Top 6 eBay scams (and how to avoid them)

Top 6 eBay scams (and how to avoid them)

For sites like Craigslist, eBay, and Facebook Marketplace, scams are simply the cost of doing business online. It’s a sad reality, one that can make it difficult for everyday people to trust a seemingly endless sea of fake listings and spam.

If you’re thinking about buying a used phone or other used tech on eBay, it’s important to know how to protect yourself from fraud and scammers. Here’s a list of the most common eBay scams along with tips on avoiding them. For good measure, we’ll even throw in a few anti-fraud measures Swappa takes to help keep our marketplace safe and free from many of these common scams.

1. Seller creates a listing using stolen photos 🚩

The scam:

In this scam the seller creates a fake listing using photos they’ve either grabbed from another listing or found somewhere else on the web. The scammer uses these photos as bait, after which they can use any number of tactics to steal your money.

This type of eBay seller fraud is typically followed up by the seller asking for partial payment (either a deposit, or to cover the price of shipping on large items like an automobile). This is a huge red flag and should alert you that you’re dealing with a scammer.

The solution: 

You should never — under any circumstances — pay for an item (even partially) outside of eBay. It doesn’t matter how convincing their story is (usually involves the recent death of a loved one) or if they promise to keep their word. Make no mistake: sending partial payment via wire transfer or electronic payment app will result in the loss of your money and the seller making out like a bandit.

On Swappa, our photo verification system stops most fraudulent listings before they ever go live in our marketplace. This ensures photos being uploaded to a listing actually belong to the seller and aren’t simply pulled from Google Images. It’s a simple anti-fraud measure, one that gives our users the freedom to shop without worry.

2. Seller is offering device at a deep discount 🚩

The scam:

Everyone loves finding a great deal on used tech, but don’t let that blind your better judgement. For scammers looking to make a quick buck, using an absurdly discounted item is their best method to entice hungry buyers. Most of the time the item doesn’t exist (in which case they’ll ask for partial payment before shipping it out), or they’re selling a phone that’s been stolen, broken, or still being financed.

The solution:

A good rule of thumb is to avoid heavily discounted, “too good to be true” listings. How can you tell? Well, this may be a little difficult to figure out on eBay, but Swappa provides up-to-date pricing information on every device available in our marketplace. This will help give you the market value for the device you’re looking to buy, whether you buy it with us or on eBay. Using this data you should easily be able to tell if a listing is legit or simply too good to be true.

3. Seller wants move communications away from eBay 🚩

The scam:

Another huge red flag are sellers who want to move communications off eBay and onto private emails or text messages. The reason for this is because bad sellers are attempting to cover their tracks. Once the conversation has moved offsite, they will then ask for partial or full payment before shipping the item out. Without a shipping confirmation on eBay or any way to verify that you actually paid for the item, buyers can’t file a dispute and eBay will take the side of the seller, leaving you — the buyer — high and dry. Don’t fall for it.

The solution:

Whether you’re shopping on eBay or Swappa, you should always keep communications inside the site where you’re buying from. Should the seller ask for a wire transfer or other payment, you’ll have the necessary correspondence to back your claim. On Swappa, we strongly urge our users to stick to communication inside our marketplace where Swappa is only a click away from getting involved and resolving disputes, or cracking whips.

4. Seller tricks you into buying a physical photograph or empty box 🚩

The scam:

When you browse listings on eBay, you probably have a specific product in mind. In some cases, eBay scammers have sold only the box (packaging) belonging to an item — or even just a photograph of it — for a price. This tricks unknowing buyers into thinking they’re getting a crazy good deal, only to find out they just purchase an empty box or physical photograph. If this was made known in the description, eBay may end up siding with the seller and the money you lost will be on you.

The solution:

If it’s a used iPhone or other piece of tech and priced extremely low, make sure you always read the listing’s description to make sure you know exactly what you’re paying for. On Swappa, we only allow sellers to create listings for fully functional devices — no exceptions. This helps thwart would-be scammers but when in doubt, contact the seller for more info.

5. Seller ships package using the wrong name 🚩

The scam:

The seller creates a normal listing and once the item is purchased, the seller ships the item to the buyer but purposely uses a different name. If all goes according to plan, the buyer sees the package addressed to someone else and returns the package to the local post office. What they don’t realize is this marks the package as “refused” or “returned,” and can end up voiding eBay’s Money Back Guarantee. The seller gets the package back and can then run away with your money. Also, since this counts as a resolved dispute, there’s no way for the buyer to even so much as leave feedback after the fact.

The solution:

Now, we don’t recommend opening mail that isn’t addressed to you, so another (more legal) way to avoid this situation is to stay on top of your package’s tracking information. By using the tracking number, you should be able to see when the package will arrive, and you can even set up shipping alerts so you know once it’s arrived. Once the package has been delivered, just make sure the tracking the number matches the one you were provided with (even if the name is different).

6. Seller ships a phone that is still being financed 🚩

The scam:

This is a tough one, since often times the buyer doesn’t discover there’s something wrong until it’s too late. Even if you receive a phone and it works and there’s seemingly no issue with the functionality — that doesn’t mean you’re in the clear. It’s possible the phone is still being financed, which means the moment the original owner stops making payments, the carrier will blocklist the device and it can no longer receive cell service. This can happen a few days — or even weeks — after you’ve been happily enjoying the phone without issue.

The solution:

Again, this is a tricky one seeing as how the phone can be blocklisted at any moment. If you’re purchasing a used phone on eBay, it may be worth asking for the IMEI before purchasing, then checking with the carrier yourself to see if it’s fully unlocked and ready for sale (paid off). There’s no guarantee the seller will comply, but it’s worth a shot. It’s either that or stick the Swappa marketplace for all your used phone shopping.

On Swappa, we not only check a device’s electronic serial number to make sure it hasn’t been reported lost or stolen, but we also go the extra mile to check that the device is ready for activation. This allows you to trust the tech you buy.

High risk eBay items not covered by buyer protection:

eBay’s Money Back Guarantee covers most items sold in their marketplace, but not everything is included. Here’s a list of items you should be extremely wary of when coming across them on eBay. While used phones aren’t on this list, they’re still a high risk item that you should always proceed with caution as they’re a favorite among online scammers.

  • Automobiles / vehicles
  • Services
  • Intangible Goods
  • Digital content
  • Real estate
  • Items sold by Sotheby’s
  • Classified ads
  • Websites and businesses for sale
  • Some business equipment

Can I get my money back from an eBay scam?

Most purchases are covered by eBay’s Money Back Guarantee. If the item purchased didn’t arrive, is faulty or damaged, or doesn’t match the listing, eBay will give you your money back. In instances of a dispute or scam, they typically end up siding with the buyer, so there tends to be much higher risk associated with selling goods on eBay than buying. If you found yourself the victim of an eBay scam and want to get your money back, simply head over to the eBay Resolutions Center.

How to report eBay scams

In the event that you do run into an eBay scam, you should know how to report it properly and as soon as possible. First things first, you’ll need to open a case and attempt to work things out with the seller. If that doesn’t work and you don’t reach a resolution in 3 days, you can then escalate things to eBay by visiting their Resolution Center. At this point eBay Customer Support will then review the case (within 48 hours), and if you qualify, eBay will refund your money and shipping charges. A step-by-step guide can be found on eBay’s support page here.


Of course the safest way to buy or sell your used tech online is by sticking to the Swappa marketplace. Swappa users can rest easy knowing the listings in our marketplace have been screened and our support team is available 365 days a year to answer any questions or concerns.

We know there are other services out there for buying and selling used tech, but we believe none are as safe and reliable as Swappa. So don’t risk your hard-earned money buying a sketchy phone on eBay. With Swappa, you can trust the tech you buy. Get started today by hitting the button below.


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