How to Recognize Common eBay Scams Against Buyers

Top 10 eBay Scams to Avoid

Woman using iPad to do her food shopping online
Gary Burchell/Getty Images

As with any online transaction, there is always the risk of being scammed on eBay. The types of scams that occur repeatedly are generally easy to recognize and describe. Here are some common scams that affect eBay buyers and what to look for in order to help you to recognize them.

Email Before You Bid Scam

In most cases, when you see a listing that says you must contact the seller for permission before placing a bid or your bid and/or the sale will be canceled, you're likely dealing with a scammer.

 When you contact them, this "seller" will respond with an offer of some kind, and those that accept this offer will quickly be separated from their money, personal information, or worse. Don't email before you bid because if a transaction happens outside eBay, you lose any protections you'd otherwise be entitled to. 

High-Value Untested Items Scam

Sellers that seem to be selling large quantities of highly priced "untested" items (always with an as-is disclaimer somewhere in the listing) are generally actually selling junk for the price of non-junk items and getting away with it. In most cases, you'll see that they either have a very poor feedback percentage for eBay or that they have a feedback profile that is continually padded with lots of smaller sales or purchases which they buy from and/or sell to themselves in another account, in order to keep their feedback percentage up.

Deep Discounts Off Retail Price

It's tempting to save money by buying direct from China or other global manufacturing centers, and in most cases this is a fine thing to do.

 When you see listings that offer "genuine" brand-name goods at 70, 80, or 90 percent off their retail cost, you're likely either getting low-priced counterfeits, or you're simply getting nothing at all after you pay. 

Requests to Pay by Wire

There's a reason a seller would want you to wire money by Western Union or a bank check, and that reason is that money sent this way is virtually unrecoverable and untraceable once you realize you've received nothing in return.

When you make an eBay purchase, either pay by PayPal or pay by credit card. 

Requests to Work with Escrow, PayPal, or eBay Agents

Don't believe this one; eBay never sends you a phone number or initiates a phone call with you. What you're actually being led to do is talk to someone totally unrelated to eBay who will claim in a very professional and official-sounding way to be working at eBay. Never work with any kind of "eBay agent" (or Escrow.com "agent," or PayPal "agent") to complete a transaction, no matter how professional and above-board it all sounds.

"Missing" Transaction Scam

You've been bidding on an auction, and now it's suddenly not there any longer. Then you get an email from the seller telling you that you've "won" or that a "bug" or "unknown problem" with eBay has resulted in the listing being removed, but you can still complete the sale by following their directions. Whatever the directions are, don't. Either the listing is gone because eBay has suspended the seller, or because the seller has canceled it in order to get you to trade with them offline, where they are not subject to eBay rules and oversight and there is no record of whatever you (and they) do in the transaction.

If the listing disappears, move on and find another one.

Second Chance Scam

This one is tricky because there are real, legitimate second chance offers that can come your way on eBay. Real offers will always have a few things in common: they'll be offers on items that you actually bid on, didn't win, and for which the listing is now complete and bidding closed. Real offers will always lead back to an auction listing on the real eBay.com website and will always also appear in the messages area of your My eBay account. Any second chance offer that doesn't meet these criteria (or that asks for things like wire transfers) is a fake designed to separate you from your money.

Please Buy This For Me!

What usually happens here is a scammer offers to PayPal you the money, then ask you to make the purchase and have it shipped to an address of their choosing.

Most of the time the goods will be moderately valuable, often consumer electronics goods. They'll explain that because they are out of the country, their own credit cards or bank account won't work on eBay, or that the seller won't ship internationally, but that you can buy the item, and either have it shipped directly to them or ship it to yourself and then redirect it to them. Don't fall for it.  

Super Secret Information for Sale Listings

This one comes in a variety of forms, but it always involves super-secret and super-valuable information that will do something truly amazing: allow you to levitate and control the weather, get you all the free consumer electronics that you want without paying a dime, help you to earn six figures every month, give you the secret to losing 100 pounds in 100 days, maybe even something better.

You know that if it sounds too good to be true, it almost always is.  Don't let your desire for the impossible trump your common sense. The information, if it's worth anything, is generally already free, and more to the point, the information that you get is rarely actually worth anything at all—which is why it's often being sold for peanuts. If someone did really have the secret to astral projection with scientific research to prove it, would they be selling it on eBay? Probably not.

Phishing Emails Pretending to Be eBay

Known as phish emails or spoof emails, these are messages that look like they've come from eBay which ask you to do specific things, sometimes related to a transaction, sometimes under the threat of investigations or criminal charges, sometimes with "special offers."

In all cases, they either ask you to provide information or click a link in the email that takes you to what appears to be the eBay (or Escrow.com, or PayPal) website. Only it isn't, and the message is a fake, and if you do what is asked, you're going to lose your money or your identity. Never, ever provide information inside an email message or click a link inside an email message if you don't know its origin.

If eBay has sent you any communication, you'll see it in your account on its site.

What If I Already Got Scammed?

If you've already fallen prey to one of these, your best bets are to work through buyer protection and, if necessary, a credit card dispute, assuming that the transaction went through eBay and you were wise enough to pay with a major credit card.

Apart from these two options, you're generally out of luck. Live and learn—and never make the same mistake again.