Ask The Consumerist: Ebay Laptop, Without The Fraud?

“Whatever IT is, you can get IT on Ebay,” goes the promise. Unfortunately for reader Wil, “it” has meant, “almost being scammed.”

Three times in a row reader Wil has tried to Ebay his laptop. Three times in a row, frothy bidding has yielded a winner. Three times in a row, Ebay has canceled the auctions and refunded his listings fees because… three times in a row the winning bid was placed by a “compromised” account.

Ask The Consumerists: What can Wil do so shysters aren’t so drawn to his laptop auctions?


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  1. Well, there are a host of options to enable in the Seller’s account preferences that would make it less likely that scheister’s could bid on his auctions. However, a “hijacked” account by it’s very nature used to be a legitimate one, so it’s nigh impossible to prevent.

    eBay offers a “2nd offer” for auctions if I’m not mistaken. This allows seller’s to offer the auction to the other bidders after the high bidder defaults. Has Wil tried that route yet? You might not get the amount that the winning bidder bid, but you’ll be able to offer it to the next highest bidder and so on…

  2. shaunirving says:

    Sell it Buy It Now, with immediate payment via Paypal required.

    He could also run it as a closed auction, in which buyers have to pre-register with him before bidding. It may give him some chance to prescreen folks to make sure they’re who they really are. Not foolproof, but more of a deterrent… too much trouble for most scammers.

  3. Magicube says:

    There are far too many scams to completely avoid them. The above recommendations are good. Regarding the account preferences, you can restrict the auction to US only, for example, and block anyone with no or negative feedback. In the end, though, someone can win and not pay regardless of whether the winning bidder’s account is compromised.

  4. emax4 says:

    Like the above post, he can have buyers pre-register with him on this. When you go to sell an item you can set prerequisites that the buyer must meet before bidding. I haven’t done this myself but I know that it can be done on the page while listing an item. It’s more difficult if this is the seller’s first time listing an item when he or she has zero feedback or little feedback. Serious buyers are more hesitant to bid when sellers with that minimal feedback list items. He or she might want to use an online auction house (think of the 40 Year old Virgin’s “We Sell Your Stuff on ebay” store) to list it, or get a friend, relative, or coworker with good outstanding feedback to list the laptop for him. This way the laptop has a better chance of getting sold, plus the other party has a better chance of getting positive feedback.

  5. Plaid Rabbit says:

    I found the best thing to do is to not sell anywhere but the US and require PayPal with a conformed address. If you ship something via PayPal to a confirmed addy from a sale on eBay, you’re insulated. I, at least, have found this has kept me fraud free for 120 transactions, with one close call on a cell phone I (unintentionally) listed a cell phone as being shippable to the world instead of US.

    The other side of the coin is to do this with buying a laptop too – I got dinged the past February buying a laptop that was hot off of eBay. Thankfully I was able to get it back to it’s rightfull owner and get a full refund, but I think it’ll all because I have an awesome credit card company, and that PayPal (although slow and the evil empire) came through in my instance.

    Just my 2¢.

  6. GenXCub says:

  7. orielbean says:

    I also like craigslist for this type of sale – it’s local and you set the terms. Not as many views as Ebay, so you might not get all the money or hits you want, but SO much safer to meet the buyer in person.

  8. Kangarara says:

    Sell locally only. I made a point of saying I wouldn’t ship my PowerBook anywhere, so only buy if you’re in Vancouver, please.

    Worked wonderfully.

  9. soulbarn says:

    I think this hints at a bigger problem with eBay. As it becomes more and more a commercial marketplace, I’ve found – as an individual seller – that I’m getting more and more bids from shady buyers and people who just don’t pay attention to my stated criteria (no overseas sales, verified paypal, and feedback criteria – not all of which can be preset on eBay auctions.) The problem is that when I have to cancel these bids, the entire bidding structure collapses. So part of the problem isn’t related to the final sale, where following Paypal’s rules can protect you (though getting your $$$ back from Paypal isn’t always fun.) Bad bidders can wreck the whole auction process.

    As far as using Buy it Now or Craigslist, these are OK ideas – except that, in my experience, I can nearly always get a higher price with a seven-day auction than with a flat fee.

    All of this makes eBay less and less useful, since it all works against the service’s fundamental best selling strategies, which are allow as many bidders as possible and get as many bids as possible (two different things; using no reserve price, in my experience, has always led to higher final prices, probably because it draws more initial bidders in.)

    The only solution lately has been to watch my auctions like a hawk – something I really don’t want to do. I don’t think eBay takes enough care of it’s original target userbase – individuals looking to transact safely with other individuals. And I think, as it becomes more like Wal-Mart to Amazon’s Target, things will only get worse.

  10. not_seth_brundle says:

    Craigslist is best for this. There’s just too much room for fraud on eBay/PayPal and lots of places to get tripped up. For example, many sellers know that if you accept PayPal, you’d better insist on sending the item to a confirmed address and use delivery confirmation–if you don’t do both of these things, all the buyer has to do is file a claim with PayPal and he/she will pretty much automatically get a refund AND get to keep the item. But a lot of people don’t know that for a sale over $250, you have to use signature confirmation. And even if you cover your bases with PayPal, the buyer can do a chargeback directly through his/her credit card company.

    eBay is a great place to buy a laptop and a lousy place to sell one, because PayPal is so buyer-friendly. And if you decline to accept PayPal, you’re going to have a much, much smaller pool of buyers which, as soulbarn pointed out, defeats the purpose of listing on eBay in the first place.

  11. number6 says:

    I just had an ebay laptop auction cancelled last week. At end of auction I received a spoofed paypal email requesting shipment to NIGERIA and stating that the paypal funds had been placed in a “hold” (i don’t remember the precise terminology) and that the funds would be released as soon as I replied with a tracking number to prove shipment – and the tracking number had to be sent within 5 hours or else my account would be frozen. I can’t believe anyone would fall for this crap. I did specify US shipment only, but the bidder identity had been hijacked. I reported the spoof to paypal/ebay, and within minutes the entire listing was vaporized, losing all traces of the other bidders. second chance offers were not an option. Ebay said I had to relist manually.

  12. agahnim says:

    I had this same problem when selling my girlfriend’s laptop on eBay. I didn’t want to deal locally because, as mentioned above, you can usually get a better price on eBay (even considering all the fees), and I’ve had plenty of great transactions with people abroad. The winning bidder of this auction used a hijacked account and wanted me to send it to Nigeria (after “paying” with a spoof PayPal email). Nope. Not happening. They just ended up costing me time, but it was still annoying, so I simply posted a disclaimer on the next auction saying something to the effect of “I wasn’t born yesterday. I’m not going to ship this laptop to Nigeria. Scammers go away and don’t waste my time”.

    That auction went through fine.

  13. Wdeal says:

    Avoiding this issue can be rather easy. I do it all the time — and after some learning experiences (no fraud, just reading the boards at eBay) I believe I have found an approach that usually works.

    First, on the “Nigerian fraud” issue — use the “Buyer requirements” options to avoid this problem. You can block buyers that live in countries to which you do not ship, have negative feedback totals, have unpaid item strikes in the past and buyers who dont have a paypal account. Make sure to specify the countries that you will ship TO, and all others will be blocked.

    Also, you can set your PayPal account to only accept funds from accounts with “confirmed” PayPal addresses (or to ask you if you will accept an unconfirmed address payment). This dramatically reduces fraud. If you have an auction-style listing, this wont prevent a scammer from winning your item on eBay, but they wont be able to send a payment from an Unconfirmed address account. You can then relist the item and request a “final value fee credit” from eBay–just know this process takes 15 days to complete. Make sure to say in the listing that you require a PayPal confirmed address for shipping & that you only accept PayPal for payment.

    Also, to avoid fraud almost completely, choose a “buy it now” listing type (no bidding), set the price you want (you can raise or lower it up until 12 hours before the listing ends). Then, “require immediate payment” (check the box under your buy it now price), and then do as suggested above and set your PayPal account to only accept payments from accounts with Confirmed addresses. Because “immediate payment” is required, the listing will not end until buyer has made payment–and buyer can only pay with a PayPal account that has a confirmed address.

    Also, most transactions that have a confirmed address qualify for the PayPal Seller Protection Policy with up to $1000 of protection for the seller — however you must ship to the confirmed address and require a signature at time of delivery.

    This approach will save you much hassle & money AND rob the scammers of a victim !!

  14. benfica88 says:

    Wdeal your suggestions are very good, but in the cases above it doesn’t help. The reason is because these people hijack legitimate accounts, so they can go through all the loopholes. Once they win the auction they send a fake paypal message requesting tracking number before funds go through. The problem is theres no way to avoid it because of a legitimate account, and as mentioned above if you report a fraud to ebay they completley remove your listing and any way to contact previous bidders.

  15. Felixguruterbaun says:

    Those are all great suggestions as mentioned above. The bottom line is, eBay and PayPal are skewed in favoring buyers over sellers. In fact, many buyers take advantage of this by exploiting the system and filing unwarranted chargebacks and dispute claims. PayPal has obligations with credit card companies (the source of most of the trouble) and therefore PayPal puts controls in place to protect themselves. I say all this as it does not necessary justify their lack of proactive risk management, but hopefully we can understand where they are coming from to a certain degree. If PayPal and eBay didn’t favor buyers over sellers, the buyers would eventually leave leaving no market for the sellers (this is of course an extreme exaggeration). See “The Top 10 Reasons Not to Sell on eBay by Yourself” at

    Due to the numerous risks and hassles related to selling on eBay, I have pioneered a concept to proactively address the struggles on eBay, providing a solution to consumers looking to sell items without the risks and hassles on eBay. The concept is basically like an online pawn shop, where you can get a guaranteed amount for items before they are actually sold on eBay. The concept has been perfected over the years and is now offered through (Jay Brokers). The company buys used technology related items such as laptops, mp3 players, PDA’s, cell phones, computer, etc. and offers a guaranteed amount upfront, before the items are actually sold on eBay. In most cases, customers receive 70-80% of the average closing price for a particular item on eBay. As an added bonus, all customers who request a quote, get a free pricing report with links to actual historical data on eBay, so they know what the average sale price is for a particular item. Obviously you don’t end up with as much net $$ in the end when a third party sells the item for you, but then again you don’t have to deal with the risk of losing your money or being a victim of fraud…the cost of convenience and safety.