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How to Avoid Getting Scammed on eBay

Avoiding Scams While BuyingAvoiding Scams While SellingArticle SummaryQuestions & AnswersRelated ArticlesReferences

This article was co-authored by Israel Vieira Pereira, PhD. Israel Vieira is a Discourse Analyst and a PhD Candidate in Text and Discourse at Unisul's Language Sciences Program, where he studies the effects and characteristics of hoaxes, fake news and conspiracy theories.

There are 7 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.

In an age where the bulk of informal market trading happens online, eBay is a pioneer. If you are an avid user of eBay, most of your experiences have probably been great! However, there is always the chance that you will be scammed, and, no matter how rare this chance is, you should be prepared for it. Here are a couple of different ways to avoid being scammed when buying or selling on eBay.



Avoiding Scams While Buying

  1. 1

    Safeguard your account. Before you even bid on your first item, make sure your PayPal and eBay settings are as secure as possible. It's not a bad idea to have an entirely separate email and bank account dedicated solely to your eBay transactions.
    • The same logic applies to your home address--especially if you're purchasing something from a long-distance seller, consider picking the package up at the post office. This method provides added security coupled with your retention of privacy.
  2. 2

    Familiarize yourself with common scams. If you don't know the playbook, you're liable to end up as a statistic in it. Most eBay scams that target buyers are centered around sending faulty products for an insane mark-up or simply not sending a product outright after payment is delivered. [1]
    • These kinds of scams happen most often with big-ticket items like cars or property, so if you must purchase a vehicle or something similar through eBay, be sure to insist on a mutual meeting place to do the transaction.
    • You can avoid most basic scams by simply requesting more information about the item and the terms of the item's sale. If the seller is reluctant to give you information or they appear evasive, you should give the item a pass.
  3. 3

    Scope out the user's account. While this isn't the most accurate way to determine whether or not someone is a scammer, it eliminates the possibility of buying from someone with a ton of negative reviews or a lack of history.
    • This precaution is mostly contextual, so be sure to ask questions. If you contact the seller and they tell you that they've been working on eBay for years when their account was registered last week, that should raise an immediate red flag.


    Israel Vieira is a Discourse Analyst and a PhD Candidate in Text and Discourse at Unisul's Language Sciences Program, where he studies the effects and characteristics of hoaxes, fake news and conspiracy theories.


    Israel Vieira Pereira, PhD
    PhD Student in Text & Discourse, Unisul University

    Find comments about the seller on eBay and see if they have a positive rating. You should also avoid negotiating with the seller outside of eBay, and don't agree to pick up the item in person unless it's in a public space with a lot of people.

  4. 4

    Pay attention to the terms of the transaction. If you don't read the fine print and somebody ships you a damaged or faulty item "as is", eBay won't side with you in a dispute. It's shady, but technically legal; therefore, you should spare yourself the trouble by reading through every single detail on the listing before you bid. [2]
    • If possible, request additional photos or information as well--again, if the seller is reluctant to accommodate your request, they're probably hiding something.
  5. 5

    Look for red flags. Before you even contact a seller, look for negative reviews, a lack of a refund policy, missing or vague information, or requests for money orders, checks, or other third-party payment methods.
    • You should also generally be on the lookout for things that simply sound too good to be true. If you see someone selling a piece of expensive hardware described as "brand new" for well under market price, it's probably a scam.
  6. 6

    Always pay through eBay-approved methods. PayPal and eBay both keep records of transactions, and you have access to these records at any time; going through third-party sites or payment methods is a surefire way to lose the support of both companies in the event of a scam.
    • Pay on collection of big-ticket merchandise such as cars, large furniture, or similar items. The easiest way to ensure the cooperation of both parties in an event like this is by meeting face-to-face in a neutral area with plenty of visibility--i.e., a shopping center. [3]
  7. 7

    Document everything. eBay and PayPal deal exclusively in written records, so if a seller wants to discuss business over the phone, politely explain this to them. They will likely be dissuaded if they are attempting to scam you.
    • You should keep any written records of transactions for at least a year after the transaction takes place, simply for insurance.
  8. 8

    Monitor your bank account and PayPal afterwards. In the days following your transaction, keep an eye out for any irregular activity in your bank accounts. If you spot any, contact PayPal, eBay, or your local branch and report the circumstances.


Avoiding Scams While Selling

  1. 1

    Review your settings. Before you list an item for sale, make sure your refund policy, payment settings, and shipping information are all accurate. You don't want someone to accuse you of scamming them based on inaccurate information--in fact, some scammers will find ways to exploit errors like this to get eBay to side with them in a dispute, leading you to lose both money and your item.

  2. 2

    Set up dedicated bank and email accounts. While PayPal is relatively secure and eBay has a whole host of security benefits to keep your money safe, consider opening a separate account solely for transactions, complete with an accompanying email address.
    • Several users have reported success in bypassing scams by having a PayPal-related email and an eBay-related email separate of one another; that way, if, for example, a buyer contacts the PayPal email with an inquiry, you automatically know it's a scam.
  3. 3

    Familiarize yourself with common scams. First and foremost, buyers are always looking for the best deal, so what you may interpret as a scam might be them simply trying to haggle the price. That said, most scams that are run on sellers tend to revolve around refusing to pay for an item or attempting to get their money back after purchasing said item. [4]
    • The most common scam is called the "bait and switch refund", in which a buyer complains about receiving a broken or faulty device after it ships. Since eBay is obligated to side with the buyer in the event that they provide proof--an easy enough process, since all they have to do is buy a broken version of whatever you sent them for practically nothing--you will be forced to pay them a refund. You can prevent this scam by either implementing a no-returns policy or by including buyer's insurance in the transaction.
    • Another common scam consists of buyers attempting to settle transactions outside of eBay--over the phone, for example--which leads to eBay having no written record of the transaction if they choose to scam you. To counteract this, never settle for anything less than a written record of your transactions, preferably through email.
  4. 4

    Implement a strict return policy. Generally speaking, you'll want to have some kind of return policy in the event that an honest mistake with shipping and handling happens. That said, be sure to state the terms of your return policy in your posting. This is an easy way to close any loopholes that scammers may try to exploit. [5]
    • If you're selling an expensive item--especially if it is rare--consider changing the terms of your listing to "no refunds". This may dissuade some genuine buyers, but it will also keep scammers away. You can always say "more information upon request" in your posting to counteract the harshness of this policy--honesty is on your side.
  5. 5

    Look for red flags. If a buyer refuses to pay through eBay-approved methods such as PayPal, they're probably hiding something. Similarly, if they want to settle outside of eBay or they give you an unconfirmed address, consider renegotiating. Chances are fairly high that they'll reconsider if you tell them you're worried about being scammed, but this method should scare off any actual scammers. [6]
    • PayPal doesn't lie, and neither does eBay; email, however, might. To ensure that all of your emails regarding your account are correct, log into the pertaining service and check manually.
    • As a general rule, you should not accept money orders or checks of any kind--the risks are simply too high, even if your buyer's intentions are good.
  6. 6

    Wait to ship until you receive payment. As soon as you and your buyer settle on a price, have them transfer the money to PayPal. Once you see the transaction in progress on PayPal, you can ship your item--not a second before.
    • You'll have a written record of the time you send your package and the time that PayPal accepted the transfer, so as long as the two corroborate, you should be safe from any attempt at a scam.
  7. 7

    Use postage tracking. Services such as FedEx and UPS often give you the option of tracking your package along its route; take advantage of this system to ensure the package's arrival. If your buyer tells you it didn't arrive when UPS tells you it did, you'll know not to send them a refund. [7]
    • Once again, eBay and PayPal will usually back you up in this case, so long as you have retained all of your written records.
  8. 8

    Monitor your bank account and PayPal afterwards. In the days following your transaction, keep an eye out for any irregular activity in your bank accounts. If you spot any, contact PayPal, eBay, or your local branch and report the circumstances.

Community Q&A

Add New Question
  • Question

    When they are selling a puppy and ask for Western Union, is that how they want to be paid?

    Yes, Western Union is a money order service. You can access Western Union in stores such as Safeway or Fred Meyer at the customer service desk. As a general rule, though, you should never send or accept money orders, nor should you buy or sell animals on eBay.

  • Question

    I am interested in a car I found on Craigslist. It is nice, low miles and very inexpensive. The seller wants my address and phone number because she is selling it through eBay's Buyers Plan. Is this legit?

    Total and complete 100% SCAM. Craigslist is intended for face-to-face transactions that are paid with cash, because this is the way to prevent most scams. eBay does not have any "Buyers Plan." Please flag the ad on CL.

  • Question

    I have had an email saying PayPal will pay, once l have sent the item, but l am very wary. What should I do?

    Do not trust any email telling you that you have been paid. Log into your PayPal account and look at your transaction history. PayPal will tell you when it is safe to ship.

  • Question

    Is it legit if a seller wants me to wire transfer money to eBay?

    Total and complete 100% SCAM. Wire transfers are prohibited on eBay. If you wire money to a seller, you are giving that person a gift of cash. You will never receive an item and eBay cannot help you.

  • Question

    The seller asked me to send the money to an eBay agent. How safe is this?

    Although you should definitely do your own research on this based on the context of your transaction, you should generally never send money to a third party. You can void your buyer protection through eBay, or simply lose your money--it's too easy for someone with whom you have no relationship (on paper or otherwise) to disappear with your money.

  • Question

    What if the seller wants you to pay with eBay gift cards?

    It's fine if you use the normal eBay checkout process for the item, and enter the redemption code in the "Redeem a Gift Card, certificate, or coupon" field. If they want to go around the normal checkout process somehow, that's shady and you shouldn't do it.

  • Question

    What do I do if an eBay user doesn't send an item and disappears?

    If you're able to, tell the person you are contacting authorities. Then file a police report, and file a complaint with eBay and PayPal as well.

  • Question

    Can I get a refund from eBay if I have all the receipts and I didn't get what I ordered?

    Yes, you can. eBay has buyer protection, and as long as the description specifically does not match the item, you can file a report with eBay and get the issued resolved if you file it within 30 days of the item being claimed as 'shipped'.

  • Question

    I am new to eBay. I received a text from a buyer asking me to reply to their email about their interest in my laptop. They are willing to transfer the money to me and take care of postage from Australia to the US. Does this sound legitimate or not?

    No, this is a scam, do not give them any information! Whenever you are asked to ship an item to a far away place and request non-traditional payment methods it is almost always a scam, you'll ship the laptop. They will reverse the transaction and your laptop is gone forever and you'll never get that money back!

Ask a Question


  • You really shouldn't buy big-ticket items like vehicles or real estate through eBay. The security of knowing you won't get scammed is worth the extra money mandated by going through a legitimate business.
  • Similarly, you shouldn't buy pets or consumables from eBay--there's too much potential for risk.
  • Always research what you're buying or selling before you enter into a transaction. You might actually find that the market price is competitive.
  • When dealing with customers, be polite and respectful, but firm; remember, you don't owe anyone anything other than a guarantee that they'll get what they pay for.
  • Read up on eBay's terms of use and examples of scam prevention before buying or selling anything. They have a very comprehensive look at how to stay safe while using their platform.


  • Watch out for high shipping prices. You may be saving on the item, but paying a small fortune for shipping.
  • It is absolutely possible for someone to steal your credit card data from PayPal. This is why you should set up a spare account and monitor your money after a transaction.
  • If it sounds too good to be true, it is. Trust your gut.
  • Never give out your address or phone number before completing a transaction; the same applies to any other personal information you can avoid.
  • Setting a no-refund policy will probably decrease your overall sales.
  • If possible, try to see what the other items a user has sold thus far. Sometimes people sell very small, cheap items in "penny auctions" to get high sales figures, high approval ratings, and positive feedback. Then they start to sell high ticket items when their trust has been falsely pumped up.