This ebay scam is especially dangerous for entertainers

(The original version of this article was first published on the Mp3 Backing Trax website circa 2006 – 2012)

eBay is generally a safe place to shop and if you know how to navigate your way through their auction process, there are tons of bargains on new and used goods, especially musical equipment. However, look out for fraudsters who target entertainers who buy high priced musical items.

The latest ebay scam I’ve uncovered involves fraudsters selling small, high priced items like microphones, mini-mixers, effects pedals, even mobile phones and jewellery etc, and then not sending the goods. Although this has been happening for years on eBay, this scam has a new twist to it which makes it all the more plausible.

Here’s how it works.

When the buyer complains to ebay that he hasn’t received his goods, ebay then contact the seller just as you would expect. The seller (ie the fraudster) tells eBay that he DID send the goods and that the buyer is the one who’s telling lies. To which Ebay asks the seller/fraudster if he has proof that the goods were sent to the buyer?

This is where the scam begins…

The seller/fraudster immediately sends out an EMPTY box to the buyer, which the buyer receives a few days later. Remember, most people just sign for goods on their doorstep or when collecting from their local sorting office BEFORE actually opening and inspecting the goods. The seller then responds to eBay giving ebay the “proof” of delivery details.

So, eBay look at the “facts” they now have in front of them and here’s how they see it:

  1. The buyer initially contacted eBay to complain that he didn’t receive his goods
  2. The seller has shown eBay proof that the buyer signed to receive the goods
  3. The buyer has now “changed his story” and says yes, he DID receive the goods, but it was an empty box.

The buyer now looks bad and eBay are most likely to take the seller/fraudsters side because not only is the seller/fraudster the one with “proof” of delivery, the buyer has changed his story, first telling eBay that he didn’t receive the goods, then a week later saying he DID but the box was empty.

The timing of this scam is all important. The seller/fraudster needs the buyer to inform eBay that he hasn’t received the goods BEFORE he can begin the scam. The success of this scam hinges on the buyer “changing his story” to eBay and looking bad.

As you can imagine, it’s perfectly understandable that eBay will usually conclude that if the buyer is changing his “story” and the seller has all the necessary proof of delivery documentation, then the buyer is most probably the guilty party, not the seller.

You can see how all this encourages eBay to take the sellers side in the dispute. In reality the buyer is the innocent party in all this, but he’s now lost his money, has no goods, and eBay think HE is the fraudster!

But could this scenario be avoided if eBay insist on proof of postage as well as proof of delivery? Surely then they would see the date the item was sent and conclude that the item was sent out AFTER the buyer lodged his complaint?

Ermmm…not quite, even this has flaws.

For example, our postal service here in the UK probably has more “best practice” processes in place than the postal services in most other countries, especially those countries in emerging economies where most of these scammers are based. Yet, any time I send out a package from my local UK Post office, the girl behind the counter stamps the proof of postage slip with a rubber ink stamp – which nine times out of ten is completely unreadable.

So, even if a scammer wanted to do it, he could easily show eBay a proof of postage slip and say the item was sent out to the buyer on any date he wants. Scammers use all these little things to their advantage, so beware and only buy goods on eBay from reputable sellers.

Read eBays guidelines for staying safe. It’s no guarantee you won’t get ripped off but there are steps you can take to protect yourself or at least minimise the risk of being scammed:

I hope this article doesn’t sound too negative. Remember, eBay is still a great place to bag a bargain…just be careful.