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Recognize Common eBay Scams Against Buyers

When you see signs of any of these scams, it's time to back out quickly

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Recognize Common eBay Scams Against Buyers

eBay scams aren't particularly common, but they are out there, and you don't want to be a victim. Learn to recognize the signs.

Image: Ben Chams / Fotolia

Getting "scammed" on eBay is not nearly as common as some make it out to be, but the scams that do occur repeatedly are generally easy to recognize and describe. Here are some common scams that affect eBay buyers and what to look for in order to help you to recognize them.

  • The "email before you bid" scam. In most cases, when you see a listing that says you must contact the seller for permission before placing a bid or your bid and/or the sale will be cancelled, you're staring right at a scammer. When someone wants to sell an item, they want to sell it—not artificially limit their pool of bidders or buyers. When you contact them, this "seller" will respond with an offer of some kind, and those that accept this offer will quickly be separated from their money, personal information, or worse. Don't "email before you bid." When you see this requirement, just move on.

  • The high-value "untested item" scam. Sellers that seem to be selling large quantities of highly priced "untested" items (always with an AS-IS disclaimer somewhere in the listing) are generally actually selling junk for the price of non-junk items and getting away with it. In most cases, you'll see that they either have a very poor feedback percentage for eBay (98 percent or less) or that they have a feedback profile that is continually padded with lots of smaller sales or purchases (like $0.01 eBooks or similar things, which they buy from and/or sell to themselves in another account, in order to keep their feedback percentage up).

  • The "90 percent off retail" scam. It's tempting to save money by buying direct from China or other global manufacturing centers, and in most cases this is a fine thing to do—to save 10, 15, or even 30 percent. When you see listings that offer "genuine" brand-name goods at 70, 80, or 90 percent off their retail cost, you're likely either not getting genuine items at all any longer, but low-priced counterfeit copies that may perform less well and won't be supported by or exchangeable with retailers or real manufacturers, or you're simply getting nothing at all after you pay. Surprise!

  • The "pay by wire" scam. Any time you're asked after completing a sale to pay by anything other than PayPal or a major credit card, you're being scammed. There's a reason that this "seller" wants you to wire money by Western Union or a bank check, and that reason is that money sent this way is virtually unrecoverable and untraceable once you realize you've received nothing in return. When you make an eBay purchase, either pay by PayPal or pay by credit card. Period.

  • The "our escrow makes it safe" scam. This can happen in several ways, but it always involves an escrow service that isn't Escrow.com. eBay only supports one escrow service, Escrow.com, and you're only actually at Escrow.com if you've typed that address into your browser's URL bar yourself and can clearly see that the URL bar shows "http://www.escrow.com" at its beginning. If you're asked to use another Escrow service, don't do it, even if it seems to be eBay-branded, like "eBay Escrow, Inc." or "OfficialeBayEscrow.com" or similar. Real eBay sellers know that eBay supports only Escrow.com, and wise buyers know that you can only be sure you're looking at the real Escrow.com if you've typed it into a browser window yourself. Fake escrow requests will either have you wiring money to the "escrow service" (after which you'll never see it again) or entering payment details into the website of another "escrow service" after which your bank accounts and/or credit card lines will promptly be emptied out by scammers, possibly as your identity is stolen in the meantime.

  • The "eBay (or Escrow.com, or PayPal) agent" scam. Just because you call a number and someone answers and says "Thank you for calling eBay (or Escrow.com, or PayPal)" doesn't mean that you are actually talking to eBay (or Escrow.com, or PayPal). In fact, it means quite the opposite since eBay is notoriously difficult to contact. There are a good number of scammers out there operating with this scam. For one reason or another, they'll have you "call eBay at this number" or "contact our eBay representative at this number," or you'll receive an email that clearly seems to legitimately come from eBay but with a prominently featured phone number and instructions to call it in order to complete the sale, or you may even receive a call "from eBay." Here's a hint: eBay never sends you a phone number or initiates contact with you like this; they don't want to be on the phone with you, and certainly not to complete a sale. What you're actually being led to do is talk to someone totally unrelated to eBay who will claim in a very professional and official sounding way to be working at eBay—and then you'll be provided instructions and reassurances that will, in one way or another, have you surrendering either your money or your identity to a scammer. Never work with any kind of "eBay agent" (or Escrow.com "agent," or PayPal "agent") to complete a transaction, no matter how professional and above-board it all sounds.

Never seen any signs of these in your trading life? Hopefully you never will—but you're not done yet. Read on for the other half of the list of the most common scams encountered by eBay buyers.

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