eBay In Depth

Sections on this page
  1. Common eBay Scams To Watch Out For
  2. Other Common Scams to Watch Out For
  3. How to Beat and Avoid eBay Scams
  4. How eBay Protects You

eBay was nearly an instant success, one of the biggest—and only—winners of the "dot-com" bubble of the 1990s. Started in San Jose, California, by Pierre Omidyar in 1995, the website is now a multi-billion dollar company, active in more than 32 countries with more than 182 million users. Unfortunately, its popularity has also given rise to several eBay scams.

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Common eBay Scams To Watch Out For

E-commerce sites continue to be fertile ground for scammers. While Amazon dwarfs eBay in terms of market share, it is still an attractive target for scammers. This is because eBay is a trusted brand with access to a large audience, and anyone can buy or sell using the platform.

According to the Better Business Bureau (BBB) scam tracker, there have been 95 eBay-related scams reported so far this year (January – April). This is a significant decrease from last year when there were 170 reports for the same period.

This declining trend is in line with what has been seen across other e-commerce platforms as consumer shopping behavior returns to more normal pre-covid standards as restrictions are lifted, and supply scarcity is reduced.

The 6 most common eBay scams reported so far this year are:

  1. eBay car selling scams
  2. Unexpected gifts, winnings, and grants
  3. DIRECTV offers
  4. Employment scams
  5. Loan scams
  6. Fake eBay customer service numbers

eBay Car Selling Scams

Used vehicles, including motorbikes, cars, and motorhomes advertised on eBay, are listed at low prices to trick buyers into making a purchase unseen. After contacting the seller, you are given a story about why they are selling the car for so cheap.

Typical stories include that they are helping a relative sell the vehicle, there's been a death or significant illness in the family, or the seller is a military member about to be deployed.

According to one victim:

I emailed the seller and she responded back with all of the details for purchase along with a spiel of why she was selling the vehicle.

She said that she was in the U.S. Services and was due to be deployed by March 28, 2022, and did not want to store the vehicle and would much rather sell it for the $1000.00 only. And any other fees she would cover that included shipping and insurance to deliver the vehicle to me.

Scammers send fake eBay emails to their victims, instructing them to purchase eBay gift cards to pay for the vehicle.

Another victim reported:

eBay sent me an email with the instructions. After that email, I got a phone call from "eBay" and the customer service representative told me I had to buy 4 eBay gift cards to make the payment for the car. I

sent pictures of the gift cards to the email provided by eBay and the representative called me a few minutes later so I could give him the gift card numbers to make the process faster.

It was only after receiving further requests to pay additional fees for shipping and insurance that some victims became suspicious.

Later, I got an email from eBay confirming the payment, but within the email, they wanted me to pay $600 more because of the insurance that the car needed, which made me suspicious.

When victims tried to contact the seller to request a refund, they got no response, and because they had paid with gift cards, there was no way to get their money back.

Other eBay Motors Scams

More than 5 million cars have successfully sold on eBay over the years, but there may be just as many attempts to sell fraudulent wheels as the real deal. The company is so aware of eBay motors scams that the high-ticket items have a dedicated security center on the site.

Some scammers sell cars outside of eBay and claim your purchase is protected by eBay's Vehicle Purchase Protection program. Do not fall for this scam! Only vehicles bought and paid for using eBay's system are covered.

Possible scams range from something as pedestrian as selling an old lemon for more than it's worth, selling a stolen car, or something as elaborate as creating fake escrow companies to steal your money. Many vehicles are also sold before they're fully paid off, with the new owners unknowingly taking on any related debt or trouble with collectors.

Example of eBay Motors scam.
Be on the lookout for red flags of eBay Motors scams, including a request for payment via gift cards.

Unexpected Gifts, Winnings, and Grants

Another common scam targeting both eBay buyers and sellers involves opportunities to win prizes or receive gifts in exchange for completing surveys.

These surveys are posted on eBay. Once you complete a survey, you are contacted and told that you have won a prize. The catch is that you have to pay a fee to receive it.

One victim that reported the scam said:

A survey was posted on eBay, giving the impression that it was from eBay. They told me what the gift was and that a fee was required for shipping.

After providing their credit card details to pay the fee, they were only alerted to the scam after their bank alerted them to several suspicious transactions on their account.

Another victim reported being contacted via text message to complete a survey:

After I took the survey, they called to say I had won $100,000. They said that in order to get the money, I had to pay $2,200 for insurance and taxes.

The scammer requested the payment via eBay gift cards, an untraceable method that scammers love to use. Unfortunately, the prize was fake, and the victim lost the $2,200 they paid the scammer with gift cards.

Grants

Others reported that they were contacted by a "government agent" who was providing grants to people. They were told that they had been selected randomly and would receive $350,000 as part of the grant program.

They told me you must pay the taxes and delivery fees upfront before the money is delivered. Taxes and delivery of the money amount to $4,000 paid in cash by purchasing Bitcoin at an ATM or purchasing Amazon, eBay, or Google gift cards.

The "agent" asked the victim to take pictures of each gift card and photos of the receipt so they could process the payment, at which point, they disappeared, taking the victim's money.

Discounted DIRECTV Offers

Another of the major eBay scams circulating this year involves unsolicited calls from people offering discounts on DIRECTV/AT&T. The catch here is that you only get the promotional offer if you pay for a 6-month subscription upfront. Victims are asked to pay hundreds of dollars via eBay gift cards to receive the offer.

A recent victim of this scam reported. “I received a call from someone impersonating DIRECTV/AT&T stating that I was eligible for a discount on my services. eBay was offering the discount, and I just needed to purchase $385 in eBay gift cards for prepayment of 7 months of service.”

Victims said that once they had purchased gift cards, they were instructed to call back and provide the card numbers and PINs so their payment could be processed. In addition, one victim reported that the scammers tried to charge them an additional $1,000 to upgrade their DIRECTV boxes. They were threatened that their service would be disconnected if they did not pay the fee.

Employment Scams

Scammers make job offers and ask people to purchase eBay gift cards to pay for training and equipment. In several cases, victims were sent fake business checks to cover set-up costs. They were then asked to buy gift cards to send to specified vendors as payment.

A typical example of this scam is a job offer to be a mystery shopper.

One victim stated:

They sent me a $1,800 business check and requested that I purchase $1,300 worth of eBay gift cards from local supermarkets and retail stores and pose as a secret shopper.

Apparently, the task was to monitor the customer service at my personal bank and local retailers.

The difference between the original check and the purchase items was intended to be my compensation for the "secret shopping" mission. Seemed all too easy to be true.”

Once the victim is notified that the fake check has bounced, the scammer has already made off with the money they received via gift cards.

Loan Scams

Scammers set up fake websites that appear legitimate services to help people get approved for cash loans. Scammers will contact you and tell you that to get the money, you have to pay processing fees.

One victim that lost hundreds of dollars to this scam said:

I got a text saying personal loans available. I spoke to a guy on the phone who told me I could get up to $5,000. He showed me a picture of a MoneyGram money order made out to me for $5,000. Then he told me to go to CVS and buy an eBay gift card for $100.00.

I scratched the security number from the back and sent him a picture. The MoneyGram place called me and said I would need another $495 to process the loan.

Another victim who lost over $600 reported:

I applied for a loan online. Then I got calls, emails, and texts from George. He had an accent. He said he was from New York. They gave me a transaction number to look for when the $5,000 would be deposited directly into my account. I bought eBay gift cards from Dollar General, Speedway, and Rite Aid.

The scammer told the victim the payments were for an IRS fee, for raising their credit, and for a state transfer fee. Once they got the gift card details, they disappeared, taking the victim’s money, leaving the victim without a loan and less money than they started with.

Fake eBay Customer Service

Scammers set up fake websites listing fake eBay customer service numbers. When you call the number, scammers try to trick you into sharing personal details or get you to purchase gift cards.

A recent complaint shared details on how the scam works:

I Googled "eBay customer service" in order to check on an order I placed. The first site Google pulled up showed the eBay logo and a number. I called. The guy on the other end proceeded to tell me he found my account but not the order.

He then told me he saw my account was login 3 different places and in order to close those accounts, I need to make a purchase and buy a $200 eBay card. Once I bought the card, they could close the other 3 accounts.

This should have been a big red flag. I did as they instructed and once I gave them the gift card number, I knew this was a scam.

Another victim reported that when they called an eBay customer service number they found via a Google search, they were asked to download a screen-sharing app. Once they were screen sharing, the person on the phone asked them to open up one of their money transfer apps (e.g., Venmo, Cash App) or bank account to check on a transaction.

They were also asked to scan a copy of their driver’s license. Luckily for them, they realized that something was not right and they hung up.

Other Common Scams to Watch Out For

Scams on eBay aren't limited to the above, nor are they limited to just buyers or sellers. Both parties can be targeted by scammers when using the website.

eBay Gift Card Scams

Several different scams on the site revolve around the use of eBay gift cards. Typically, this involves a scammer asking you to purchase several eBay gift cards and pay by sending them the gift card PINs. Sometimes, scammers will offer some limited-time discount to sweeten the offer and put on the pressure.

Of course, once they have the PIN, the scammer then walks away with access to your gift card balance, and you never receive the item you bought and paid for.

Example of eBay gift card scam.
Don't ever pay someone you don't know in eBay gift cards. (Source: Michigan Department of Attorney General)

eBay Non-Delivery Scams

Indeed, not making good on the seller's part of the bargain is one of the most popular types of scams you'll encounter on eBay.

While the company has a money-back guarantee for most products sold on the site, a few items don't appear on that list, meaning a scammer can take your money and never deliver, leaving you with no recourse.

In particular, you should be extra wary of this eBay scam when dealing with:

  • Certain types of vehicles
  • Real estate
  • Websites for sale
  • Some categories of business equipment
  • Items sold through classified ads
  • Items sold through Sotheby's

eBay False Advertisements

Some scammers will post fake pictures or use brand names in the product title to trick you into buying cheap counterfeits. Some scammers will even sell you an empty box, using fine print to get around eBay's protection policies. There are several different ways sellers can trick you using false advertising

Overpayment or Cashier's Check Scam

One of the most classic scams out there in general, this trick revolves around a "buyer" paying with a faulty check—whether the check eventually bounces or is a fake from the start.

A twist on this scam is for scammers to "accidentally" pay you too much with a cashier's check. They'll then ask you to pay for the difference, getting both your item and a little extra money on the side.

False Accusations After Shipping

Another way scammers posing as buyers rig the game is by making false claims after receiving their wares to get their money back. This can include anything from saying the item was broken when they received it to saying they never received it at all.

In the worst-case scenario, eBay will award them their money back—by taking it away from you—while the scammer can not only keep the item but give you a bad review to boot. Since most online marketplaces tend to provide more protection to buyers, these eBay scams are pretty common.

eBay PayPal Scams

Sometimes after winning an auction, buyers will ask for your email address to pay you on PayPal.

Attempting to pay for the item outside of eBay should always be a red flag, but this scam, particularly, leaves you vulnerable to receiving fraudulent emails from the scammer. Often, these include fake payment notices, which may pressure you to ship the item before you've been paid.

Example of fake PayPal email about eBay transaction
Only accept payment via eBay's system—scammers can create fake PayPal emails to trick you into thinking they transferred money to you. (Source: ThreatPost)

How to Beat and Avoid eBay Scams

Still, there are a few ways to fight back in these scenarios.

Your best bet for beating eBay scams is to look out for classic scammer signs, including:

  • Bad grammar
  • Pushy sellers (or buyers) (pushiness is a sign of a fraudulent seller)
  • Over-the-top sob stories
  • Suggesting unusual ways for shipping or picking up an item
  • Buyers offering to pay more than you're selling an item for
  • Talking about using an escrow account
  • Emphasizing the "eBay payment guarantee"
  • Asking you to pay outside of eBay or using unorthodox methods, including money wires, Western Union, or gift cards (many eBay scams require that you pay using gift cards, Bitcoin, or money transfers)

If you spot any of these tactics at play, you might want to pay extra attention; there's a good chance you're dealing with a scammer.

To avoid falling for common eBay scams, you should:

  • Only pay for items using eBay's payment portal/system. Never pay for items or fees via gift cards, other non-traceable methods, or transfer money directly to them—only use the eBay website.
  • Keep your personal or financial information to yourself. This includes your address, bank account information, and gift card numbers.
  • Never screen share with anyone you don't know. eBay will never ask you to share your screen or download any software to your devices.
  • Don't give anyone access to your eBay account. Whether you're an eBay seller or buyer, keep your login information to yourself.

Ultimately, though, beating eBay scams isn't unlike beating other types of scams. The most important factor is to stay wary and trust your gut. If something doesn't feel right, don't do it.

How eBay Protects You

On top of your observations and instincts, there are a few more official ways to protect yourself from eBay scams.

eBay Motors Protection

As previously noted, eBay motors, where cars and car parts are listed for sale, has a security center offering specific help with spotting eBay motors scams and details on a Vehicle Purchase Protection program that will guarantee protection against certain losses up to $100,000.

(Not all vehicles are covered, and you should read the terms and conditions for complete details.)

Product Authentication

For some luxury goods, including expensive watches, eBay also offers professional authentication services. And for nearly all goods sold on the site, eBay offers a money-back guarantee, which will make you whole for an unsatisfactory purchase if you can't settle things with the seller in three days. (The guarantee does not apply to all items on the site, however.)

eBay also has a Customer Service and Resolution Center, where you can:

  • Lodge complaints against listings or users
  • Ask for help getting your money back
  • Get help with any issues you may encounter while using the website

Perhaps another key to its longevity, eBay offers a robust number of actions you can take to protect yourself from scams. But, like with all other online marketplace websites, your best first line of defense is your own best judgment.

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