How To Spot Fake Craigslist And eBay Listings

Planning on doing some buying or selling online? Wired offers some tips on how to spot scammers when you’re on eBay or Craigslist.

There are three types of sellers you should watch out for:

1. Sellers who never ship the merchandise. Look for at least 100 unique messages “attesting to the seller’s reliability,” and consider using either eBay’s own escrow services or a third-party one that you know is legitimate (i.e., don’t let a suspicious seller choose the escrow service).

2. Sellers who accept really low bids. It’s likely the seller is trying to scam you and other bidders with a too-good-to-be-true offer.

3. Sellers who use multiple usernames. You can report sellers you suspect of this activity, but it’s hard to prove, writes Wired. Regardless, you should drop out of the auction immediately if you suspect the seller may be bidding on his own item under another name.

You should also take the time to familiarize yourself with the security information on Craiglist and eBay, as well as check out OnGuard Online, a government-sponsored online security resource for consumers that covers pretty much every type of online activity.

“Spot a Fake Listing on Craiglist” [Wired]

Craigslist Security Warnings
eBay Security Center
OnGuard Online
(Photo: Getty)


Edit Your Comment

  1. MercuryPDX says:

    2. Sellers who accept really low bids.

    This one is tricky. It’s a common strategy to start with a low opening bid of .99 or $1, but I guess this means you should be wary if it’s a pricey item, and there’s no “reserve price” in place.

  2. The Feedbackfox Firefox add-on lets you view up to 5000 feedbacks for an eBay user and filter them by their category. Quick and easy way to see all of a user’s Neutral and Negative comments. Good way to speed up the first tip on the list.

  3. mopar_man says:


    I’m wondering if they’re talking about the auctions that have a “Buy It Now” and e-mail address in the description when the auction isn’t actually a “Buy It Now” auction.

  4. EtherealStrife says:

    I second the trickiness of #2. The seller knows there will be significant bidding, and it probably won’t sell for less than the going average. Low start + NR attracts more views, which is just good business.
    A better rule would be to always check the shipping, and avoid buying media from outside North America. Anything from Hong Kong is guaranteed fake. :)

  5. timmus says:

    We are all very fortunate that the vast majority of scammers are stupid. I’ve been running a small business for 12 years and have processed thousands of transactions, and the people who try to bilk me out of goods ALWAYS stick out like a sore thumb. The pattern on eBay with sellers is almost identical. In many cases it’s like they don’t even put forth the effort to list a good scam auction. Of course this is just my experience; your mileage may vary.

  6. Major-General says:

    “Look for at least 100 unique messages ‘attesting to the seller’s reliability….'”

    That doesn’t neccesarily help. I’ve had an eBay account for 8 years and have maybe a feedback of 40, tops.

  7. nXt says:

    None of the 3 tips work for Craigslist. Not even the first one.
    Craigslist designed for local face-to-face transactions so you WOULDN’T want to send money and expect a person across the country to ship you your item.

    I’ve bought 1 Item from Craigslist. A set of 17″ Wheels/Tires for $450. I emailed him, called him on the phone, and drove an hour to meet him, look at the merchandise and pay him cash.

    eBay however, I sell and buy. I have 177 + feedback.
    My way of buying things on eBay is to read feedback and LOOK at the items the seller previously SOLD!

    There are scammers out there who steal ebay accounts who the real person sells beanie babies for $5.00 and then the scammers steal the account and start listing a ton of $200 purses for sale.

    Another thing I do is to search for what I want to buy, then looking at COMPLETED AUCTIONS of that item, to see if a lot are being sold, the going price, etc.. from that I can tell if I’m getting a good deal, bad deal, or too-good-to-be-true-deals.

    And Lastly to TRIPLE-READ an the listing. See if the item is broken, or refurbished, that cell phone doesn’t read sim cards, or that GPS has a password on it (probably stolen), etc..etc..

  8. jtrouch says:

    To view continuing scams, keep an eye on Gibson guitars at eBay. I have written instructions and warnings at the site, and still people think they can get an SG for $99.00. A really good scam really take very eager buyers with the “I must win at all costs” attitude. Don’t let urge temper your reason!

  9. cheesyfru says:

    1. The vast majority of eBayers have less than 100 feedback. The ones who have more are the power-sellers, who have essentially destroyed eBay by flooding the listings with items at the same price they’re sold everywhere else.

    2. As everyone’s mentioned, this is just dumb.

    3. True, but how on earth would you know that?

  10. shepd says:

    How about shipping scams? Maybe not fake ads, but ads where a product weighs maybe 5 lbs. but the shipper charges $100+ to ship from the US to Canada (or about $50 to ship within the US). I see these far too often. Usually the shipping + bid combined is much higher than risking bidding on something from far overseas and paying real shipping costs.

  11. Jean Naimard says:

    Feh. I know many e-bayers who routinely bid on each other’s items to keep the price up.

    Of course, since this is done over the phone, one cannot prove anything…

  12. Anonymous says:

    i start my auctions at like .25 or .50 cents because i feel like it gets more people involved and hopefully they have a bid war to win. i usually always get the most for my items (compared to similar listed items), also i almost always offer free shipping!

  13. mattbrown says:

    You can always spot them: w4wwm w4mwm w4mm w4tmwm

  14. edrebber says:

    Always fund your payment with a credit card. If you don’t receive the item or the item is not as described, then you can dispute the charge with your credit card company, if the seller won’t refund your money.

    You can miss out on some great buys by not dealing with sellers with bad or low feedback scores.

  15. lonelymaytagguy says:

    Look for at least 100 unique messages “attesting to the…consider using either eBay’s own escrow services or a third-party one that you know is legitimate

    eBay does NOT have their own escrow service. Scammers love to tell you the transaction will be supervised by eBay and please send the money to the eBay escrow agent in Estonia.

    The only service recognized by eBay is

    Look for $2,000 PayPal buyer protection, make sure your PayPal balance is zero, then you can fund the payment with a credit card. That way if things go sour, you can complain to PayPal and if they won’t do anything, do a credit card chargeback.

  16. EtherealStrife says:

    @mattbrown: I LOLed. Good piece of advice though!

  17. bigdirty says:

    It’s completely missed that folks sell items like the Nokia N95 and the iPhone, listed as the real things, but are actually fakes (the Nckia N95, and the iFone are my two personal favorites)

  18. ShadowArmor says:

    Wasn’t that a big problem during the Xbox360 craze? That people were selling the box, and buyers didn’t read the ad properly and ended up paying a ton for it?

    #3 would be hard to prove unless you were able to find the previous bids for previous auctions. If John always seems to bid on Bill’s items, and Bill always bids on John’s items, then they probably are in kahootz.

    #2 is mainly going to hurt the people that don’t read carefully, and who jump on that hot item that is “underpriced”. I’ve seen people sell a $20 item for like $1.50 with a shipping cost of $30. They are hoping people don’t read. In that case, while clearly “morally grey”, and clearly with the intent to deceive, it takes 2 to tango.

    #1 is easy to defend against if you take proper measures.

  19. hapless says:


    Inflated shipping isn’t intended to deceive the consumer. It’s a way of evading eBay fees.