Tuesday, May 29, 2012

eBay Scam Anatomy

I've only sold something on eBay once or twice before, and it was low value. This time I had an unopened, $400+ HTC One S cutting-edge smartphone to unload (it was part of a Buy One, Get One deal from T-Mobile).

So with the help of my son, who has more eBay experience by far than I do, I listed it with a $375 minimum bid and a $450 Buy It Now. Based on other selling prices, I was pretty confident of clearing $400.

The phone was only listed 1 day, when I got an email that it had been purchased via Buy It Now. Shortly after that, I got an email from the buyer, who was in the U,K., asking for my email address so that he could pay me via PayPal.

That seemed fishy to me, I know you can pay someone, for anything, if you have their PayPal email, but I didn't see why he couldn't just click "Pay" within eBay. It also didn't help that he had been an eBay member since...earlier the same day. So I called eBay Customer Service.

I got a bad vibe right away. The person on the other end seemed possibly competent, but tired and uninterested. But they assured me that the request for an email address seemed valid, and in any event, I would be protected as a seller. Somewhat skeptically, I sent the buyer my email address.

My skepticism was rewarded. Hours later, I received an email from the buyer's PayPal account, telling me the payment had been made, but couldn't be released until I provided a shipping number. Oh, and would I mind shipping it to his son in Lagos, Nigeria?--it was to be a birthday present. At that point, the tell-tale fractured English wasn't even necessary to convince me that this was a scam, and a closer inspection revealed that it was a phishing email with a spoofed, pay-pal-like email address[1].

So now I have to go through the whole eBay complaint process, who knows how long that will take. Basically, this has supported my skepticism about whether eBay is worth the hassle. (Oh, did I mention the phone was actually listed before this, and eBay sent me an email telling me it had been won by a fraudulent buyer, and canceled the transaction?)

I know it is hard for eBay to eliminate scammers, but the inattentiveness of the Customer Service person is inexcusable. There were so many clues.

Also, it seems like eBay's defaults leave a lot to be desired. After about 10 minutes research, I concluded I should have only accepted domestic shipments and, much more importantly, should have required immediate payment, which would require the person have an existing PayPal account. So my point is, with all the Big Data that eBay has, can't they connect the dots:

  • I'm a newb seller
  • Selling a pricey electronics item

...and advise me as to the safest defaults to use? I'm not sure if they fail in this way because they are lazy, or because they don't want to scare people.

[1] As spoofed emails go, it was somewhat realistic, until you got to the actual content. If they would hire a competent Enligh-language writer, they might actually fool a few people.

P.S. I feel really, really sorry for anyone who lives in Nigeria and actually wants to buy stuff off of eBay! :(

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