Identified Scam:

eBay Empty Box Scam: Check The Fine Print Before You Buy

When buying on eBay always read the product description carefully. Scammers are using deceptive tactics to trick you into paying for an empty box.


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Updated 2 June 2021
eBay Empty Box Scam: Check The Fine Print Before You Buy
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Identified Scam:

Key Finding

Scammers sell empty product boxes on eBay, tricking you into thinking you're buying the actual product and not just an empty box. 


Key Risk

You won't get a refund, so you lose the money you paid, which can be hundreds or thousands of dollars, and will be left with the empty box. 

Sections on this page
  1. What Is the eBay Empty Box Scam?
  2. How Do You Beat and Avoid the eBay Empty Box Scam?
  3. Examples of the eBay Empty Box Scam
  4. Fallen for an eBay Empty Box Scam?
  5. Frequently Asked Questions

eBay empty box scams can be beaten by making sure you read the full item description as closely as possible. Although you may still be left with an empty box, you can get a full refund as long as you can prove the description was not clear about the true nature of the item being sold.

What Is the eBay Empty Box Scam?

In this scam, scammers target eBay buyers looking for an extremely popular or trending item that has limited quantity, is difficult to find elsewhere or has garnered a great deal of media attention. For those reasons or any other reason, you might rush into the purchase without reading the fine print. Here's how the eBay empty box scam works.

The Seller Lists the Item for Sale (With Fine Print)

The seller lists an item that is hot and trending, counting on buyers who aren’t reading all the item's details. The seller provides a great deal of hype about the product itself, including subtly urgent language related to various product factors, such as:

  • Trending popularity
  • Limited timeframe of availability for strict buyer-to-seller transactions versus auctions
  • Low stock quantity
  • Lower price than competitors
  • How many bids they’ve received
  • How many other buyers are watching that interested buyers
  • How much longer the auction will go on

Eager buyers might jump the gun and purchase without reading all the product details and descriptions.

What you don’t realize, however, is that the product for sale is just the box with no actual product inside.

Example Product Listing

Nintendo BRAND N64 Gray Controller *mint * Barely Touched 64

Authentic box and insert for gray Nintendo 64 Controller. Box and insert only - no controller.

Box and insert are for controller model no. NUS-005, UPC 0 45496 86002 8

Very good condition. See pictures.

Ships USPS Priority Mail or Medium Flat rate box. Extra packing material for secure shipment.

You Purchase the Item

Unaware of the small fine print included in the product listing, you go ahead and buy the item. Everything will seem normal until the product arrives and it’s an empty box.

You’re Not Eligible for a Refund

Sellers selling empty boxes on eBay take no responsibility for what seems like an error to honest and conscientious buyers. If you complain to the seller or eBay, you will unfortunately not be on the winning end of the claim.

In this case, the seller did disclose that the product for sale was an empty box. Unfortunately, although they may have intentionally clouded the truth, you won’t be able to claim a refund on the false product.

While eBay does not support this type of seller behavior, there is some gray area with this scam in that buyers must remain aware and beware of fraudulent sellers using trickery in plain sight.

How Do You Beat and Avoid the eBay Empty Box Scam?

Sometimes the more enthusiastic you are about a product, the more you should slow down and read the details, fine print, disclaimers, etc. When there is great excitement over a product with a demand greater than the supply, slow down and ensure that someone doesn’t take advantage of your enthusiasm.

To beat this scam:

  • Read the description carefully to make sure the product itself is included, including all fine print.
  • Read reviews from other buyers.
  • Check out the seller’s profile to make sure it seems legit.
  • Carefully read eBay email blasts for deals of the day, ensuring it seems legitimate from the outset.

If the product listing doesn't contain any information about it being for a box only, you will be able to return the box and request a refund. If the scammer doesn't respond to you, file a dispute directly with eBay. 

Red Flags to Watch Out For

  • Short-duration listings: Stay wary of short-duration listings wherein fraudulent sellers want to make the sale and close the deal quickly. The longer they keep the listing up on eBay, the better chance they have of someone reporting them or otherwise getting caught. With some exceptions, a one-day listing is a sign that trouble awaits you.
  • Heavily discounted or sold-out items: Sellers with a lot of high-value items at unusually low prices, or those with a stock of hard-to-find goods sold out everywhere else, might try to pull this scam. It’s one more scenario where if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Lack of reviews or ratings: Check the seller’s information, including length of time as a seller, customer feedback, and ratings. Relatively new profiles could be a sign of a scammer.
  • Lack of product description: If the listing is for a Playstation, but the listing doesn’t include much information about the console itself, it could be a scam.

Examples of the eBay Empty Box Scam

In the fall of 2020, Sony released its latest version of its popular gaming console, the PS5. Scammers took advantage of gaming buyers’ excitement and, in some cases, impulsiveness and sold the empty PS5 boxes for high prices to eager bidders.

eBay released this statement regarding the PS5 empty box scam:

We condemn these opportunistic sellers who are attempting to mislead other users. We are in the process of removing all listings for photos of PS5s from our marketplace and will be taking appropriate action against the sellers.

Always read the full product description closely and carefully. To get away with this scam, they need to state that the product is for a box only. 

Example eBay empty box scam listing
In this example, the seller listed an iPhone 12 for sale, when in fact it's for the box only. (Source: eBay)

Fallen for an eBay Empty Box Scam?

Have you fallen for this scam? If you have, you aren’t alone. Many people have fallen prey to scammers using deceptive or hidden language.

It’s essential to keep in mind that fraudulent actors will use any trick available to them, and sometimes that includes thinly veiled truth.

There are a few things you can do if you’ve fallen for this scam:

  • Contact the seller if their account is still active, and ask if there was some confusion.
  • Report the fraudulent behavior to eBay, alerting them to the seller’s deceptive language and fraudulent behavior.
  • If the seller’s listing is still up, leave negative feedback to warn other buyers.

Unfortunately, in many cases, eBay will find the dispute in favor of the seller, where they have indeed included fine print that the product is just an empty box. Take the time to read product descriptions carefully in any case, but especially when there is a lot of excitement or limited product availability.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I get my money back if the eBay listing didn't say anything about it being a box only?

Yes. If the listing doesn't include any copy about the product being a box only, you can request a refund from the seller. If the seller doesn't respond, you can file a dispute through eBay. 

Can I get my money back if the listing said "Box Only" but I didn't realize?

Unfortunately, if the listing did say the product for sale was a box only, it's unlikely you'll get a refund from the seller (or eBay). It's still worth attempting to get a refund, though. If it was a genuine mistake and the seller isn't a scammer, they may offer a refund. 

Is eBay a safe website to use?

Yes and no. While eBay is a legitimate website to buy and sell items on, scammers use the site regularly to trick innocent users. However, as long as you know the red flags of all of the different eBay scams there are, you can protect yourself and shop safely.

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