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Top eBay Marketplace Scams to Be Aware Of

Authored by:
Support.com Tech Pro Team
This Guided Path® was written and reviewed by Support.com’s Tech Pro team. With decades of experience, our Tech Pros are passionate about making technology work for you. We love feedback! Let us know what you think about this Guided Path by rating it at the end.

Created in late 1997 as an AuctionWeb rebrand, eBay quickly became the way to buy and sell nearly anything over the Internet. It started with auctions and now has grown to provide complete online store fronts. eBay is so popular it's become a verb. But before you eBay your old Sega Genesis, you should be aware that eBay is also a hunting ground for scammers.

Scammers will sell you counterfeit items, empty boxes, or talk you into paying outside of eBay. Scammers will also target sellers by overpaying, tricking you into taking fake checks, or claiming you never sent the item. Luckily, eBay does quite a bit to try and protect you from these fraudsters.

To help prevent and mitigate these issues eBay created a feedback rating. Before you buy or sell to someone, you can see their feedback rating and determine your level of risk.

In this article we'll review many of the eBay scams you should be aware of and what to do if you've been scammed.
Ebay scam graphic

Scams that Target Buyers

Scamming buyers is the bread and butter of eBay fraudsters. Luckily eBay tends to side with buyers in disputes so if you do find yourself the victim of a scam you can usually turn to them for help.

You Never Get the Package

The biggest worry and the most prevalent eBay scam is never receiving the item. I've been a victim of this scam myself. You find an item, buy it, send the money in, and then wait excitedly for your treasure to arrive. Only you never get your item. The seller never sent it. So you've paid for your item and the scammer now has your money.

You can prevent this scam by reviewing the seller's feedback information. Seller's with good feedback are not likely to scam you. If they did, it would hurt their feedback. A seller with good feedback can be contacted and will be happy to help if you didn't receive your item. Most will send a new item or refund you.

If you can determine your seller definitely scammed you, contact eBay. They'll work on refunding you as long as you follow their rules.

Counterfeit and Broken Goods Scams

A broken xbox

If a price seems way too low for what you're buying, chances are it's low for a reason. Counterfeit items are all over eBay even though moderators try to remove them. Unfortunately the only real way to prevent this is to be savvy about the retail prices of what you want.

Not only are there counterfeits, but there are broken items for sale. Read the listing very carefully. Some items are being sold as-is and are listed as broken. If you buy it and expect it to work, you're out of luck. eBay can't help you either as the seller included the fact it was broken in the listing.

Empty Box Scams

An empty box

Another rampant scam on eBay is selling empty boxes. The listing will state that you're not even buying the item. You're paying to get the literal box. Imagine thinking you're getting a new game only to find the case empty. This one is particularly tricky because the transaction is legitimate and there's not much eBay can do to refund you. You can avoid this scam by reading the listing carefully.

You're Asked to Pay Outside eBay

A man holding cash

Never. Ever. Pay outside of eBay. If you're scammed, you're out of luck. eBay can't help you if you've paid outside of their service. They won't be able to track the transaction. Some sellers will try and trick you into doing this. Some may even bully you into it. Avoid those sellers.

Sent to the Wrong Name

In this scam the seller actually sends you a box, but there's a problem. The name on the box is wrong. Most people would look at the box and say, "Hey, that's not my name!" You might even return the box to the post office. When you contact the seller they say the box was refused and this breaks eBay's money back guarantee. Now the scammer has not only your item but also your money.

When you receive the package from your seller review the address carefully. Postal workers will normally deliver to you based on your address, not your name. If you're worried about the package, go ahead and open it and check the contents. If it's your purchase, great! If not, you can send it back and contact the seller.

Avoiding this scam requires diligence. It may be a simple mistake, or the seller may have tried to pull one over on you. By being aware of what to look for, you can keep yourself from being conned.

Seller Scams

eBay scams are not just aimed at innocent buyers expecting a good deal. They're also hunting for sellers just trying to make a buck.

Accepting Outside Payment

As said above, never ever accept outside payment. Allowing a buyer to pay by check or another payment method destroys your ability to be protected by eBay. When selling, always get the buyer to pay within eBay. That way the transaction is tracked.

When you ship the purchase, make sure to get a tracking number. This way, if the buyer decides to claim they never got the package, you can prove to eBay that they received it.

This scam works by the buyer talking you into a sweet deal, if only you'd let them pay outside of eBay.

The Buyer Overpays or Changes Address

This scam and the one above tend to work together. The buyer will privately offer to overpay for the item outside eBay. It seems like such a sweet deal, but be wary. The buyer intends to dispute the purchase after they've received the item. Or, they could send you a check that will bounce. Since you let them pay outside of eBay, you can't go to eBay for help.

Another version of this scam involves the same promise of outside overpayment but with a story. The buyer claims that they're going to move out of the country and need you to ship the purchase to their new home (often this is in Nigeria or India). They may ask to pay by a bouncing check but most often they'll ask for your PayPal email. Once you give it to them they'll spam you and try to phish for your information. You'll get an official looking email claiming they paid and need the tracking information. This is just to scare you into sending the purchase. In the end, you'll be out the purchase and in worst cases they'll take your PayPal account.

The Buyer Claims You Sent an Empty Box

Like the empty box seller scam, the buyer claims you sent them an empty box.

Of course, you didn't send them an empty box at all. The buyer is trying to scam you. If you're in good standing with eBay you may be able to fight this claim. Unfortunately, eBay does tend to rule in favor of the buyer so there's a good chance you'll have to refund the price.

To protect yourself from this scam you'll need to document every step of sending that item. Make sure you have pictures of it. If eBay does rule in favor of the buyer you can always appeal it.

Another good rule of thumb is to check the seller's feedback. If the feedback is bad, cancel the sale.

The Buyer Claims the Item was Never Received

Similar to the scam above, this one involves the buyer saying you never sent the item. Since eBay Buyer Protection exists, you'll most likely be told to refund them.

eBay Seller Protection exists to help sellers use eBay with confidence. To fall under this protection, sellers must provide proof that the item was delivered. If the item was sold for under $750, just a delivery notification is enough. If the item is sold for more than $750 you have to have the delivery signed for. All this proves to eBay that the purchase was received.

Experienced scammers know this rule and take advantage of sellers that are unaware of this burden of proof requirement. They'll claim the item never arrived, demand a refund and keep the item.

Protect yourself from this scam by knowing the terms of service for eBay. This is also another reason to check the buyer's feedback.

Buyer Claims the Item was Broken

Another good reason to take a peek at your buyer's feedback is scammers who like to claim the item they received is broken. They may even provide pictures of a broken device or object. Since eBay is likely to see this as either mail damage or you trying to scam the buyer, you'll be told to refund them. They get to keep their money and your item.

This is a hard one to avoid but being aware of buyer feedback is a good way to stay protected.

Payment Processor is Used to Chargeback

Often the bane of an online seller's career, chargebacks are when a buyer tells their payment processor there's something wrong. The processor then holds and eventually refunds the purchase. Scammers will often do this after they've received the item. This way they get a refund and still get to keep whatever you sold to them.

While you can appeal chargebacks, it often takes a great deal of time.

Always document your sales. Take pictures of your packaging. You may need to prove you sent the item.

Blackmail for Good Feedback

We've mentioned feedback a lot. Feedback is your eBay reputation. If you have a bad reputation people are not likely to buy from you. Scammers know this so when they go to purchase from you they may demand something else in return for good feedback. They may demand you let them pay outside the site. If this happens, report the buyer immediately. Do not let them blackmail you.

Avoiding Scams

Now that we've gone over what types of scams and scammers lurk on eBay's Online Marketplace; let's take a look at how we're protected by eBay and can avoid scams.

How eBay Protects You

eBay has a reputation for protecting both its buyers and sellers. Scammers know this and try to get you to break the rules so you lose that protection.

As a buyer or seller be cautious when purchasing or selling items from the following list:

  • Businesses
  • Some categories of business equipment
  • Websites
  • Real estate
  • Vehicles
  • Services
  • Items sold by Sotheby's (an art seller)
  • Classified ads

These items are not protected by eBay.

Additionally if you're a seller and do any of the following eBay will cease protecting you:

  • Operate with a false identity
  • Not follow through with your service promises (such as not honoring your return policy)
  • Have a history of serious policy violations, such as selling counterfeits, using prohibited forms of drop shipping or taking sales off eBay
  • Misuse the protection, such as excessively reporting false 'Item not as described' requests or unfairly giving too low a partial refund

Never Pay Outside of eBay or PayPal

As stated above multiple times, never allow a buyer or seller to talk you into paying or accepting payment outside of eBay. If you do, the transaction cannot be tracked and eBay cannot protect you.

If you do encounter someone who wants to pay or have you pay outside of eBay, do not do it. Report that user to eBay. They're trying to get around the terms of service to scam people. No item is worth getting scammed.

Read the Auction Listing Carefully

Make sure you know what you're buying before initiating a purchase. This way you avoid buying something you didn't want like this empty box.

An empty box being sold

As a seller, make sure you're documenting as much as possible in your listing to avoid confusion. The example we're using here only talks about it being a box in the Title. If, for some reason, you're just selling a box you need to say that in the description as well.

A seller selling an empty box

Investigate the Feedback for the User

Before buying from a seller or selling to a buyer, check their feedback. Feedback is incredibly important on eBay. It's basically your online reputation. You can avoid lots of issues just by utilizing this tool.

Accounts with low feedback ratings will have major red flags. They may be known for not paying, not sending goods, or not following proper return methods.

An excellent seller will often have no bad feedback at all.

A seller with excellent feedback

Buyers may have less numbers just because they're buying, not selling. For both buyers and sellers if the negative feedback is high, avoid them. You can even look into the feedback and see what the complaint was.

Bad feedback complaints

Knowledge is Power

Avoid being scammed by phishing, social engineering, and pop-ups just by being aware of them.

If You've Been Scammed

If you believe you've been the victim of a scam you can open a dispute from the resolution center.

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Created in late 1997 as an AuctionWeb rebrand, eBay quickly became the way to buy and sell nearly anything over the Internet. It started with auctions and now has grown to provide complete online store fronts. eBay is so popular it's become a verb. But before you eBay your old Sega Genesis, you should be aware that eBay is also a hunting ground for scammers.

Scammers will sell you counterfeit items, empty boxes, or talk you into paying outside of eBay. Scammers will also target sellers by overpaying, tricking you into taking fake checks, or claiming you never sent the item. Luckily, eBay does quite a bit to try and protect you from these fraudsters.

To help prevent and mitigate these issues eBay created a feedback rating. Before you buy or sell to someone, you can see their feedback rating and determine your level of risk.

In this article we'll review many of the eBay scams you should be aware of and what to do if you've been scammed.
Ebay scam graphic

Scams that Target Buyers

Scamming buyers is the bread and butter of eBay fraudsters. Luckily eBay tends to side with buyers in disputes so if you do find yourself the victim of a scam you can usually turn to them for help.

You Never Get the Package

The biggest worry and the most prevalent eBay scam is never receiving the item. I've been a victim of this scam myself. You find an item, buy it, send the money in, and then wait excitedly for your treasure to arrive. Only you never get your item. The seller never sent it. So you've paid for your item and the scammer now has your money.

You can prevent this scam by reviewing the seller's feedback information. Seller's with good feedback are not likely to scam you. If they did, it would hurt their feedback. A seller with good feedback can be contacted and will be happy to help if you didn't receive your item. Most will send a new item or refund you.

If you can determine your seller definitely scammed you, contact eBay. They'll work on refunding you as long as you follow their rules.

Counterfeit and Broken Goods Scams

A broken xbox

If a price seems way too low for what you're buying, chances are it's low for a reason. Counterfeit items are all over eBay even though moderators try to remove them. Unfortunately the only real way to prevent this is to be savvy about the retail prices of what you want.

Not only are there counterfeits, but there are broken items for sale. Read the listing very carefully. Some items are being sold as-is and are listed as broken. If you buy it and expect it to work, you're out of luck. eBay can't help you either as the seller included the fact it was broken in the listing.

Empty Box Scams

An empty box

Another rampant scam on eBay is selling empty boxes. The listing will state that you're not even buying the item. You're paying to get the literal box. Imagine thinking you're getting a new game only to find the case empty. This one is particularly tricky because the transaction is legitimate and there's not much eBay can do to refund you. You can avoid this scam by reading the listing carefully.

You're Asked to Pay Outside eBay

A man holding cash

Never. Ever. Pay outside of eBay. If you're scammed, you're out of luck. eBay can't help you if you've paid outside of their service. They won't be able to track the transaction. Some sellers will try and trick you into doing this. Some may even bully you into it. Avoid those sellers.

Sent to the Wrong Name

In this scam the seller actually sends you a box, but there's a problem. The name on the box is wrong. Most people would look at the box and say, "Hey, that's not my name!" You might even return the box to the post office. When you contact the seller they say the box was refused and this breaks eBay's money back guarantee. Now the scammer has not only your item but also your money.

When you receive the package from your seller review the address carefully. Postal workers will normally deliver to you based on your address, not your name. If you're worried about the package, go ahead and open it and check the contents. If it's your purchase, great! If not, you can send it back and contact the seller.

Avoiding this scam requires diligence. It may be a simple mistake, or the seller may have tried to pull one over on you. By being aware of what to look for, you can keep yourself from being conned.

Seller Scams

eBay scams are not just aimed at innocent buyers expecting a good deal. They're also hunting for sellers just trying to make a buck.

Accepting Outside Payment

As said above, never ever accept outside payment. Allowing a buyer to pay by check or another payment method destroys your ability to be protected by eBay. When selling, always get the buyer to pay within eBay. That way the transaction is tracked.

When you ship the purchase, make sure to get a tracking number. This way, if the buyer decides to claim they never got the package, you can prove to eBay that they received it.

This scam works by the buyer talking you into a sweet deal, if only you'd let them pay outside of eBay.

The Buyer Overpays or Changes Address

This scam and the one above tend to work together. The buyer will privately offer to overpay for the item outside eBay. It seems like such a sweet deal, but be wary. The buyer intends to dispute the purchase after they've received the item. Or, they could send you a check that will bounce. Since you let them pay outside of eBay, you can't go to eBay for help.

Another version of this scam involves the same promise of outside overpayment but with a story. The buyer claims that they're going to move out of the country and need you to ship the purchase to their new home (often this is in Nigeria or India). They may ask to pay by a bouncing check but most often they'll ask for your PayPal email. Once you give it to them they'll spam you and try to phish for your information. You'll get an official looking email claiming they paid and need the tracking information. This is just to scare you into sending the purchase. In the end, you'll be out the purchase and in worst cases they'll take your PayPal account.

The Buyer Claims You Sent an Empty Box

Like the empty box seller scam, the buyer claims you sent them an empty box.

Of course, you didn't send them an empty box at all. The buyer is trying to scam you. If you're in good standing with eBay you may be able to fight this claim. Unfortunately, eBay does tend to rule in favor of the buyer so there's a good chance you'll have to refund the price.

To protect yourself from this scam you'll need to document every step of sending that item. Make sure you have pictures of it. If eBay does rule in favor of the buyer you can always appeal it.

Another good rule of thumb is to check the seller's feedback. If the feedback is bad, cancel the sale.

The Buyer Claims the Item was Never Received

Similar to the scam above, this one involves the buyer saying you never sent the item. Since eBay Buyer Protection exists, you'll most likely be told to refund them.

eBay Seller Protection exists to help sellers use eBay with confidence. To fall under this protection, sellers must provide proof that the item was delivered. If the item was sold for under $750, just a delivery notification is enough. If the item is sold for more than $750 you have to have the delivery signed for. All this proves to eBay that the purchase was received.

Experienced scammers know this rule and take advantage of sellers that are unaware of this burden of proof requirement. They'll claim the item never arrived, demand a refund and keep the item.

Protect yourself from this scam by knowing the terms of service for eBay. This is also another reason to check the buyer's feedback.

Buyer Claims the Item was Broken

Another good reason to take a peek at your buyer's feedback is scammers who like to claim the item they received is broken. They may even provide pictures of a broken device or object. Since eBay is likely to see this as either mail damage or you trying to scam the buyer, you'll be told to refund them. They get to keep their money and your item.

This is a hard one to avoid but being aware of buyer feedback is a good way to stay protected.

Payment Processor is Used to Chargeback

Often the bane of an online seller's career, chargebacks are when a buyer tells their payment processor there's something wrong. The processor then holds and eventually refunds the purchase. Scammers will often do this after they've received the item. This way they get a refund and still get to keep whatever you sold to them.

While you can appeal chargebacks, it often takes a great deal of time.

Always document your sales. Take pictures of your packaging. You may need to prove you sent the item.

Blackmail for Good Feedback

We've mentioned feedback a lot. Feedback is your eBay reputation. If you have a bad reputation people are not likely to buy from you. Scammers know this so when they go to purchase from you they may demand something else in return for good feedback. They may demand you let them pay outside the site. If this happens, report the buyer immediately. Do not let them blackmail you.

Avoiding Scams

Now that we've gone over what types of scams and scammers lurk on eBay's Online Marketplace; let's take a look at how we're protected by eBay and can avoid scams.

How eBay Protects You

eBay has a reputation for protecting both its buyers and sellers. Scammers know this and try to get you to break the rules so you lose that protection.

As a buyer or seller be cautious when purchasing or selling items from the following list:

  • Businesses
  • Some categories of business equipment
  • Websites
  • Real estate
  • Vehicles
  • Services
  • Items sold by Sotheby's (an art seller)
  • Classified ads

These items are not protected by eBay.

Additionally if you're a seller and do any of the following eBay will cease protecting you:

  • Operate with a false identity
  • Not follow through with your service promises (such as not honoring your return policy)
  • Have a history of serious policy violations, such as selling counterfeits, using prohibited forms of drop shipping or taking sales off eBay
  • Misuse the protection, such as excessively reporting false 'Item not as described' requests or unfairly giving too low a partial refund

Never Pay Outside of eBay or PayPal

As stated above multiple times, never allow a buyer or seller to talk you into paying or accepting payment outside of eBay. If you do, the transaction cannot be tracked and eBay cannot protect you.

If you do encounter someone who wants to pay or have you pay outside of eBay, do not do it. Report that user to eBay. They're trying to get around the terms of service to scam people. No item is worth getting scammed.

Read the Auction Listing Carefully

Make sure you know what you're buying before initiating a purchase. This way you avoid buying something you didn't want like this empty box.

An empty box being sold

As a seller, make sure you're documenting as much as possible in your listing to avoid confusion. The example we're using here only talks about it being a box in the Title. If, for some reason, you're just selling a box you need to say that in the description as well.

A seller selling an empty box

Investigate the Feedback for the User

Before buying from a seller or selling to a buyer, check their feedback. Feedback is incredibly important on eBay. It's basically your online reputation. You can avoid lots of issues just by utilizing this tool.

Accounts with low feedback ratings will have major red flags. They may be known for not paying, not sending goods, or not following proper return methods.

An excellent seller will often have no bad feedback at all.

A seller with excellent feedback

Buyers may have less numbers just because they're buying, not selling. For both buyers and sellers if the negative feedback is high, avoid them. You can even look into the feedback and see what the complaint was.

Bad feedback complaints

Knowledge is Power

Avoid being scammed by phishing, social engineering, and pop-ups just by being aware of them.

If You've Been Scammed

If you believe you've been the victim of a scam you can open a dispute from the resolution center.