Grace almost got scammed on eBay. A fraudster cracked a high-value seller’s account and posted a fake listing for a camera and tried to make Grace pay for it using Western Union, a huge warning sign of a scam. That’s typical, but these criminals went the extra mile. “Above and beyond,” if you will. When she tried to ask some questions about the transaction, they directed her to a live online chat that was mocked up to look like a real eBay customer service chat and tried to assuage her concerns by telling her it was okay to use Western Union because she had “buyer protection!” Here’s her story and the chat transcript so you can learn and not get burned:
This is an eBay deal I won’t be doing. But it is pretty amazing how far they went to try to convince me it would be a real transaction, fake online chat staff and all. I read Consumerist often so I figured it out in time, but…wow.
Here’s how it went down:
1. The item, a camera lens, was listed under a verified seller’s eBay account. The seller had more than 2300 positive reviews, a dozen active listings and a storefront. There were about 10 pictures of that particular used lens and an in-depth description of its condition. There was a great return policy. I read a few pages of feedback and visited a link to their used electronics brick-and-mortar store in New Jersey. Feedback was excellent and I felt solid about the seller.
2. The seller asked in the item description that questions to be directed to a specific gmail account rather than eBay because they couldn’t access eBay at work or something like that. It seemed a little weird but not unheard of, and I figured, hey, they have such great feedback… How can 2300 other people be wrong?
3. I emailed a question about the item, they (“Craig”, the name of the seller as listed on eBay) wrote back within a few minutes and said it was mine for the Buy It Now price if I wanted it, and they asked for an address to calculate shipping costs. Still, there was no “Buy It Now” link on the auction, and I asked for them to post it officially on the auction itself to complete the transaction through the regular channels.
4. They didn’t respond to my request for a “Buy it Now” link on the auction. Instead, I get this email (below), confirming the sale through eBay, which asks for payment via Western Union. Warning bells went off (thanks, Consumerist!) and I wrote back that I would do the sale only with Paypal and I asked for their Paypal information. No response to that, even though I heard back within about 2 minutes the last time. I was hoping somehow the listing was real even as evidence mounted that it wasn’t. I guess there’s no place for optimism when it comes to eBay.
5. An email comes from eBay saying the listing is pulled because the seller’s account had been compromised by someone else, which confirms my suspicions. The seller WAS legit, so I was right about that. But the listing wasn’t theirs.
6. I did a live chat linked from the email below, which is the kicker, and is copied below. You can probably chat with them via the same link if you want.The chat spoofs eBay’s page and is a secure site.
I knew there were sketchy sellers with sketchy eBay sites, but I thought those could be spotted by the lack of feedback, bad English, no return policies, etc. I hadn’t really considered encountering one fake auction mixed in with a dozen real auctions under an actual legitimate seller’s account. I also didn’t think scammers had internet chat staff waiting online, but hey, what do I know.
CHAT FROM LINK BELOW:
You: We appreciate your patience. You will be able to type in your question as soon as you are connected with a Live Help Agent. Please continue to hold for the next available representative. (Conversation directed to any operator).
You are successfully connected to eBay Live Help. Please hold for the next available Live Help Agent.
SYSTEM: Sarah B. has entered the conversation.
Sarah B.: Hello and thank you for contacting eBay Account Security Live Help, my name is Sarah B. How may I help you?
You: Hi there, I want to make sure an auction is legitimate. The seller asked to be contacted outside of eBay and I had gotten a message saying the listing was pulled, but now a message saying it is okay?
Sarah B.: May i have the transaction number and your full name please?
You: This is the item:
You:  is my full name
You: They are asking for payment via Western Union.
Sarah B.: Ok, may i have the transaction number so i can check if it is valid.
Sarah B.: Please hold while i check if this transaction it is valid.
Sarah B.: Thank you for waiting. This is a valid transaction and it is covered by our Buyer Protection Program. We have full access to seller’s account, if the buyer don’t receive the item, eBay will take the money from seller’s account and send a full refund to the buyer. Note: Western Union it is accepted only for this type of transaction.
You: Why is Western Union only accepted for this type?
Sarah B.: Because we have access to seller’s account and we can send your money back if you don’t get the item.
You: And Buyer’s Protection means a full refund if I don’t get it or its not as described? Can I ask why the listing was pulled as “compromised”?
Sarah B.: That’s correct. If the item it is not as described you will need to send it back to the seller and we will send a full refund. You received that notification by e-mail because the seller ended the auction early when you accepted to buy it.
You: The email said that I received it because someone else had accessed the seller’s account and NOT to proceed with the sale. It says right on eBay: “Pay safely online by never using instant cash transfer services such as Western Union or MoneyGram International to pay for your eBay purchases. These payment methods are unsafe when paying someone you do not know. Learn more.”
Sarah B.: Yes, dismiss that message. Never use instant cash transfer services such as Western Union or MoneyGram International to pay for your eBay purchases when you don’t get the buyer protection.
Sarah B.: This is a private transaction on eBay that’s why we accept the payment by Western Union.
You: Can you send me a link to the Buyer Protection? I only found on Ebay that it helps you talk to the seller but can’t find anywhere that it says eBay will refund you the money from their account.
Sarah B.: I am here to confirm you that this is a valid transaction and you are 100% covered doing it this way. So you should feel safe. Next step, you should send the payment to the seller so he can ship your package.
Sarah B.: Thank you for using eBay!
SYSTEM: Sarah B. has ended chat session.. Please, Click for Sending This Conversation Send TransScript
This interaction betrayed several classic eBay scam warning signs:
1. Directs user to use contact outside eBay system
2. Asks you to pay outside of eBay using Western Union
3. Bad grammar
4. Biggest tell: everyone knows it’s impossible to get a human at the real eBay.