How to avoid Mobile Phone Scams when buying off Ebay

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As a veteran purchaser of mobile phone handsets on Ebay, I'd thought I'd use my own experience to help newbies on the subject of purchasing mobile phones on Ebay.

When done correctly, there probably isn't a better place to get a handset. Because of the auctioning system, prices can work out at significantly below market prices for even the latest handsets and additionally, it's the best place to get older handsets. Mobile phones depreciate massively in value so there are always chances to pick up a phone extremely cheaply because people are always selling.

In the midst of this however are unscrupulous sellers whose sole aim is to part you from your cash without producing any goods themselves. And it's surprisingly easy to do this; given that it can be difficult to tell a fake auction from a new one.

To be fair, a good percentage of mobile phone scams are taken off by Ebay - they also know the signature auctions of those from hijacked accounts, for instance. However, I still see many auctions going on that have very little chance of being legit. I've been scammed before and it is not a nice feeling. Despite what Ebay and Paypal say, it is a chore getting your money back, if at all - especially if the scammer knows what they are doing as there are ways around the system.

Here are my tips on what to look out for. Please note that they are NOT a 100% indicative of a scam, however, a combination of multiple factors indicates that you should be staying clear, in my own opinion.

1) Extremely low price
The primary reason why scams work is human greed: people want something for less. Don't be taken in by an extremely low Buy-it-Now price. Also, many auctions have ridiculous auction prices, such as £100 for 50 handsets. Be sure not to make an impulse purchase.

2) Low feedback
It is always suspicious to me when someone is selling a high value item with 0 feedback. Even if their feedback is lowish, say 1-50, I would check out their feedback score, and in particular their selling history. The reason being is that is possible to artificially inflate your score using purchases of non-existent items such as ebooks.

3) 1-day auctions
Common sense would dictate that when you are selling a phone, you want a nice long period for maximum visibility. Sure, there are times when a quick sale is needed. But, a high percentage of scammers go for the 1-day option, because shorter duration time = less chance of the auction getting pulled.

4) No photo, or library photo
This is a difficult one to judge, not least because the item photo can be stolen from another listing. But no photo or a stock photo is always a worry. At the very least it says to me that the seller cannot be bothered. What might happen if there is a problem with the phone?

5) Email address in auction
The preserve of the hijacked account. There is no need for any real account to do this, as they can receive messages through Ebay. Never do correspondence in this way.

6) Read description throughly
Has been in the past cheeky scams which were basically pyramid schemes, offering you the chance to buy a place for £20.00 - read every detail of the auction.
Other tricks include:
- Listing for Mobile Phone CD - people think they are bidding for a phone as the gallery picture is of the handset
- Phone Boxes - clever wording of the auction ie: Nokia 6230 Box and Instructions may only mean you are getting the box and instructions, not the phone.

7) Not accepting Paypal
Despite it's faults, Paypal is the safest method you can use when paying for a mobile phone, as it is the only one that has some recourse if things go wrong.
Do not send cash, or use Western Union, which are the most insecure payment methods.
For your own safety, make sure your Paypal account is verified so you can benefit from the limited protection that they offer.

Of course, this is not an exhaustive list. But follow these points and you should be a lot safer.


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