eBay: Bag a bargain or sell to the world

By Jonathan Margolis

Just keep your wits about you in eBay's amazing marketplace.
Online shoppingOnline shopping

Is it worth bothering with eBay?

It most certainly is. eBay (ebay.co.uk) is nothing less than the most extraordinary marketplace there has ever been. You can find a piece of junk in your attic, place it on the site for a few pence and have it winging its way within hours, or even minutes, to someone in Belgium, Barcelona or Burundi who happened to be looking for that very thing. Equally, you can locate the most obscure things to buy on the site and have them swiftly posted to you. What amazes even seasoned eBayers is that you can pick up the most fantastic bargains – yet at the same time, get better prices than you ever imagined when you are selling.

What sort of stuff can you buy and sell?

Everything from tiny antique items to cameras to cars to the occasional freak case you read about in the papers where someone sells their soul, their virginity and so on. A lot of legitimate retail businesses now sell on eBay – so don’t be alarmed if you find you’re dealing with a shop rather than a private individual. It’s fine, and you’ll nearly always get a better deal than in-store.

But don’t you just end up getting ripped off?

It is quite true that the world’s biggest online auction site is a jungle with its fair share of wild beasts in the form of thieves, conmen and weirdos. But the vast majority – probably 99% - of eBayers are really nice, regular people. And with a little pre-knowledge, it’s a piece of cake to avoid the nastiness and enjoy a fascinating and extremely profitable pastime. Firstly, you should use eBay’s payment site, PayPal, (paypal.com) for both buying and selling, at least until you become confident and reasonably experienced. PayPal isn’t completely flawless, but it’s been around a few years now, and it's wise to pretty much every form of online criminal.

Isn’t it very complicated?

Yes, frankly, it is. Even if you are not in the habit of reading instruction books, do yourself a favour and spend a couple of hours reading eBay’s extensive new-user guides online. It will pay off several fold.

How can you avoid scams?

The most important point of all is not to try anything at all which is a millimetre outside the official eBay guidelines. A favourite ‘scam’ these days is where buyers and sellers are conned into opening what appears to be a proper section of eBay, but is in fact a pirate site designed to look official but prise your password and personal details out of you. Almost all such cons are couched in obviously wonky English. But before tutting at the grammar, you’ll have noticed you are being asked something odd. Another key guideline is to steer clear of dealing in high value electronic equipment; eBay is currently infested with dodgy dealers based in Nigeria but pretending to be in the US.

How to spot the scam?

If you’re asked to send payment to the seller’s (or await payment from the buyer’s) brother, who just happens to be a missionary in Africa. Pull out of the deal if this happens. The cleverest customer protection function of eBay is the feedback system. This gives buyers and sellers a chance to rate the people they’ve done business with and is extremely hard for conmen to tamper with. In general, if someone has plenty of positive feedback, they’ll be fine. To sum up: exercise your gut feeling at every turn - anything odd or unusual is probably dodgy.


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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eBay: Bag a bargain or sell to the world

Just keep your wits about you in eBay's amazing marketplace.