Can you trust eBay?

No, this isn’t about my long-running problems with eBay customer service, or the evils of online ticket touts, or any of the other eBay irritations. It’s about eBay users – or rather, abusers.

My locked account has caused a few problems, and while some of them are probably good – I can’t drunkenly bid on Girls Aloud goodies – they also mean I can’t sell anything. Having upgraded my phone and realised I’d made a mistake, I needed to sell the new, unwanted one – and David very generously agreed to use his, not-locked eBay account to sell it for me.

The phone was listed with a starting price of £10 and no reserve; I didn’t use the Buy It Now option. When the listing went up, other identical listings were available with buy it now prices of £250ish. Despite this, David immediately received a bunch of emails from would-be buyers offering immediate PayPal payments of “£350 or more”. Naturally those emails were from scammers: if you accept their offer you will indeed get paid, but the payment will turn out to be fraudulent not long after you’ve sent the item – and because you’re going outwith the eBay system, you’re not covered by their seller protection policies.

Scammers ignored, the auction sat alone and unloved until the day before the auction was due to end, at which point the snipers moved in. In the final moments of the auction the price shot up from £10 to £285, at which point nothing happened. David invoiced the winning bidder, but his invoice was ignored.

On checking eBay this morning, David found out why. At least one of the bidders – the winning bidder – was fraudulent, so the whole auction was removed (which is particularly annoying because re-listing it will mean starting from scratch). eBay has promised to refund the listing fees but given my own experience of late, I won’t be surprised if that doesn’t happen.

So we’re back to the drawing board. David can re-list the phone, ignore and/or report the PayPal scammers and hope that this time, the winning bidder is a real person. But there’s every chance that the second listing will be a repeat of the first.

We already know that eBay’s a minefield for buyers, but I’m starting to suspect that it’s a swamp for sellers too. I certainly work on the assumption that sellers are fraudsters unless proved otherwise, and it seems that I should take the same attitude towards buyers too.

This isn’t an “oh my god! Bad people use eBay too!” naive rant; it’s the *level* of abuse that’s worrying. In the case of David’s cancelled auction, more than half of the people who contacted him – either by bidding or by offering to buy right now and end the auction early – were fraudsters. If that’s representative of eBay in general, it means that the baddies are now in the majority.

As David said this morning, “I don’t trust eBay any more. I’ll use it to buy the odd game thing, but I don’t think I’d use it for selling anything. It’s just too risky.”