6 Red Flags About Shopping on eBay, According to Experts
Look out for these warning signs of scams and shady sellers.
Since its launch in 1995, eBay has provided a platform for all kinds of products both used and new—from antiques and collectibles to clothing and shoes, beauty products, electronics, sporting goods, and so much more. Whether you're looking for a sold-out pair of limited edition sneakers, some secondhand snowboarding gear, or a designer handbag, you can likely find it on eBay. That said, there's always a chance that the product you buy won't match your expectations—or the seller's description. To avoid this and other potential risks, you'll need to stay alert about certain red flags when shopping on eBay.
"It's important to be extra mindful while shopping on eBay because this online global marketplace is open to all types of sellers and buyers including individuals and businesses from all over the world," explains Faizan Khan, a retail expert and spokesperson at Ubuy. "You may come across fraudulent sellers or counterfeit products."
Keep in mind that eBay does offer some buyer protection. If your item never arrives after you pay for it, or arrives not as described, you can open a case with the seller and escalate it for eBay's review if they don't resolve the issue—and eBay can then refund you.
"However, if you do fall for a scam, it can take a lot of jumping through hoops and back-and-forth with eBay's customer service to fix the problem," says Julie Ramhold, consumer analyst with DealNews.com.
With that in mind, you can avoid a lot of hassle, frustration, and disappointment by looking out for the following red flags.
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6 Red Flags About Shopping on eBay
1. he pricing is unrealistic.
Here's a good rule of thumb to go by, says Khan: If the price of an item seems too good to be true, it probably is.
"Scammers often place items with attractively low prices to entice more buyers," explains Beatriz Dylan, a consumer analyst, money-saving expert, and consultant at The Guaranteed Loans.
According to Khan, a suspiciously low price tag is often an indicator that the item isn't genuine. For example, it might be a knockoff of a designer brand, or its actual quality or condition may not match the description.
2. The seller is pressuring you to make a purchase.
If a seller ever messages you applying pressure to make a purchase—say, by claiming there's a limited quantity or promising a special deal if you take immediate action—Khan strongly advises ending your communication and passing on the transaction. This is a huge red flag that the seller may be trying to prevent you from doing your research by forcing you to make an impulsive buying decision.
"Scammers frequently use pressure tactics to create a sense of urgency and sell counterfeit goods," he explains. "This prevents buyers from conducting preliminary research on the product's market value and the seller's."
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3. There are very few photos of the product.
"If a buyer's listing is sloppy, unprofessional, or just generally low on effort, it's a telltale sign of unprofessionalism," explains Paul Morris, online shopping expert and founder of Superb Digital.
Photographs are an important aspect of any product listing on eBay. They help set expectations for the item's quality and condition, among other factors. So, when there are only one or two photos—or worse, none at all—that might be a sign to pause and reconsider your purchase, says Morris.
"When images are available, carefully examine them," agrees Jeanel Alvarado, retail expert at RETAILBOSS. The seller might be trying to hide damage or flaws.
4. The seller has more negative ratings than positive ones.
Before making an offer or hitting that "buy it now" button, make sure to check the seller's rating and reviews, which Alvarado and Khan note can help you evaluate their credibility. If you find that they have more negative reviews than positive ones, or have even repeatedly received the same negative feedback, Alvarado recommends staying away from that particular seller.
"Another red flag is very little or no feedback at all, suggesting they haven't done much business on eBay," adds Morris. While little to no reviews don't necessarily mean a seller is untrustworthy, doing business with a more established seller may give you more peace of mind.
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5. The seller wants to take the transaction off eBay.
The best way to protect yourself when making purchases via eBay is to keep everything on the platform. So, if a seller is asking you to circumvent that, it's a big red flag, says Ramhold.
According to Andrei Vasilescu, online shopping expert and CEO/founder of DontPayFull.com, taking a transaction off eBay will mean that you are no longer protected by the site if something goes wrong—for example, you don't ever receive the product, or it arrives in poorer condition than you expected. "You can insist on adhering to the eBay system, but if they refuse, then it's best to walk away from the sale."
6. The auction time frame is extremely short.
If you notice that the seller just listed the item today and the listing ends tomorrow, that might be a red flag. Unless there's a justifiable reason for the seller's urgency—for example, the product is tied to an upcoming event—a short auction window can suggest the seller is just trying to make a quick buck, according to Ramhold. "That could mean the product isn't accurately represented, or worse, doesn't even exist."