A Bid For Safety: Keeping Yourself Out Of eBay Scams

Brought to you by Destinations Credit Union.
Summer is a wonderful time for getting rid of the neglected and forgotten items sitting around the garage, attic or other areas of the home. The kids are around to help, and all the yard toys and gardening stuff that got stashed away last year has to come out of storage anyway, so why not kill two birds with one stone? This is a good time to go through some of that stuff and see if any of it is still valuable.

Though some of it may not be valuable to you, some items – like clothes, electronics and collectibles – might fetch a fair sum if you were to sell them on eBay. Things small enough to ship can earn more when sold on the world’s biggest online auction site than on sites like Craigslist, because the potential reach is much greater. Shoppers all over the world can see what you’ve got for sale, and you might end up with a few extra dollars.

Of course, any time there’s a big audience and money to be made, you’ll find scammers. Unscrupulous folk will seek to make a quick buck by using the site’s good name and your trust. That happened to a British dad who wanted to buy an Xbox One for his son last Christmas. He ended up winning the auction for $740 and was excited about the last-minute grab until he received his package. He had actually been bidding on a picture of the box! He was issued a refund by eBay and the seller has been banned for misleading posts.

Not all eBay scams are quite as tragically funny. Most are just tragic. Here are three common eBay scams and how to avoid them. 

1.)   The fake payment. You’ve just sold a big-ticket item, like a cellphone or a pair of designer headphones. Maybe you didn’t get quite as much as you were hoping for, but some money is better than nothing. Out of the blue, the buyer reaches out with an amazing offer. They’ll pay you more than they agreed if they can get around PayPal fees by sending you a certified check. Alternately, you get an email from what appears to be PayPal telling you the payment, more than you agreed to, is in transit, but won’t be released until you provide a shipping number.

Once you ship the item, the money never shows up. If you get a certified check, it will undoubtedly be bogus. The “in transit” money from Paypal never shows up. You’re out both the item and the cash.

The scammer is relying on your desire for money to overwhelm your common sense. If a stranger offered to buy something at a yard sale for more than the ticket price, but would only do so if he could send you a check from home, you’d scare away half the neighborhood laughing at him. Never send the item until you have the cash in hand, and never accept non-electronic payment from someone you don’t know. 

2.)   The 3rd party payment system. In this scenario, you’ve settled on a price with a buyer, but they have a catch. For whatever reason, they can’t use eBay’s checkout system. They need you to take the item down and send it to them, and they’ll send you money directly. They’ll even send you the money before you send them the goods.

After you’ve shipped the item, you’ll hear from them again. The item was broken, or it wasn’t what you claimed it was. It doesn’t matter how unreasonable the claim is. They insist if you don’t give them a refund, they’ll complain to eBay and get your account banned. Since agreeing to settle a transaction outside of the service is a violation of eBay’s terms of service, they’ve got you. You can either issue a refund or give up selling on eBay.

If you’re using a site to sell, use the site to finish the deal. Not only does this keep the company involved if things go sour with the deal, but it also ensures you’re using the site legally and following the rules. 

3.)   It was like that when I found it! This is another transaction that starts off smoothly but takes a sudden turn once the buyer gets the item. They send you pictures of the item you sold them with a broken screen or other serious damage. They want their money back, and you can either pay them or deal with eBay’s Buyer Protection Program. Even though you’re in the right, eBay will take their side (it’s called the Buyer Protection Program for a reason) and force you to issue a refund.

Of course, the item was most likely not damaged. You might be seeing pictures of another item that the buyer may not even have. Since it’s your word against theirs, though, you’re out of luck.
There are two great ways to keep yourself safe from this scam. First, for expensive or fragile items, insist buyers purchase shipping insurance and take time-stamped pictures of the item before you send it. That way, you’ve got proof the device was in good working order when you shipped it, and the buyer can take up their damage claims with the shipping company.
Second, include a disclaimer in the item description about refunds. Even if you would help someone out if they just didn’t like the product or it didn’t meet their needs, a statement like “no refunds” puts you in the clear. It’s always easier to loosen up than to tighten up; no one will be upset if you offer a refund despite your “no refund” policy.
eBay is a great way to get rid of unwanted belongings while earning a little cash on the side, but it’s also a great way for scammers to take your money and leave you feeling burned. Selling safely on eBay means paying attention, following the rules and protecting yourself as much as possible.
One last piece of advice is a reminder; if the deal looks too good to be true, it probably is!

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