Whether you're a frequent buyer or seller on eBay (EBAY) or consider yourself more of an occasional peruser, there are a lot of ways you can get scammed through online retail.
From a classic bait-and-switch to fraudulent pay services, the methods of online scammers seem endless. So, what are some big scams to look out for on eBay, and how can you avoid them (because nothing should stand in the way of you getting a new novelty Spider-Man costume)?
What Is an eBay Scam?
Much like other scams on Craigslist or Facebook, (FB) eBay scams are typically targeted at users who are too trusting or aren't as vigilant as they should be when enacting business transactions. But, there is no shame - internet scams have notoriously gotten more sophisticated as time has passed.
With the myriad of ways internet scammers can trick you out of your money and goods, it is becoming increasingly important to understand the threats and know how to act. So, what are some of the major eBay scams?
1. Fake PayPal Account
For those whose eyes are less trained to spot fake emails, a fake PayPal (PYPL) email can be tricky.
Some buyers on eBay may set up a fake PayPal account or have a fake PayPal confirmation email created to trick you into thinking they've paid for the goods you sold - after you've sold it to them. Unfortunately, the only real way to avoid this scam is to check your PayPal balance directly and not to click any links in the confirmation email. This way, you can see if they've actually paid you without compromising your safety by opening any sketchy links.
2. Seller Uses Incorrect Name
This scam is particularly frustrating for us upstanding citizens.
For this eBay scam, the seller will list a normal item, generally with a "buy now" option, and once you purchase it and send them the money, the scammer will intentionally botch your name. By spelling your name incorrectly enough, you as the buyer will likely return it to the post office - thinking it isn't yours - unfortunately getting it marked "refused" or "returned" and effectively cutting you off from the option of the eBay "money back guarantee."
Once you are unable to get your money back, the scammer will have succeeded in getting your cash and their package back. And, as added insult to injury, you won't be able to leave any feedback since the transaction will be considered a resolved dispute.
3. Phishing Emails From "eBay"
While the pretenses may vary from referencing a recent transaction to offering a special deal, phishing emails from eBay are a common scam that can be pretty hard to distinguish.
These emails appear to be sent from eBay and always ask you to perform some kind of action - either to provide information or click on a link that sends you to a seemingly safe site like a fake eBay or PayPal. Of course, instead of actually taking you to those safe sites, the email robs you of either your identity or money.
To ensure you aren't a victim to this kind of scam, check your eBay account immediately (since you'll be able to see any communication there) and don't provide sensitive information like banking details without verifying beforehand.
4. Missing Transactions or Fake Second Chances
You might be bidding on an item on eBay and it suddenly disappears - but instead of moving on, the seller emails you describing how a technical issue with eBay caused the listing to be removed, or that you were the highest bidder and got the item. The scammer will send you instructions for how to complete the purchase via email, but in reality, the seller was either suspended by eBay or is trying to scam you over email without the oversight of eBay guidelines.
In order to remain safe, ignore any items that are no longer listed and save yourself the trouble.
5. Secret or Special Information for Sale
While this scam might seem more obvious to the cynical eBay user, another fairly common scam is to see "special" information for sale (which could range from the ridiculous like getting electronics for free to crazy weight loss claims).
The obvious solution to this scam is to be wary - offers that are too good to be true or that are probably able to be found for free are not worth your time or money. Using common sense can go a long way.
6. Counterfeit or Deeply Discounted Items
There is definitely a big counterfeit industry - and eBay is no different than Chinatown.
Buying directly from manufacturers can often save you money, but you need to be wary on eBay - seeing high-end brand name products with 70% or 80% off a normal retail price should raise some red flags. Either the items are counterfeit or the seller is a scammer and you won't actually get anything after paying. Regardless, make sure to use your judgment and check to see if the listings are legit.
This is a particularly tricky one to avoid.
With a bait-and-switch scam, a buyer will purchase a product you're selling (typically something more expensive, like an iPhone (APPL) or electronic of some kind). The transaction will be perfectly normal, but once they've received it, they will send pictures or complain about a cracked screen or broken part. The scammer will file a complaint with eBay under the Buyer Protection Plan and require you to refund them.
While it is pretty much impossible to avoid this kind of scam after it has happened, it is generally a good idea to have your buyers purchase insurance for products you are selling that are of high value (like iPhones or other electronics).
How to Avoid eBay Scams
Whether you're dealing with a phishing email or even a bitcoin scam (for those adventurous investors among us), there are a few common guidelines that might help you avoid getting scammed.
In general, never provide information over email with important details about yourself or bank account - and be very wary of emails that ask you to perform actions with links to click on. Be on the lookout when using money transferring services like PayPal or wire transfer services for fake emails or accounts and always be sure to check on your verified app or account for transactions (not emails).
For sellers, as a general rule, don't ship your item until you've received payment - a lot of scams are done through missing this step and can cost you big. As a buyer, be vigilant in analyzing the listings, using common sense, and never (ever!) giving out sensitive information like personal information or bank account numbers without verifying beforehand.
Be sure to check out eBay's security page and stay up-to-date on their policies, whether listing or buying items.