I found out the hard way that EBay is facilitating the theft of items people post for sale on their site.
I just had an experience with EBay that I find extremely discouraging, and the result is that I will no longer be posting any items for sale on EBay. EBay’s “Money Back Guarantee program” protects unscrupulous, scam “buyers” by returning their money even if they falsely claim that they received a damaged item, or even that they didn’t receive the item. The seller is left holding the bag, or in my own case, holding a bogus piece of junk. Something must be done to address this outrageous situation, before many, many more occasional EBay sellers are scammed. In the meantime, my recommendation is that you do not post anything for sale on EBay that you are not willing to give away!
Here is my story:
I have been an occasional EBay user for years, and have both bought and sold items on the site. I would estimate that I buy something on the site fewer than 5 times a year, and probably sell items with the same frequency. My seller rating has always been 100%.
Recently, I posted my used iPhone 6 for sale on the site. The EBay item number was 112178396264. Per the advice of EBay support, I required that the buyer have a PayPal account, to avoid the possibility of fraudulent bidders. I listed the item on October 21, 2016, and the auction ended on October 28. The winning bid was $328.00, including shipping. As soon as the auction ended, I requested payment from the buyer, and the buyer paid via PayPal. That same day, after notification that the buyer’s funds had reached my PayPal account, I carefully placed the iPhone in its original box, wrapped that box in green bubble wrap, and placed it in a USPS Medium Flat Rate Box for shipment. I also insured the shipment in the amount of $328.00. My phone was in like-new condition. I even included the original USB charger and unused earbuds in the box with the phone. I delivered the carefully packed phone to my local USPS location, anticipating that I would have a flawless transaction. In reality, it turned out to be hugely disappointing.
On Monday, October 31, I received a message from the buyer via EBay claiming that the phone was damaged. The buyer opened a return claim with EBay, and EBay immediately froze the payment funds in my PayPal account. The buyer e-mail address was from a Russian provider: mail.ru. This should have been a red flag, because the buyer’s mailing address was listed as being in Delaware. At any rate, I was convinced that my phone could not have been damaged in shipment, and that even if it was, the USPS insurance I purchased would cover the cost of the phone. On October 31, I sent the buyer a message requesting a picture of the back of the phone (so that I could verify that the ID number did correspond to the phone I sent), and a picture of the shipping package that would verify that the phone was damaged in transit. I would need this information to pursue a claim with USPS.
Two days later, on November 2, the buyer sent a message saying they would “try to post pictures as soon as possible.” On Thursday, Nov. 3, they finally sent two pictures: a photo of an iPhone with a badly cracked screen, and a photo of the side view of an iPhone box. They did NOT send a picture of the back of the phone, as I had requested, or of the shipping container. I had no way of verifying that the phone in the picture was the phone I sent – I am convinced that it was not.
On Friday, November 4, the buyer requested that EBay decide the case, and EBay immediately (13 minutes later) decided in the buyer’s favor. EBay authorized the buyer to return the phone to me, and indicated that when tracking information showed the package was delivered to me, their payment of $328.00 would be refunded from my PayPal account. This is despite the fact that the buyer never sent the picture of the back of the phone or of the shipping container, as I had requested.
On Thursday, November 10, I received notification that EBay had issued a full refund to the buyer from my PayPal account, per their “Money Back Guarantee program.” I was out of town, but was anxious to check the ID and condition of the phone the buyer returned to me. When I reached home on November 14, I immediately retrieved from my front porch the package returned by the buyer. I verified that the tracking number matched the one EBay assigned. I noted that the item was not in a USPS Flat Rate Box as I had sent it, but was in a USPS Priority Mail envelope. Upon opening the envelope, I was amazed to see not my iPhone 6, or indeed any kind of phone! The package contained what looked like an old Verifone credit card scanner. It was at this point that I was certain I had been scammed. Further evidence was that, even though I had shipped the phone to an address in Delaware, the package that was returned came from a “Box 191” in Texas!
The result of this iPhone 6 “sale” is that 1) I no longer have my phone, 2) I don’t have the $328.00 sale proceeds, 3) I am not able to process an insurance claim with USPS because I have nothing I can present to them as evidence.
I appealed to EBay via several phone calls to resolve this matter. I reminded them that the buyer did not send the pictures I requested. I informed them that the buyer did not send my phone back to me. I pointed out that the buyer sent me an item from Texas, rather than from their ship-to address in Delaware. All to no avail. The bottom line is that, since they cannot be present to witness what is sent and what is received, EBay’s default is to decide in favor of the buyer. This is despite the fact that there was ample evidence available to EBay in the record of the sales transaction to decide differently:
- The buyer did not send the picture of the back of the phone, despite my explicit request.
- The buyer did not send the picture of the shipping box, despite my request.
- The buyer has a 0 rating on EBay – no transactions in the past year.
- I have a 100% rating on EBay based upon years of transactions and no record of complaints from buyers.
- The buyer’s ship-to address is in Delaware, but their e-mail address is with a Russian provider (mail.ru).
- The return address on the item the buyer sent to me was a “Box 191” in Texas, not the buyer’s address in Delaware. This is verifiable from the tracking information in EBay’s possession.
The bottom line is that EBay’s policies facilitated the theft of my iPhone 6. I’m guessing that the scammer probably got my phone AND the USPS insurance money as well! Upon investigating further (by Googling “iphone ebay scams,” I confirmed that my experience was not uncommon. Here are but a few articles that attest to this:
My plan is to take the following actions:
- Post this story to my e-mail distribution list, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn – probably about 3000 people in all. I don’t want to see others scammed. Heaven forbid that you get scammed selling a $6000.00 Rolex!
- Report this possible mail fraud, facilitated by EBay, to the USPS – I have already received the relevant forms.
- Send this information to the office of my congressman Dave Trott and my senators Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters.
- Send this information to as many news outlets as possible.
It seems impossible to me that EBay does not know their service is being used on a widespread basis to steal items from unsuspecting sellers. They facilitate this theft by holding and then removing funds from the seller’s PayPal account and sending those funds to the scam buyer. Their “investigation” of buyer claims is totally one-sided in favor of the buyer. In speaking to EBay representatives, I was repeatedly told that the only way I could win an EBay appeal would be if the buyer admitted to the things I was alleging – in effect, the thief would have to admit that they were a thief! This is truly crazy stuff.
The bottom line is, as I said above, don’t post anything on EBay that you are not prepared to lose. There is a chance that you will lose the the item itself and the shipping costs, and still be charged the EBay seller fees!