eBay Motors Scams: What They Are and Protect Yourself

Don't get taken when purchasing a car online

Buying a car is notoriously difficult. There are pitfalls everywhere that you need to navigate, and it’s never simple to get a clear answer whether or not the vehicle you’re looking at will be reliable in the long run. Buying a car online adds yet another layer of complexity, and that’s something scammers know all too well as they look to take advantage of inexperienced and overwhelmed buyers.

When you’re looking to purchase your next vehicle on eBay Motors, there are simple steps you can take to protect yourself from scammers and ensure that you get a fair deal.

A conceptual illustration of an eBay Motors scammer.
 Lifewire / Theresa Chiechi

What Are eBay Motors Scams?

eBay Motors scams can take a few different forms, but regardless of how they're designed, the thieves are looking for one thing: To steal your hard-earned money.

These scams usually consist of a fake advertisement for a car that's made to look so attractive that you can't help but reach out to learn more. That's when the scammers get you. They'll ask for personal information, try to get you to take the deal off eBay "to save money," and pull numerous other tricks with the goal of stealing your money, and sometimes your personal information to be used in identity theft scams.

How do eBay Motors Scams Work?

There’s a very common scam in the car buying world. It’s not exclusive to eBay Motors, but it's also among the most common automotive scams on eBay.

The scam is referred to here as the eBay Gift Card Scam. It most commonly involves a request for gift cards from the scammers because gift cards are notoriously difficult, if not impossible, to track. The scammer will usually claim the exact opposite, though.

The scam almost always starts out the same way. You’re browsing through car listings, and you come across something that looks like an excellent deal. The car looks to be in fantastic shape, the mileage isn’t bad, and the price seems on the low side. It’s very common for the price point in this scam to be $1500, or very near it.

Another clear indication, just from the listing, is the pictures of the car. More often than not, the pictures are stock photos used for advertising the vehicle when it was first released or pictures of a restored show vehicle. These pictures usually have a professional quality to them that stands out among the usual pictures that were taken with someone’s phone.

Professional photo Ford F-150 truck

When you try to contact the seller for more information about the vehicle or to see it in person, things will immediately take a turn toward the fishy side. The seller will likely have some story to explain why they’re selling the car so inexpensively and why you can’t see it at the same time. All too often, this story involves a recent and untimely loss of a family member, some complication from serving in the military, or a serious illness. The vehicle is almost never where it originally said in the listing. Sometimes it’s supposedly in storage or it’s with a family member in another state. In any case, there's a 'good' reason that you can’t actually see the vehicle in person.

The seller will go one to give you some excuse why they can’t accept payment through the usual channels. This could either be something with a rushed time frame or some excuse that the account is being held by a third party with some affiliation to eBay. They like to make it sound as official as possible, so the third party is often described as some form of financial branch of eBay, which doesn’t actually exist. The seller will tell you that you need to pay in gift cards, in this case eBay gift cards, because they’re backed by eBay or the eBay-affiliated intermediary. Of course, this is untrue. The scammers are just looking to make off with untraceable gift cards, leaving you without a vehicle and out the cash you spent to purchase the gift cards.

How to eBay Motors Scammers Find Their Victims?

One thing that makes eBay Motors scams attractive to businesses is that they don't have to find victims. People come to eBay Motors to buy a car. Scammers just take advantage of that situation by presenting a legitimate-looking opportunity for potential buyers.

How Do I Avoid Getting Involved in eBay Motors Scams?

The first and best thing that you can do to protect your self on eBay Motors is to follow the rules eBay has laid out. Many of them are there to protect both buyers and sellers. Working outside the rules leaves you vulnerable to scams.

The same can be said for transactions. As soon as you exchange money outside of eBay, you’re no longer protected, and you will have no recourse in case you are the victim of a scam, and scammers count on exactly that fact.

Feedback is your friend. If the seller has no feedback or their rating is low, there’s a good chance that something fishy is going on. Only deal with established sellers.

Any time you’re buying a vehicle online, it’s best to see it in person and take it for a test drive. If you’re not able to do that, you’re going to find yourself contending with a pile of unknowns. When you’re buying a car on eBay Motors the stakes are even higher, since there’s no guarantee the car’s even real.

Finally, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Sure, there are instances where you can find a fantastic deal, but they’re increasingly uncommon. Whenever a deal seems weighted too far in your direction, be cautious and question why that seems to be the case.

I'm Already a Victim. What Should I Do?

If you have already fallen victim to an eBay Motors scam, there may not be much you can do to recover any money that you've lost, but you can try. Start by reporting the scam. You may also try these tactics:

  • Report a seller or account to eBay as soon as you realize you've been victimized so eBay can deal with the account quickly.
  • Report the scam to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) using the online complaint form or by calling them directly at 1-877-FTC-HELP.
  • Reach out to the Internet Crime Complaint Center. The organization might be willing to open an investigation into your claim.

How Do I Avoid Being Targeted for eBay Motors Scams?

If you want to purchase a car online, there are plenty of legitimate sellers with good vehicles to offer. However, to avoid being targeted in a scam, you need to keep an eye out for warning signs. When it comes to eBay Motors scams, there are some obvious red flags to tip you off that something isn’t quite right.

  • Insist on seeing the vehicle in person and test drive it(if the car runs and drives). It’s a good rule whenever buying a car anywhere that you need to be able to check it out and drive it, but that’s especially true online. When you can’t see a car in person from an online listing, there’s always the chance that there is no car at all. If you can’t drive it, there can be untold mechanical issues that you won’t be aware of.
  • Be wary any time a seller requests a deposit up front for a car. There is no function within eBay for handling a deposit, which means that your deposit won’t be backed or guaranteed by eBay in any way. As a result, it’s all too easy for a seller to walk off with your deposit. There are situations where a deposit might be alright, like if you met the seller in person and test drove the vehicle, but as a general rule, avoid leaving a deposit.
  • If a buyer wants to pay outside of eBay, walk away. Despite what a buyer might say, any time you pay or settle the transaction outside of eBay, you are not in any way protected by eBay’s policies. That opens up a whole host of new scams and risks without any potential for recourse when something goes wrong. Never settle outside of eBay.