The 7 Top eBay Scams of 2020 (and How to Avoid Them)

Watch out for these scams and protect yourself on eBay

Much like Craigslist has its own scams to content with, eBay's massive popularity has made it a favorite of scammers. Even though eBay tries to protect both their buyers and sellers, it’s impossible to stay ahead of every scam. These are some of the most common eBay scams you may encounter when buying and selling on the popular auction site.

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Seller Disappears

A post office box with no package in it.

 @slbrokaw via Twenty20

This one is probably what everyone thinks about when they worry about buying an item on eBay. You purchase the item or win an auction, you pay through a supported method, then the seller simply disappears with your money. The item is never shipped, and you’re out the money.

How to avoid:

This scam is much less common than it was in the past, thanks to eBay’s feedback system. Generally speaking, sellers with a decent feedback score and number of sales won’t just walk off with your money. They have a proven track record, and they don’t want to sacrifice a reputation they worked hard to build.

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Seller Sends You An Empty Package

Delivered packages with nothing but packing in them.

 @lfusco via Twenty20

This one is similar to the first. You purchase an item normally, but the seller makes it look as though you’re actually going to receive the item. They seemingly ship it, only for you to receive an empty box. You’re out the money, and it’s harder to file a claim because it looks like an item was delivered.

How to avoid:

Again, feedback is your first line of defense. No one will leave positive feedback after receiving an empty box, so you can take that into account. It’s also a good idea to take pictures of yourself opening your purchases to document whether everything arrived and arrived in the condition it was advertised.

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Seller Sends the Package to a Fake Name

Someone packaging products to be shipped.

FreedomTumZ via Twenty20 

This scam is slightly more clever. Everything starts off normally; you purchase an item, and fairly quickly receive confirmation that it was shipped. Everything goes according to plan, but you receive a strange package with your street address, but it’s addressed to someone else. You do the right thing, and return the package to the shipping company. Meanwhile, you keep on waiting, and your item never comes.

See what happened? You returned your own package. Now, the seller has both your money and the item, as well as proof that it was delivered.

How to avoid:

This one is much harder to file a claim for, since the seller did everything they said the would, and they have proof. Once again, feedback is your friend. It will guide you away from unscrupulous sellers. Going forward, you can always inspect any packages you receive. Depending on how clever the seller is, they may use their actual return address, which would be an immediate giveaway.

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Seller Sends a Fake Product

A guy opening a package.

@daphneemarie via Twenty20 

This scam is another common fear people have when buying on eBay. You purchase something that’s seemingly genuine, with pictures listed online to make it look like the real thing. However, when the item arrives, it’s fake.

This can work with a number of things. The most obvious is designer clothing and accessories, but it’s also an issue with electronics. You could purchase what you think is a used phone and wind up with phone-shaped brick or a broken phone.

How to avoid:

Like the other selling scams on this list, feedback is going to be your first indication to warn you away from falling for this one. People won’t leave positive feedback for fake and broken items.

It’s also important to carefully examine the pictures on any listings. This will prevent the seller from claiming you received the same item pictured, regardless of whether or not it’s a fake. Finally, document opening the item with a series of pictures, as this will strengthen any case you may open with eBay.

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Buyer Wants to Pay Outside eBay

A conceptual illustration of an eBay Scammer.

Lifewire / Theresa Chiechi 

When you’re selling on eBay, there are a lot of protections set up to keep people from scamming you. That’s why it’s crucial to conduct all of your business when selling through the channels provided by eBay. As soon as any part of the transaction takes place outside of eBay, you’re bypassing that protection and opening yourself up to all sorts of accusations and scams.

A common variation on this scam involves a potential buyer asking to overpay to settle outside of eBay. This one is especially common with auctions, since they can claim to want the item really badly, and they’ll pay more if you end the auction right away. Once again, though, this opens you up to all sorts of problems, including receiving a bogus check.

How to avoid:

Never do business outside of eBay. When a transaction starts on eBay, keep it on eBay. Handle as much as you can through eBay’s systems. This will ensure there’s a record of everything and you’re covered by eBay’s protections.

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Buyer Claims They Never Got the Item or You Sent an Empty Box

A package sitting by someone's front door.

@thenewenglandshop via Twenty20 

Here’s another area that gets tricky. Say you sell an item on eBay. You do everything correctly. Then, you receive a notice from eBay saying a claim’s been filed against you. You supposedly never sent the item, and the buyer’s demanding their money back. Unless you have proof that you sent the item they purchased, you’re going to be out both the item and your money.

How to avoid:

The best defense here is to provide tracking information. If eBay can see a record that the item was delivered, it’s harder for the scammer to prove their case. If you’re worried about claims that you sent an empty box, take a series of pictures showing you packing the box, and include a shot of the shipping label with the tracking number visible.

It’s also a good idea to pay for signature confirmation on higher priced items. Again, it’s more proof that not only was the item delivered, it was delivered to the right person.

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Buyer Claims the Item You Sent is Broken or Fake

A man holding a package.

@JLR via Twenty20 

Once again, a common scam that threatens buyers is turned on its head to target eBay sellers. In this fairly common scam, a buyer claims you sent them a fake or broken item. Like the other version of this scam, it most commonly occurs with electronics and fashion items. These are legitimately the most faked items, so the scammer’s claims are immediately more believable.

If you don’t have documentation to prove the claims are false, the scammer will get their money back, and they’ll send you a broken or fake item in place of your genuine one. Once eBay rules against you in the case, there’s not much else you can do.

How to avoid:

The only real defense against this scam is to document both your item and the process of packing it for shipping with as many pictures as you can. If the item is well documented as being both genuine and functional, and you can provide proof that you sent the genuine item, it would be hard for eBay to rule against you in the case.