions in which a seller misrepresents or fails to ship a product are not covered by this guarantee.
4. Myth: PayPal Buyer Protection offers me all the security I need.
Fact: PayPal Buyer Protection is much more limited than the protections offered by a credit card. The program was initiated by PayPal to encourage more users to make purchases through PayPal using their bank account which nets the company more profits. For the best protection, always use your credit card as the payment method for PayPal transactions.
5. Myth: If an eBay seller has a positive feedback score over 98%, they are trustworthy.
Fact: Total feedback score and positive feedback percent are not accurate reflections of a seller's trustworthiness on eBay. There are many other factors that must be considered such as: number of unique positives, number of unique negatives, number of neutrals, and recent feedback trends (e.g. seller's who have suddenly received 5 negatives in a row after a long track record of positive feedback).
6. Myth: If an eBay user has a negative experience, they will leave negative feedback.
Fact: Because of the way in which the eBay feedback system works, there is a very strong disincentive to leave negative feedback when a buyer or seller has a negative experience. This is because of a phenomenon known as "negative feedback retaliation". Users who leave negative feedback open themselves up to receiving negative feedback in return, even if they don't deserve it. This is why most sellers have what seem to be impossibly high positive feedback percentages.
7. Myth: Neutral feedback is not important. I should only consider positive and negative feedback.
Fact: Because there is such a strong disincentive to leave negative feedback (see above), buyers and sellers often leave neutral feedback with negative comments. This practice is so common that, in most cases, eBay shoppers should treat Neutral feedback as if it were Negative. This is also why you should be very cautious before leaving a Neutral feedback for a successful transaction. If you are generally satisfied with a transaction, you should leave Positive feedback.
8. Myth: eBay aggressively removes fraudulent or misleading listings from their site.
Fact: eBay makes money when sellers list items for sale and subsequently when those items sell. This means that there is very little incentive for them to remove questionable listings from their site. If you've spent any time searching eBay, you've no doubt noticed that there are a lot of auctions that are clearly fraudulent.