Ebay Scammers Hard At Work

By | Sep 3, 2008


It never ceases to amaze me how much energy scammers put into creating and executing their scams. I swear, if they put HALF as much energy into a legitimate enterprise, they would be rich beyond their wildest dreams, and have the added benefit of a clear conscience.

Take my latest auctions, for intance. I sold an Archos 605 WiFi PMP to a fine fellow who, after he won the auction, proceeded to receive a slew of emails from scammers stating that there was a problem with his PayPal payment and he needed to immediately wire the funds to some address somewhere. This despite the fact that after he paid, I had sent him a payment confirmation through ebay, and, PayPal had confirmed that his payment for the item was successful. 

This is one of many methods of scamming that I’ve come across in my 6 years of experience with ebay. So, I thought I’d share a bit of the experience that I’ve gained in spotting and avoiding scammers so that those of you who might be new to ebay can avoid the many traps that scammers set.

Here’s my list:

  1. Emails from non-sellers – This is a new tactic that I became aware of only after a buyer of one of my items (the Archos) contacted me while trying to sort out a bunch of emails he got about problems with his payment and alternate payment instructions.  If you win an auction, and afterwards get emails from anyone other than the seller that has anything to do with payment problems or payment instructions, ignore these emails. The email usually states that there is a problem with the payment, and then goes on to give wire transfer instructions for an alternate method of payment. Do not respond to any emails like this. Emails from the seller that are sent through ebay can easily be verified that they are from the seller just by checking the ebay ID of the email’s sender against the ebay ID of the auction’s seller, AND, checking your own ebay account’s inbox. A legitimate copy of the message should be there also. Also, after you win an auction, all of the sellers credentials are revealed to you (name, address, etc).  
  2. Auctions requiring Cash, Wire Transfers, or Money Orders – Avoid auctions where the seller only accepts Cash, Wire Transfers or Money Orders as payment.  Once money is sent or wired to someone somewhere, it’s gone for good.  There is no good reason a seller should not accept PayPal. Sure, PayPal exacts a fee from the seller, but the benefits far outweigh the costs. Besides, for the buyer, PayPal is free. And there are many other benefits for the buyer. For one, PayPal provides coverage for up to $1000 for things like fraud. Secondly, it provides a clear audit trail for payments. You can see when a payment was made, to whom it was made, and for how much. Thirdly, it lends the seller some extra level of credibility. And lastly, PayPal is very convenient, offering payments through a buyer’s checking account, or by credit card. It is also these qualities that make PayPal beneficial for the seller. A seller that accepts PayPal as payment will most likely attract more buyers because of the benefits to the buyer. Personally, I won’t bid on an auction where the seller doesn’t accept PayPal.  PayPal isn’t a guarantee you won’t get scammed, especially as a seller.  Someone can buy something from you through PayPal with a stolen credit card.  You won’t know its stolen until a month later when PayPal emails you and tells you that they’re taking the money back because the buyer used a stolen credit card to buy your stuff.  As a buyer, you may find a seller accepts PayPal for their auction, but once you win the auction, you get some lame email from the seller stating that his or her PayPal account has been locked and that they need you to wire the money or send cash instead. 
  3. Irregular Selling Pattern – Watch for sellers who have short ebay histories of selling low-cost items, and then suddenly list a big ticket item for sale. These scammers buy and sell low-cost items to themselves under different fake ebay accounts, pumping up their own positive ebay feedback score. The low cost of the items means low ebay fees while they build up their fake feedback. Then the scammers go for the big payoff. They list an expensive item, and the poor buyer who only looked at the seller’s feedback score takes the bait and is quickly parted with a large sum of money. Also, the expensive item, while expensive, is being sold at a bargain price to entice the victim (a $2000 item being sold for $1000). Being into photography myself, I see this all the time with cameras and lenses. Oddly enough, my own selling pattern is similar to this. I sell plastic parts for discontinued radio controlled RC cars, which by and large are of relatively low value. Then, every once in a while, I’ve sold a big ticket item, like my Nikon D200 and D300 cameras and assorted lenses. I do this when I feel like upgrading to new equipment. The difference in my case is that I’m not a scammer! Ok, I know what you’re thinking. How would you know that? Well, for one, I didn’t meet one of the scammer’s criteria that I mentioned above. I don’t have a short ebay history. I’m approaching 6 years with ebay this October. Scammers usually have to create new accounts all the time because ebay eventually gets wind of their scamming operation and shuts down their account. Also, I run this website which lends me some extra credibility, and I always refer to it in my auctions in some fashion or another.
  4. Watch for hijacked ebay accounts – Through things like computer viruses, scammers are able to obtain ebay user information and use a legitimate ebay account for illegitimate purposes. These are difficult to spot, but often exhibit the same traits as #3 above; the irregular selling pattern. These hijacked accounts are usually accounts with little activity. The legitimate owner of the account probably uses ebay very infrequently, selling and item every few months or so. The hijacker uses this account to sell a big ticket item, betting that the legitimate owner of the account won’t check on his or her ebay activity while the fake item is being auctioned by the hijacker. Beware! While the accounts will exhibit an irregular selling pattern, the account may be several years old, which could lead an unsuspecting buyer into believing the item for sale is legitimate. Lastly, as with most fake auctions, the seemingly universal characteristic with these is accepting only wire transfers as payment.

Some final thoughts. I won’t buy anything off of ebay from a seller who doesn’t accept PayPal. A smart and reputable seller will always accept PayPal. For a buyer, it’s free, and it offers protection (up to $1000) and provides a clear status of payments made to any seller. I learned this lesson the hard way myself. Early in my ebay experience, I sent a money order to a seller for an old magazine, and never saw the item. The seller never responded to my emails and eventually his ebay account was closed and that was the end of that. Fortunately, it wasn’t a lot of money, but it still stings when it happens.

Also, if you’re interested in a particular type of item, say camera equipment, you may find a reputable seller that regularly sells camera equipment that you like, and then you can deal with that seller exclusively. I used to buy collectible RC car kits still in their original boxes (old Tamiya kits). They were quite expensive, but I found two sellers who regularly sold this type of thing and began to buy from them exclusively. I always had a positive experience with these sellers.

Lastly-and this is one of the oldest pieces of advice anybody can give-if a deal looks too good to be true, then it probably is. This is a gut call, but if the item exhibits any of the negative traits I’ve indicated here, then go with your gut.

So be careful. Most sellers are honest, and you can get some great stuff off of ebay that you might not be able to get anywhere else. This website is a testament to that fact!  But be careful.  A fool and his/her money are soon parted!         

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1 Comment so far
  1. Ara C September 3, 2008 8:46 pm

    Hey jonny!

    Here’s another scam I see quite frequently. I just listed a ladder rack on Craigs List for 450.00, someone responded in broken english saying something like this, “I want to buy your rack with fast payment send me your info and address and I send you a certified check right away, after your recieve your funds I’ll send my shipper to get the rack.” Well nobody I know is going to buy a used ladder rack with a certified check. If I had given my info I would have recieved a check for $4500.00. I would call him and he’d say his secratary made a mistake and put one to many zeros on the check, so just deposit it and send me back the $4050.00 difference. I would never here from him again and shortly there after the check would come back counterfeit and the bank would demand payment of $4500.00. My response to this add was “cash only, pickup only” I never heard from him again.

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