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How to avoid getting scammed on ebay

Esther Shaw / 28 April 2015 ( 19 March 2020 )

Don’t get conned by scammers on ebay. Esther Shaw gives a run down on scams which circulate on ebay and shares her tips to help buyers and sellers spot the fraudsters.

Shopping trolley on a keyboard
Don't be lured to pay directly via email - always make your transaction on the ebay site

For many people, ebay is a great way to make money by selling old, preloved and unwanted goods – or an easy way to pick up a bargain.

But while most users have a safe and successful experience with the online marketplace, it is rife with scams - so you need to be on your guard.

Six worrying things about online shopping

Scam 1: Buyer pays for goods they never receive

With this con, a victim can end up paying for goods that never arrive.

In some cases, scammers simply send the buyer a photo of the item, which could be a costly gadget or piece of technology. The buyer is then left out of pocket – and without the goods they were expecting to receive.

In one such notorious scam, a buyer was duped into spending £300 on a photo – yes, a photo! - of an Apple MacBook, with the laptop itself never turning up in the post.

What are your online shopping rights?

Scam 2: Seller is asked to send an item to Nigeria

Some sellers have been tricked by a scam which involves a buyer claiming they have paid “extra” for postage and packaging so that a buyer can send the item abroad – often to Nigeria.

Sellers then receive a hoax email from fraudsters posing as “PayPal” and are asked to provide additional details. Those who fall victim risk losing the item they were selling, payment for that item, and hefty postal costs.

In addition, for those fooled into handing over their personal details, the repercussions can be even more serious.

Scam 3: Seller fails to request delivery confirmation

If you are selling an item through ebay, and post it to a buyer without using a service with delivery confirmation, there is a risk of falling victim to a scam.

Conmen will report to PayPal that they didn’t receive the item, and if you can’t prove you posted it, PayPal will claw the money back from you and refund the buyer.

You then lose the item you were sending, as well as the payment you had expected.

How to deal with wrongly delivered post

Scam 4: Scammers take over a seller’s account which has positive feedback

Con artists have been known to hack an account with positive feedback and take it over. They then go on to sell goods and rake in money quickly before moving on to another account.

For the buyers who have parted with cash, there is only bad news, as the goods never arrive.

Five scams to steal your identity

Scam 5: Criminals hijack a legitimate PayPal account

In other cases, scammers attempt to buy goods using a hijacked PayPal account. If a seller accepts a payment via PayPal for these goods, they could find that cash that is initially there is taken back out of their account just days after it was paid in.

The seller then loses both the item they were selling, as well the cash they thought they had received for it.

 How to pay securely and safely for shopping online

Scam 6: Buyer complaining that goods were not what they expected

As a seller, you also need to be wary if a buyer tells you that the item you sent was not what they expected.

They might for example, claim that the coat you sent was the wrong colour, or not in the right condition.

If you ask them to return the item for a refund, scammers will then send you their old rubbish instead.

Despite this, the buyer may then get a refund from PayPal.

In some cases, fraudsters may threaten to leave a bad review if you complain.

Tips to help you to avoid getting scammed

While ebay takes fraud seriously, and offers some protection, you also need to exercise caution both when buying and selling through the site.

Vet the seller carefully

Before parting with any cash, take the time to check both the listing and the rating for positive feedback. Try to buy from sellers who have been members of the site for a long time. Be wary if the seller is new and has only carried out a small number of deals.

Do your research

Search for the seller’s username on the internet, as other people may have posted warnings if they have been scammed.

If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is

Read the listing very carefully, and trust your gut instinct. If there is something you don’t understand, be sure to ask questions before parting with any cash.

Bought fake goods? Read our guide to getting your money back

Be wary of a seller who hasn’t taken their own photos

Tread carefully if a seller is using stock photos from the internet, and especially if they are selling electrical goods or mobile phones, as this is likely to be a scam. If in doubt, request more photos of the item.

Always buy and sell through ebay

Insist on transacting through the site, rather than over your personal emails. This way, you get an element of protection. If you deal outside the site, eBay will not be responsible. This could make it very hard to get your money back.

Be wary of demands to make payment using Western Union

Be on your guard if the seller requests an unusual payment option, as this will probably mean funds can’t be tracked. This means the seller could be a fraudster. If items are posted, always use PayPal.

If you need to inspect an item, such as a car, do not part with money until you’ve seen it

Take safety precautions, such as arranging to meet the seller in a public place, and only make your payment once you have taken the time to inspect the item, and are happy that you want to proceed with the purchase.

Don’t reply to hoax messages

Genuine messages from ebay can be located by visiting your folder at “My ebay” at or the ebay mobile app. Don’t reply to other emails that arrive in your inbox purporting to come from the site.

Report scams

If you think something is a scam, report it to the police by calling Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or visiting the website.

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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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