How to avoid eBay scams

Safely buy and sell your products.

Apply some common sense rules to stay safe on eBay. eBay

When you log into eBay to exchange goods and money with complete strangers, it’s natural to have a sense of trepidation. How can you know who you’re dealing with? Is your money or personal information at risk? Happily, the vast majority of eBay transactions will go through without a hitch. To further minimize your chances of getting scammed, simply follow a few common-sense rules.

Whether you’re selling or buying, we’ll guide you through the dos and don’ts of using eBay safely. These guidelines should keep everyone from auction newbies to old veterans out of trouble. Enjoy your eBaying!

Tips for sellers

If you’re selling something on eBay, you don’t want your item, money, or buyer to disappear into thin air. So it pays to be cautious. Bear in mind, though, that many buyers will be just as suspicious of you. To show that you’re trustworthy, build up your eBay reputation. Every eBayer has a reputation score right by their name, which leads to a fuller feedback page. You can improve this score by regularly selling and buying on the site. But while it’s good to assuage potential customers’ fears, what about your own safety worries? Here’s what you need to do to protect yourself.

First and foremost, keep all your dealings as a seller inside eBay itself, where they can be logged and monitored. Refuse any requests to bypass this system, such as settling the final payment outside eBay or cutting auctions short for a “buy it now” price. Not everyone who makes a request like this will be a scammer, but whether their intentions are pure or not, you should still stick to the eBay rules.

Feedback pages form the basis of a buyer’s or seller’s reputation. David Nield/Popular Science

In any communications you have with potential buyers, be clear, quick, and polite. Remember, the vast majority of the people you’ll deal with just want a smooth transaction. Assume they aren’t trying to rip you off, and treat them accordingly.

Don’t give buyers any excuses for claiming that you’ve been underhanded, which could prompt them to try to get their money back. To stay safe, make sure your item is honestly described and photographed. It’s imperative to take detailed photos of the item before sending it off, including serial numbers and any marks or damage. This stops fraudsters from sending you back a broken laptop of the same make and model and keeping your fully-working machine.

Once you’ve recorded the information that you’ll need, it’s time to ship the package. First, ensure that your item is well-packaged and protected. Even with this precaution, make sure to choose a shipping service that can adequately insure your item. And always, always, always get proof of postage, along with a tracking number. As for the buyer, only use his or her verified address as listed on PayPal or eBay. This helps minimize the risk of problems further down the line.

It should go without saying, but never send your item before you receive payment, or before the transaction has gone through. PayPal is the best option because it leaves digital logs. But if you’re meeting up with a buyer in person, cash should be fine too. Just double-check those bills and count them several times before handing over the goods.

Use a reputable postal service with tracking abilities. Fedex

If you are meeting in person to complete the deal, then we’d recommend rendezvousing in a public place and taking along a friend. Don’t be unnecessarily scared—just apply some common sense.

Those of you who are ultra-cautious, or selling particularly expensive goods, might want to put some restrictions on the people who can make a bid. However, this might result in a lower final price because you’re limiting the pool of potential bidders. Head to the Account section of My eBay, then click Site preferences and Buyer requirements. Here, you can block people without PayPal, with low feedback scores, with recent unpaid items on their account, and so on.

By keeping all communications and dealings on eBay, taking detailed photos of your item, using a registered and insured postal service, and sticking to approved payment methods and verified addresses, you won’t leave potential scammers with many options for taking advantage of you. In fact, you might want to clearly state all of the precautions you’re taking on your listing. This will hopefully deter any potential fraudsters from making a bid.

Tips for buyers

If you’re buying rather than selling on eBay, you’ll find it slightly easier to protect your safety. Your primary risks are paying for something that never arrives, or purchasing an item that turns out to be damaged or not as described. As long as you stick to dealing with eBayers who have solid feedback scores (click the number next to the eBay name to see feedback), this shouldn’t happen.

As a buyer, you do have to “blink first”—you must send money before you receive your item—but eBay has robust mechanisms that should enable you to get your cash back if you run into problems.

As we mentioned above, keep all of your communications through eBay so they will be logged and recorded. If possible, choose PayPal for your payment method because it provides evidence of what you’ve paid and when. Register and verify your identity with PayPal and eBay, so that sellers know they’re dealing with a trustworthy source.

PayPal can help buyers and sellers resolve disputes. PayPal

When you’re bidding on items, check and double-check the listing carefully. Look for any signs of damage in the photos or any vagueness in the description, and read through the postal charges carefully. If any alarm bells start ringing, then walk away—in most cases, you can find plenty of other eBay auctions offering the same item. The quality of the photos and the listing should give you an indication of how professional a seller is, information that can supplement the feedback score.

Pay particular attention to the returns policy. This dictates whether or not you can get your money back if the goods aren’t as described. Bear in mind that you’re dealing with private individuals here, not retailers. That means you’re paying for what’s described in the listing, not an extended warranty or technical support after the transaction has closed. If you want those extra safety nets, then buy from a recognized retailer and not eBay.

The professionalism of a listing’s text and photos can reveal a seller’s quality. David Nield/Popular Science

As a buyer, you can afford to be pickier about the deals you get involved in, and that reduces the risk of getting scammed. If you’re looking for something popular, with a lot of listings available, then you can opt for the one put together by the seller with the highest feedback and the lowest fees.

If you’re meeting up with someone and collecting goods in person, the advice is the same as it is for sellers: Select a public spot and take some company with you. In addition, double-check the item before handing over your cash, and remember that, should anything go wrong, eBay has all of the seller’s details on record. If something isn’t up to scratch, photograph the evidence, and refuse to pay up.

If you’re shopping for a popular item, you’ll have dozens of listings to pick from. David Nield/Popular Science

Sometimes the seller offers a choice of delivery options. If this option is available, then we recommend paying extra for a tracked and insured postage method. That will cover both you and the seller if something goes wrong with the package en route. Plus, it creates an extra layer of records that you can fall back on if something is disputed.

The lines of communication are always open, so if you have any doubts or questions, then contact the seller through eBay. This type of interaction should also give you a good sense for whether the seller is genuine or not. The good news is that the eBay Money Back Guarantee favors buyers. Still, these precautions will make doubly sure that you can protect your money.