eBay Buyer’s Guide

Buying safely on eBay

You can't have failed to notice the enormous amount of good available on eBay - whatever you want, its probably there somewhere. You may have also seen horror stories of things going wrong splashed across the newspapers, or heard of disastrous purchases from a friend of a friend or the man in the pub - they may have even put you off buying on eBay yourself. But is it really like that? In my experience - no. I've been on eBay for nearly eight years now and have bought hundreds of items and sold thousands as a professional eBay seller and in all that time as a buyer I've never been the victim of a fraud. I've had the wrong thing sent (quickly and courteously fixed by the seller) but that is it. Have I just been lucky? No. I've just been careful and applied a modicum of common sense and some simple checks on a potential transaction before going through it - and it is these checks that I want to cover here.

General Points

When buying on eBay, paying with PayPal is a good idea as you get buyer protection on your purchase, covering you if the item does not arrive or is not as it was described. More details can be found in eBay's Safety Centre (link given below).
The new 'detailed seller ratings' can give you a more detailed picture of how a seller is performing in terms of the accuracy of their descriptions, their communications, their dispatch times and the cost of postage and packaging.
These ratings are scored on a 1 - 5 basis. I suspect that the scores people are giving are not quite as eBay imagined they would be - the net result is that you need to be looking at scores of at least 4.6 across the board, otherwise I'd walk away. Ideally I'd look to higher scores than that, especially for the description, dispatch time and communications categories - Think 4.8 as pretty good, 4.9 as top notch here. I'd be less concerned about the postage and packaging charges categories - everyone thinks they have been overcharged for postage and you can see what the postage charge is going to be anyway before buying. 4.7 is a good score here.
Give the seller a chance to respond to communication - they may not sell full time and only be able to respond to e-mail at certain times.
Take note of where the item is coming from - postage from overseas will take longer.

Buying Checks

Designer goods - Asking for trouble, given the number of fakes available and for sale at any one time on eBay. They are trying hard to sort this one out, but designer items on eBay are the classic targets for scams and fakes. This is one where the common sense filter should be applied - is anyone selling lots of D&G items cheaply from their home address likely to be an authorised dealer? Er, no. Not really likely is it? Some one selling their own item (and just one) may well be genuine.

Feedback. This should be your first check when buying (click on the seller's username on the listing to be taken there).
To see negative feedback only, click on the total number of negative feedbacks (in red). Likewise to see only neutrals.
How many negatives are there? (Negative feedback indicates something went wrong with the transaction and it wasn't resolved to the buyer's satisfaction).
Are they all recent? Maybe something has gone wrong for them recently or the account has been hijacked. Probably best to steer clear.
Otherwise, what percentage positive feedback does the seller have? I'd still consider buying from a seller with 99.7% positive feedback and upwards, but look at the overall number of feedbacks too. if the have only a few sales, just one negative can have a big impact on the feedback % rating. Some big big sellers have feedback in this range - they may have a few negative feedbacks each month, but a few hundred positives. Take a view on if you want to risk being amongst the few negatives each month! If this is the case, I'd also check what item the negatives are for - its not uncommon for a batch of faulty items to surface - they may all be for the same thing.

If the seller is quite new or only has a few feedbacks overall, it is worth looking at the feedback in a bit more detail - it is not unheard of for sellers to buy lots of low priced items just to get some positive feedback - so are the feedbacks for selling or buying? If for selling, was it all low value items sold just to lift feedback before offering a high priced item on the back of the good feedback? What you are looking for is a consistent selling activity. Someone who has sold 20 99p information products and is now offering an in demand mobile phone or games consoles at good prices deserves a careful look, I wouldn't buy myself!

I have seen occasions where a seller with multiple accounts (or friends with accounts) buys and sells between these accounts to drive up feedback. eBay's systems are getting more and more sophisticated and I would be suprised if they can't now detect this sort of thing going on.

The final thing to watch is for accounts that have been taken over (hacked) for the purposes of fraud. These can be quite easy to spot - again the feedback is your friend. Look at what the seller has been selling - if what they are offering now doesn't fit with what they were offering, move on. A genuine example of this I spotted was someone who's feedback history indicated that they had been selling lace making supplies and equipment for some time and who now suddenly had a pallet of Xbox 360's for sale. In a different country. I don't think so...

If you are unsure, it is always best on eBay to move on - nearly everything on the site is available from many sellers - there are always other options.

Protect your account!

Protect your own account and good name from hijack - there are those that would just love your 100% feedback to help them scam someone. Some quick tips for protecting your account:

Never use an easy to guess password - better still if isn't even in the dictionary. Use a short phrase, replace letters with numbers, include punctuation characters to make it hard for password crcking routines to work it out.
If you receive an e-mail from eBay indicating you have a message, to respond to the message always do so from your eBay account and access this via your browser - type the address in or use your existing bookmark. Never, ever click on the 'respond now' button or any links in the e-mail - if it is a 'phishing' e-mail it will take you to a site that look s like eBay but isn't, purely to capture your password.

I'd recommend that you take the time to have a look through eBay's Safety Centre too - plenty of help and advice straight from the horse's mouth, so to speak! eBay is a fantastic and safe place to shop if you take just a few simple precautions - don't let any of the above put you off - In my many years buying and selling on eBay I've never had an issue. Shop and enjoy!