Keith Combs' Blahg

Ramblings from another nerd on the grid

Selling on eBay Can Be Scary

Selling on eBay Can Be Scary

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When you start looking closely at eBay, it looks like the environment is totally locked down and sellers or buyers are protected.  Think again.  I recently started selling some of my gadgets and a particular transaction on a Zune 80 player went down the toilet.  It ended up ok, but it exposed some ugly warts.

The first thing you need to know is that selling on eBay means you, the seller, are taking a risk.  The amount of the risk is going to depend on the value of the item you are selling.  In the case of the Zune 80 we aren't talking about a lot of money, but I discovered there are some holes in the verification process for buyers and the accounts they setup.

bad_addrFirst of all, anyone can setup an eBay ID.  For your ID, you are supposed to use your street address and considering many people won't ship to a post office box, a residential address is preferred. Here's the address of the person that bought my Zune 80.  I blurred their name but I don't think that's actually their real name anyway.

What do you notice?  It says confirmed. This is a screen snip from the order and transaction in my PayPal account.  I made the assumption this was legit.  I mean after all the sale was via eBay and PayPal.  Bad assumption.

The Zune 80 and everything else I am selling is marked immediate payment required. In order for that to happen the buyer needs a PayPal account and that account needs to be verified.  I assumed because I got paid immediately that the account was also valid.  Again, bad assumption.

The PayPal account was created using a stolen name and credit card.  Nice.  I asked PayPal how this is possible.  I didn't receive a good answer.  How did I find out the credit card was stolen?  Well, I found out after the Zune was in transit to the buyer.  The real credit card holder disputed the charge to their card.  Uh oh.  Now what?  Well, the story has more twists.

Obviously when the transaction got put on hold, I started doing my own investigation.  I looked up the address on Bing maps and noticed the building looked commercial.  It is commercial.  In fact it's a government building.  It's a post office.  Now keep in mind the listing on eBay is marked that it won't be sold to a buyer with a post office box address.  Apparently the eBay system doesn't check buyer addresses against a list of known post office addresses. Don't ask me how this happened.  Not to mention the credit card used is a different persons name and address.

The Zune went all the way to the post office.  The buyer refused delivery so UPS shipped the box back to me.  This is on a sale marked not returnable.  Apparently that means nothing.  At this point I'm thinking they opened the box from the bottom, replaced the Zune with something of equal weight, and it will arrive back at my house with a box of dog crap or something.

I actually got the Zune 80. I'm not particularly sure why the buyer did all of this but it's apparent they were either testing the security of the eBay or PayPal system, or screwing with the credit card holder and me.  Or all of the above.

Here's what I learned:

  1. When you ship an item, there is no seller protection for the value of the item.  eBay and PayPal claim they'll work with law enforcement, but I don't know to what extent. 
  2. IDs and addresses don't appear to be checked effectively at eBay or PayPal.
  3. Although you are paid immediately, if a transaction is disputed, your PayPal account will get hit with the amount before the dispute is resolved. Dispute resolution is not quick.  Plan on at least 30 days.
  4. Just because you sell an item marked not returnable, apparently buyers will ignore that.  You really have no recourse.
  5. Buyer restrictions don't allow you to specify only allowing buyers with a well established track record and feedback history.  Therefore new IDs in the system that could be fraudulent could buy your stuff.
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  • I got burned by eBay a few times in a row a couple of years ago and gave up on it. Now I almost always deal local via Craigslist or other local buy/sell sites.

    What's worse is that eBay doesn't want to fix the problem. Their site is stuck with the same logic, design and coding from 10 years ago. And that's not a good thing.