I will update this guide from time to time, so check back occasionally. I will try to keep it brief.
This article is mostly aimed at large-ticket buyers. If you are not risking thousands of dollars on your purchases, some of these suggestions may be overkill. Regardless of how much money is at stake, though, it is YOUR money. Fraud cuts both ways and sellers can be robbed, too.
1. Know the product. This is pretty simple in many cases, if the item is well-known and readily available. But, if there is a cheap knock-off of any product, you can bet it will end up here on eBay. Do your research via web, books or other authorities before you bid. Do not assume authenticity.
2. Do not follow e-mail addresses that are included in the text section of postings. If the seller claims that is the only way to contact them, abandon ship and go no further. Send all the questions you have ONLY via the eBay mail link (Ask Seller A Question). When you do send a message, ask about payment methods and shipping and such, not just about the item itself. If you don't like the options the seller gives for payment method, tell him what you would be willing to do. If he is real, he may try to accomodate you because he has the item and he wants to sell it.
3. Short duration sales may be suspicious. There are a few good reasons to sell quickly (such as a high-demand commodity item where there are many sellers and many items), but it may also be setting the stage for a hit-and-run seller. Scammers want to quickly hook their marks and then disappear into the ether; they do not want their postings to languish for for all to see. It is not a deal-breaker, but should be considered along with other potential red flags.
4. American laws do not apply anywhere but in America. The bad guys know that. So use great care, if you must proceed at all. Especially do not deal with anyone who is "temporarily" out of the country.
5. If the sale is supposedly in the United States, make sure the bid amount is in American dollars. Non-American currency values are printed in italics on eBay, so they are easy to spot. It doesn't make much sense for a guy in Texas to convert your bid to Euros, does it?
6. What is the return policy, and how much do they charge for shipping? Don't be impressed by money-back guarentees and dirt-cheap shipping. If it is a scam, they aren't going to give your money back and they aren't going to ship anything.
7. Look at the seller's feedback. Carefully! Don't just look at an impressively large number and call it good. There is a ton of useful information here if you take the time to really investegate. If it is a stolen account, they are somebody else's points anyway. But you can learn a lot:
A. Has he bought or sold anything recently, and what was it? Accounts that have no recent activity are much more likely to be stolen accounts.
B. Is this auction consistent with items bought and sold in the past? If a buyer of $5 trinkets is suddenly selling a $4000 drum set, take note. It may be valid, but it is suspicious.
C. Is the item location the same for this sale as for his last sales? Does the location actually exist, or is it some fictional locale?
D. Are his accepted payment methods the same as his last sales? If he accepted PayPal before, why is he insisting on a wire transfer or cashier's check now?
E. The seller's positive feedback points for purchased items are not very useful to you as a buyer, so don't over-value them.
8. What else is the seller posting for sale at the time? Follow the link for Seller's Other Items. If they have a large number of unrelated big-ticket items currently for sale (musical instruments, computers, cameras, bicycles...) that is very suspicious.
9. Look at the photos. Are they just stock pictures from the company web site or are they apparently authentic photos of the item? Scammers can get pictures of anything from the web, including from other eBay auctions. If you have seen the exact same photo in other auctions, be suspicious. Also, look at the backgrounds in the photos. Does it look like they just took their digital camera into a store and started clicking away?
10. Talk to the seller! How? Place as low a bid as possible on the item. Bidding gives you the right to view the seller's contact information. Go to this link, and paste in the seller's name and the item number. eBay will e-mail his contact information to you.
If the phone number does not work, that is a major red flag. Use a phone number web-site or directory assistance to verify that the person's name, location and phone number make sense. Don't be afraid to ask very specific questions about the product and sale. If you have tried to contact the seller but cannot (and do give him time to respond), that is a valid reason to cancel your bid. While I am not a big fan of bid cancelling, I will not send my money to anyone who won't answer my phone calls or reply to my emails.
11. Is the item in the correct category? Another device scammers with use to hide their skulduggery is to post items in obscure places. Instead of searching the entire eBay universe for your item, specify your category.
12. Payment method is a very big deal. C.O.D. is great if they will go with it. Escrow.com is good (though a little pricy), and the only escrow eBay recommends. Some criminals set up bogus sites that sound and look like Escrow.com, but do not be fooled. DO NOT use any other escrow site. PayPal is good too, up to a point, but the sale does not qualify for their $2000 protection unless it specifies that on the posting. In that case, the best you can hope for is the $200 coverage extended by eBay (minus a $25 service fee).
The whole official PayPal safety spiel is here:
If you use PayPal, use your credit card rather than your own bank account. PayPal may try to persuade you to draw money directly from your bank account. Don't do it. Many credit card issuers will refund money stolen from you. It is not fail-safe, but it is another layer of protection. Never use Western Union for these transactions. Western Union's own web site will tell you that. Wire transfers and any kind of check is a one-way ticket to fraud.
13. Some second-chance offers are scam attempts, so be careful. If there is a hot-link on the page, take a look at the URL it points to when you roll your cursor over it. (The URL is usually displayed at the bottom of your web browser) There are fake eBay and PayPal sites that attempt to steal your login information. If the URL does not start with "https:" it is not a secure site. Do NOT log in there!
14. Finally, do not wait until the last hour of the sale to get interested in it. If it is something you want, there is some homework for you to do. Give yourself the time to evaluate things and give the seller time to respond to your questions. Do not burn bridges, but do not allow yourself to be burned.
BONUS POINT FOR SELLERS:
Look at the feedback of those who are bidding on your items. Not just the feedback they have received, but the feedback they have given as well. I have (unfortunately) found buyers who try to extort sellers by threatening, and giving bad feedback. It happened to me. The buyer had given a dozen bad feedbacks in his last twenty transactions. He gave me my one negative. He kept the item he bought and complained about, then eBay raided my PayPal account and refunded his money. Ripoff. So, if you don't like the looks of the feedback given by a potential buyer, cancel his/her bid. No explanations needed.
If you think a listing is bogus and want to report it to eBay, this link will get you where you need to go:
Finally, you are doing business with total strangers here, and don't forget it. Most people are decent and honest, but some aren't, and they can really mess up your day.
If you found this helpful, feel free to paste a link to it in your eBay postings!
Please take a moment to vote for it if you find it helpful. And THANKS to those who have made it a Top 25 Guide!
Good luck, my friends. Hope to see you around the 'Bay!