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Despite high profile and embarrassing security breaches The eBay Data Breach: What You Need To Know The eBay Data Breach: What You Need To Know Read More , EBay remains very popular: its potential is great – for both good and bad. Of course all that junk you’re storing somewhere can fetch big bucks and all you need to do is take a few photos and add a nifty description. But it’s also a big target for fraudulent activity.

It’s not just criminals you need to worry about. You can be ripped off simply by a false description or an untrustworthy image.

Here are some very simple ways of reducing the risk of being a victim when buying items, not just on eBay but other auction sites too Fed Up With eBay? Here Are Some Worthy (And Cheaper) Alternatives For Sellers Fed Up With eBay? Here Are Some Worthy (And Cheaper) Alternatives For Sellers When you want to sell your excess junk online, where do you go? For most people, the one and only answer is eBay. With millions of daily users, it only seems logical to use the... Read More , including Gumtree (although not the rather ridiculous MadBid Why Penny Auctions Are Not The eBay Alternative You're Looking For Why Penny Auctions Are Not The eBay Alternative You're Looking For Amazing prizes at remarkably low prices are available on penny auction sites, but is winning an auction on these sites really possible, or is it just one step away from gambling? Read More , which we would advise you just avoid).

1. Vet the Seller

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The easiest way of checking how genuine and reliable a seller is on eBay is through the site’s Seller Information, located to the right of the page. The positive feedback is typically a good indication: generally, those ranking above 90% can be trusted, and most get higher than 97%. Unfortunately, that statistic can be skewed, though eBay is cracking down on this.

Click on the seller and you’ll get more detailed feedback on accuracy of descriptions, postage, and communication. The amount of time they’ve been a member of the site is also a positive sign of trustworthiness.

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You can do more than this, however: copy the username (or email if it’s readily available) into Google. You might find nothing; you might find several “don’t trust this seller” forum posts…

2. Beware Stock Photos

Daredevil on eBay

You might think images of items framed by naff carpet looks tacky, but it can be reassuring too.

Stock photos give you absolutely no impression of the item’s condition. Descriptions should list any faults or imperfects, but if an item arrives through the post damaged, you can check whether it was like that before by comparing it to the seller’s own picture.

Stores selling comics and books en masse are especially guilty of using stock photos, often from publishers’ sites. You can understand why they do this, but comic collectors are particularly after best condition issues, so are more likely to trust photos of the actual item.

3. Check Postage

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Say you’ve found a really cheap item, something you’ve been seeking out for a little while that’s at a more than reasonable price. This is an offer too good to let up.

Scroll right to the bottom and look at postage rates. Some sellers might bump up the price of an item by charging inflated prices for postage and packaging. Obviously bigger products will be more costly, as will items from abroad, but be careful it’s not extortionate.

4. Look For A Seller’s Returns Policy

Seller Details

Each seller’s Returns Policy is listed to the right of the product image, just below payment methods. Sometimes, it’s rather pointless: even though every seller must advertise a return’s policy, that could be “no returns accepted” – in which case, be suspicious.

It is concerning, isn’t it? Why aren’t sellers confident enough in their items? Are the description and photo misleading? Just imagine the product turning up at your house, completely wrecked, or not genuine even!

Many abide by standard policy:

“Sellers who accept returns will be required to a minimum 14-day return policy and offer a money-back option.”

If you’ve never worked in a shop, you’d be surprised by the number of people who ask if they can return whatever they’ve purchased within a set time period if they’ve got a receipt. People like that reassurance. The same goes for online.

5. Stay Skeptical of Emails and Webpages

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Be cautious of emails from eBay, especially those with generic messages. Spotting a fake email 5 Examples To Help You Spot A Fraud Or Fake Email 5 Examples To Help You Spot A Fraud Or Fake Email The shift from spam to phishing attacks is noticeable, and is on the rise. If there's a single mantra to keep in mind, it's this -- the number one defense against phishing is awareness. Read More is an art in itself, and both this auction site and PayPal (currently owned by eBay) are frequently used by scammers How Scammers Target Your PayPal Account & How To Never Fall For It How Scammers Target Your PayPal Account & How To Never Fall For It PayPal is one of the most important accounts you have online. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a huge PayPal fan, but when it comes to your money, you don’t want to play around. While... Read More to obtain account information. These emails almost always sound very urgent, often stating a limited amount of time to respond or do something about a supposed fraudulent transaction or bid.

If you get an email telling you a bid you didn’t make has been successful, report it or at the very least ignore it.

There are numerous things banks will never ask you online; the same applies to eBay and PayPal. They won’t need any confidential information, including password.

To check out genuine emails, log in to eBay (making sure it’s the genuine website), into My eBay, and check out My Messages. Definitely don’t click on links in emails. Even though the sites they go to may look like eBay, scammers can clone such a service – and even ‘tailor-made’ delivery – with surprising ease. Just look how real this phishing scam looks New Phishing Scam Uses Scarily Accurate Google Login Page New Phishing Scam Uses Scarily Accurate Google Login Page You get a Google Doc link. You click it, then sign in to your Google account. Seems safe enough, right? Wrong, apparently. A sophisticated phishing setup is teaching the world another online security lesson. Read More .

Look at the address bar, and if it has additional characters after .com or .co.uk, but before the forward-slash, even if these are merely numbers, this is a fake.

6. Second Chances?

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You’ve found an item you’d love to own – but your bid wasn’t high enough. Maybe someone successfully sniped it from you Can You Really Win Almost Any eBay Auction By "Sniping"? Can You Really Win Almost Any eBay Auction By "Sniping"? Contrary to what you may think, winning an eBay auction by sniping does not entail waiting outside other participants' windows, firing long-range paintball guns at them, and securing your bid via 4G while they clutch... Read More . That’s it. It’s gone.

No – hang on! That bid apparently fell through, and you’ve received a Second Chance Offer! Fantastic, right? It might not be as good as it sounds.

Offering another chance to buyers is really handy for both buyers and sellers, but scammers have latched onto this last hope. By posing as another seller, fraudsters can glean personal details or even payment for an item that was never theirs to sell!

7. Ask Questions!

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So many people are unsure of doing this, often because they think it’s a dumb question. But don’t back down: find out what you need to know.

If you’re worried about whether something’s real, try to find out where the seller got it from. Autographs are nightmares to verify, but that’s not the sole worry: ask how it’s backed. What’s it on? How’s it secured? Sellotape and glue sealants taint a signature, degrade them, wear them out easily.

Plenty still do ask questions so look out for the answers nearer the bottom of the product’s page. If you’ve not found an answer, it’s easy to pose a question:

Ask A Question > Find Answers > [Select a Topic]

Suggested questions appear, but simply find Did you find your answer? and click No, I want to contact the seller and then Continue.

Sure, they could lie. But liars often trip themselves up, and if something doesn’t ring true, it might give you further cause to investigate.

8. Is it too Good to be True?

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Fantastic! You’ve found a Rolex really cheap! But wait. This might not be the deal it’s cracked up to be.

Take a look at where it’s shipping from – because it might just be a fake designer item. These are frequently very poor quality, and nothing like the promotional image. According to research from fashion retailer, Crossroads Trading, surveying 1,000 Americans, one in three have accidentally ordered counterfeit items online, notably handbags, sunglasses, watches, and purses or wallets.

This is what it all boils down to. Look at the deal, and consider if it’s simply too good to be true. As the saying goes, you don’t get something for nothing. Equally, you don’t get a Rolex for $50.

What does the buyer have to gain, really?

Keep Calm!

Don’t let the worry of missing out on a bargain force you into doing something you’ll regret. Common sense: that’s all you need. Awareness of the latest scams also helps, naturally!

What other tips do you have for buyers? How about for sellers? Do you trust eBay?

Image Credits: eBay store by Jérémi Joslin; 225/365 – Scam by B RosenMWC Barcelona by K?rlis Dambr?ns; Square Peg, Round Hold by David GoehringFAQ by photosteve101; and eBay Yard Sale by Sam Howzit.

  1. Michael Alexander
    August 1, 2015 at 4:03 pm

    eBay will also help you out in a pinch. I recently bought a small item that turned out to be defective. The seller never responded to my email asking to return it. eBay stepped in and gave me my money back.

    I was also on the losing end of a deal. I sold an item on eBay and the (buyer was in Australia) claimed he never received the goods, although the delivery was verified by the carrier. eBay refunded his money and there wasn't anything I could do to stop it.

  2. fcd76218
    August 1, 2015 at 1:35 am

    1. "The positive feedback is typically a good indication: generally, those ranking above 90% can be trusted, and most get higher than 97%."
    The feedback rating, especially for the big sellers, is a joke and eBay is the biggest culprit in skewing them. When I post a deserved negative feedback because the seller tried to crew me, invariably I would get an email from eBay requesting that I change the feedback.

    4. "Sometimes, it’s rather pointless: even though every seller must advertise a return’s policy, that could be “no returns accepted” – in which case, be suspicious."
    Buyers can be scammers too. You send an item in perfectly good condition, well packaged against breakage, etc. and the buyer returns a mangled item, maybe with a different serial number, claiming that it arrived damaged. "No Returns" policy protects the seller.

    This article is from a buyer's perspective. Do you plan to write one from the seller's perspective?

    • Philip Bates
      August 29, 2015 at 10:33 am

      You're right: buyers can be scammers, sure. And there's definitely call for an article from the seller's POV. I'm not sure I'll pick that up soon, but it will come eventually, I'm sure. "No Returns" can protect sellers, but I would nonetheless be wary, as a buyer, of anyone refusing returns.

  3. Pravin S
    July 31, 2015 at 11:10 pm

    Hey, Philip
    Thank you for the wonderful article. I just loved it. Sharing it right away..

    Few months ago, my friend ordered an unlocked iPhone 5 on eBay for a cheap price (Rs.24000/ USD 400), new piece though. Seller provided the warranty, not the manufacturer (Apple). The phone sells for Rs.28000/ USD 470 on Flipkart and Amazon. An authorized iPhone dealer sells for Rs.30000/ USD 500. He was proud to get it for a cheaper price than other friends.

    The phone failed to boot up after a couple of months. He took the phone to iPlanet. To his shock, the technician who examined the phone said the phone's internal components were third party AKA duplicate. And the service history of the phone says the piece was foreign, already owned and returned by a previous owner for some reason. That also makes it as a used one. It can't be serviced at iPlanet.

    Though, eBay offers 30 days money back guarantee, since it's already well past the guarantee period, it's lying on his desk as a costly paper weight. The phone's fate is yet to be determined.

    Personally I also have so many bad experience on eBay, cheap quality products that won't last a month. I have had less or no issues before 2011.. I have bought hundreds of products and I rarely get disappointed.. Recently, things have changed.

    There are some genuine sellers too. Now a days finding a good seller is equally as hard as finding a good deal..

    • Jack Morin
      August 1, 2015 at 5:43 am

      Yes I know I'm a "grammar Nazi", but nowadays is one word......

      • Pravin S
        August 4, 2015 at 8:22 am

        Thanks for point it out. I forgot to send it to proofreading.

        You mean "English grammar Nazi"? I really doubt that. If you really are, you would have got yourself holocausted. Just kidding. :p

        I mean to say, you need to work on your punctuations before claiming yourself to be Grammar Nazi. "Yes, I know" not Yes I know..
        Please, do not use too many "periods" or "full stops".

        I am from India. English is my tertiary language. I apologize if my English had offended anyone's ears or eyes.

        I am here to understand, gain, and share some wonderful knowledge on many things. Why don't we just enjoy doing that?! :)

    • Philip Bates
      August 29, 2015 at 10:29 am

      Thanks for your comment, Pravin. Glad you liked the article. You really have to be careful with the returns policies, I agree. Your friend must be really annoyed and there's very little he can do about the situation.

      As you say, finding a good seller is key, and that's increasingly difficult. I find even buying books and comics, you can't be too careful, especially regarding packaging: they often come damaged, so it's worth checking you can send them back if so.

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