For most users, eBay UK offers a convenient marketplace for buyers and sellers to exchange goods. As eBay has grown, so has the range of goods on offer, from towels to televisions, from hard disks to houses. However, despite eBay safe-trading policies, the number of auctions running at any one time makes it virtually impossible to monitor all the activity, and fraud often occurs, with both buyers and sellers short-changed. There are, however, a few simple guidelines to follow that will dramatically reduce your exposure to fraudulent activities. When you buy or sell an item on eBay UK, you should be aware of common pitfalls as well as protection offered by eBay and by other parties. The section of this guide covering 'Things to Watch Out For' contains a description of common scams on eBay and is essential reading, especially if you are selling electronic items or those of high value.
Remember the basics:
- Check for recent positive feedback on prospective buyers and sellers.
- Do not respond to emails asking you to disclose your password or account information.
- Do not use an obvious password or hint, such as your birthday or postcode.
- Use an alpha-numeric password, change it frequently, and use separate passwords for eBay, PayPal, etc.
- If an item seems too good to be true...
The Typical eBay Transaction
eBay Buyer Protection
eBay offers two levels of buyer protection. If you use PayPal to buy or sell an item, then PayPal Buyer Protection applies (see the section below on PayPal for more information). If you use another payment method, then you may be covered by eBay's Standard Purchase Protection Programme (see the eBay Help section for details). The latter is not as comprehensive as the PayPal Buyer Protection Programme, and a processing fee is charged. If the transaction does not meet the requirements of the Standard Purchase Protection Programme, then the protection is forfeit.
PayPal is wholly owned by eBay and is fully integrated with eBay UK. When listing an item, a seller can choose to accept payment via PayPal, allowing the buyer to pay via a credit or debit card. Both the buyer and seller will need PayPal accounts, but setting one up is quick and easy. PayPal offers a Buyer Protection Programme which states that the buyer will be refunded if the goods do not arrive. If the transaction does not meet the requirements of the Buyer Protection Programme, then the protection is forfeit.
If you believe your PayPal account has been used fraudulently or if you have not received the goods, you may be able to recoup the funds via your credit card company. In such cases you should contact your credit card company directly to see if it will initiate a chargeback, whereby the transaction is retroactively cancelled and your funds returned. Both VISA and Mastercard offer this service via the issuing bank.
On a final note, it is much wiser to send to a 'confirmed' address, in which case PayPal has verified the person's bank details and the address to which the account is registered. When you are paid via PayPal, it tells you whether or not the postal ('shipping') address is confirmed. If in doubt, ask the buyer for a phone number and verify that the number matches with the address via Directory Enquires (online at bt.com), or else accept a different payment method. You can opt to state on your auction that you won't send to an unconfirmed address.
Other Credit/Debit Payment Services
There are a number of other payment methods. However, beware of fraudulent sites whose purpose is to steal your card details. They appear to function in a similar manner to PayPal. The more reliable and trustworthy ones include NoChex, Fastpay and Moneybookers.com.
Alternative Payment Methods
Some people opt to pay via cheque, banker's draft or postal order as they do not feel comfortable with the online payment methods described above. They may still be covered under eBay's Standard Purchase Protection Programme as described above. However, pursuing a dispute with eBay will require proof of payment, such as a copy of the cheque. Disputes aside, such methods of payment also delay the transaction; hence, electronic payment as described above is recommended. Never send an item until the cheque is cleared, rather than simply banked.
It is not advisable to wire transfer money via Western Union, Moneygram, etc. This method is highly susceptible to fraud. Furthermore, you will not be covered by eBay's and PayPal's protection policies.
How it works:
- The buyer pays the money to a trusted third party, called 'the escrow company'.
- The seller sends the goods to the buyer.
- The buyer inspects the goods.
- If the buyer is happy with the goods, the escrow company pays the seller.
- If the buyer is unhappy with the goods, the buyer returns the goods to the seller, upon which the escrow company refunds the buyer.
Escrow is a great way to sell medium- to high-value items, especially when dealing with buyers or sellers in other countries. No money changes hands until both parties are happy. When you place an item for sale on eBay, there is an option to accept escrow in payment options. eBay only recommends escrow.com for eBay UK. The fee depends on the cost of the item in question and can be checked by clicking the Escrow Fee Calculator link on escrow.com's main page.
Moneybookers.com also offers a reliable escrow service. It is similar to PayPal and NoChex, in that buyers and sellers can use it to send and receive money which can be debited from credit and debit cards and credited to UK bank accounts.
Additionally, there is some useful information in the eBay Escrow section. In all cases, if you are unsure, do not carry out the transaction.
Auction sniping occurs when a third-party site electronically bids on your behalf shortly before the auction ends, usually within the last thirty seconds of the auction, allowing you to win the auction at the very last moment. This is an increasingly-common practice, but in order to allow the site to bid on your behalf you must disclose your eBay user ID and password to it.
Many users avoid this, but if you choose this method, be vigilant and make sure that the site is genuine. AuctionStealer UK is legitimate and its basic service is free. Alternatively, you can purchase software that resides on your computer and that performs the same task without disclosing your personal information. You'll need to be connected to the Internet during the last minute of the auction, so this method is more suitable for broadband users.
If a dispute arises between a buyer and seller, rather than abandoning the trade, eBay suggests that you first use an independent mediator to resolve the dispute. eBay recommends SquareTrade, which is an online organisation independent of eBay. The whole mediation process takes place online and is initiated by filing a case. The mediator will not make a decision; rather they will aid both parties to reach an agreement. This can lead to an amicable resolution for both parties as well as the removal of negative feedback on an eBay account if one of the parties has been hasty in leaving such feedback.
The process typically takes two weeks. Using SquareTrade's online system is free, but a nominal fee is charged to involve a mediator. For small-value items it isn't really worth it to use dispute resolution. Rather, mediation is more suitable for trades involving higher-value items such as computers and cars. Also, dispute resolution is only effective if both parties are willing to negotiate, although non-response from the opposite party can lead to the removal of negative feedback.
You may see a SquareTrade seal on an auction listing stating that they are a verified seller. While the seal programme is designed to identify reliable sellers, the programme itself offers no protection to buyers whatsoever.
Things to Watch Out For
Selling Outside of eBay. Someone asks you to end the auction early and sell the item to them directly outside of eBay. Once you have sent the item, either the PayPal transaction is reversed or the cheque bounces. Because the transaction no longer involves eBay, you are not covered by eBay's buyer protection policies.
PayPal and Sending Abroad. You are asked to send the item to a country outside the EU or the US. You are paid via an EU or US PayPal account. Once you have posted the item, you learn that the PayPal account was hijacked and a chargeback is instigated. Thus you lose the item and the money. Even if you have already withdrawn the money into your bank account, a chargeback can still take place. Your PayPal account will go into negative balance and you will be expected to bring the account into credit. At the time of writing, many of these scams appear to originate in either Lithuania or Indonesia and use ploys such as 'it's a birthday present for my cousin/uncle, please send to them directly'. If you sell an electronic item such as a mobile phone, you will almost certainly receive an email such as this. Do not even bother replying; just ignore it.
Overpayment. You receive funds greater than the cost of the item. The buyer informs you that they have made an error and asks you to return the difference. Once you have returned the additional funds, the original payment is then reversed if paid electronically or the cheque bounces.
Fake Escrow Sites. One of the more recent types of scam involves fake escrow sites. You send the goods but never receive the money. There are dozens of these sites in use at any one time, and even though eBay and legitimate escrow companies are working to shut them down, new ones are constantly appearing. There are some telltale signs of fake escrow sites, such as the site not being secure (no padlock in browser window and the URL not beginning with 'https:') or the lack of a contact telephone number. Many of these sites look unprofessional, but don't let a slick site fool you. There are far too many fake escrow sites to list here. Instead, have a look at the Escrow section on the eBay Escrow Newsgroup which has lists of known fake escrow sites.
Good feedback on an account does not mean you can turn a blind eye to any of the scams outlined above. Many scams are run from hijacked accounts. When checking feedback, make sure it is up-to-date. Many stolen accounts have been dormant for over six months, as it is less likely the legitimate owner will notice and report the matter to eBay. If you have a query, check out the eBay Community section where you can get help and advice from seasoned eBay users. If in doubt, do not proceed with the trade.
When Things Go Wrong
If you are suspicious of a trade you are involved with either as a buyer or a seller, first of all don't panic. The first step is to try to contact the other party via email. Bear in mind that if you send an email at midday on a working day, you may not get a reply until that evening.
If you have paid for an item, did the seller advise you how long delivery would take? Some sellers deliver from either the US or farther afield, in which case a three- to five-day delivery timescale is more realistic. This information should be stated in the auction listing. Is there a tracking number? If you are sending or receiving a high-value item, this is essential. Royal Mail Special Delivery will provide a tracking number along with postal insurance. Try to give the buyer or seller the benefit of the doubt, as there is more often than not a legitimate reason why the trade has been delayed.
It may be necessary to take the matter further if:
- The other party does not respond within 48 hours.
- A chargeback occurs on something you have already sent.
- You are highly suspicious of a trade or another eBay user.
If you have paid for an item and have not received it, follow eBay's Buyer Protection procedure as outlined on eBay's website. If the dishonest party resides in the UK, you should also inform the police.
Have you already posted the goods? Contact the delivery firm and see if they can cancel the delivery en route and return the package to you. You may be charged for this. Make sure to explain that you believe you may be a victim of fraud.
Can your credit card company instigate a chargeback on your behalf? Contact the company for advice. It may be worth contacting the issuing bank even if you have used a debit card.
If you have paid or received money via PayPal, report the matter to them directly via their website or call them on 08707 307 191. If you have used a different payment service, contact the service directly. If you have paid via escrow, contact your escrow company immediately.
In addition to your disclosing your password, there are a number of ways in which your password can be compromised - for example, by a virus that monitors your keystrokes and then sends them to an unauthorised third party. Always make sure that your computer is secure by following these guidelines:
- Windows users: always install security patches promptly. (But do not install any 'patch' that arrives via an email attachment - that will be a virus.)
- Start your virus checker on boot-on, especially if you're a Windows user. There are a number of good anti-virus programmes available, such as McAfee and Norton. AVG (available from grisoft.com) is also very good and free for personal use. Make sure you run the update program at least once a week. If possible, you should configure the software to automatically update whenever a new virus definition becomes available.
- Use a firewall. There are plenty to choose from. The 'name brand' makers of anti-virus software sell suites of computer security programs, including firewalls. In addition, Sygate and Zonealarm both offer free basic versions of their firewall software.
- Keep your computer free of spyware. Ad-Aware (available from lavasofrusa.com) and Spybot Search & Destroy (safer-networking.org) are both excellent and again are free for personal use.
- Strongly consider using a browser other than Windows Explorer. Compromised websites can bypass your security software and load keystroke loggers and other malicious software onto your computer without your knowledge. Netscape, Mozilla, Firefox, and Opera browsers are all free and can be downloaded from the web.
On a final note, be sure to always leave relevant feedback when the sale concludes. It you have been a victim of a scam, post a thread in eBay Community to warn others. Good luck and happy trading!