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.
The site's immediate and lasting popularity may have something to do with its unique-for-the-time (and now much-imitated) structure, allowing users to participate in online auctions, giving them the chance to score real deals on various items.
Products were originally more eclectic, posted primarily by regular people, with sellers charged listing fees and charged again once an item sells. But as the site expanded, many larger distributors began using its services to move more commercial goods. Today, you can find everything from laser pointers (the first item ever sold on eBay) to Lamborghinis on the site.
eBay itself has also expanded its services, now offering instant "Buy It Now" shopping options as well as online classified ads and ticket trading. And to help facilitate online payments, the site helped develop PayPal, a wholly-owned subsidiary of eBay, before being spun off in 2015.
Even after almost 30 years, eBay continues to be a leader in the online world, but unfortunately, its massive reach also makes it a leading target for scammers.
eBay's open market format is one of the best things about the website—and also one of its potentially biggest downfalls.
The free-for-all approach makes the site especially susceptible to scammers working on both sides of the transaction.
Let the buyer beware. These are some of the most common scams you can find on eBay when the scammer in question acts as the seller.
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 but 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.
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.
Indeed, not making good on the seller's part of the bargain is one of the most popular types of eBay scams.
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:
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 empty boxes, using fine print to get around eBay's protection policies. There are several different ways sellers can trick you using false advertising.
Believe it or not, even potential customers aren't always what they seem on eBay. Plenty of scammers have figured out how to get around the system by posing as a buyer.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
On top of your observations and instincts, there are a few more official ways to protect yourself from eBay scams.
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.)
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:
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.
Reading product descriptions when shopping on eBay is crucial, as scammers often hide important information in them that could make you think twice about buying.
Fake PayPal emails regarding your eBay transactions are sent by scammers to fake payments and steal your information.
Don't trust anyone who asks for payment via eBay gift cards, even if they claim they are from a legitimate company or government agency.
Although somewhat harmless, being a target of a brushing scam can mean your information is compromised and could lead to more harmful scams.
Buying tickets via sites like Craigslist and Facebook may be the cheaper option, but you also risk buying a fake ticket that won't get you anywhere.
When buying a car via eBay, make sure you complete the purchase using eBay's system, or it won't be protected and you could lose thousands.
Not all vehicles are what they seem on eBay—make sure you check the vehicle's background and mechanics before you buy or you could put yourself in hot water.
When buying on eBay always read the product description carefully. Scammers are using deceptive tactics to trick you into paying for an empty box.
Don't believe everything you see. Online listings have become a playground for scammers using fake photos to win your business.
Although a local pickup may seem more convenient, beware of buyers who are just trying to scam you and get your item for free.
Whether it's a counterfeit product, a sketchy seller, or a price too good to be true, eBay scams are widespread, so it's important to know how to protect yourself.
With every Facebook Messenger scam, the attacker is trying to steal from you—whether they’re after money, login credentials, or other personal information.
One of the fastest-growing retail channels, OfferUp is a prime target for scammers, taking advantage of private sellers and buyers.
With more than 2.7 billion Facebook users worldwide, the social media platform has become a playground for scammers who target unsuspecting users.
Craigslist scams are more common than we'd like, but there are steps to take to help keep yourself (and others) safe.
This case shows just why you need to be aware of SIM swapping and how to protect your cell phone number from criminals like this.
After a 3-year long scam, Angela Mirabella and six others have been indicted on several charges, including grand theft.
Taking a chance on a fake COVID-19 vaccination card seems like an easy way to get around requirements, but think again before you land yourself in prison.
Sometimes it just safer not to pick up calls from unknown phone numbers.
Nike is taking a stand against counterfeiters and stopping fake products before they hit U.S. soil.