July 22, 2009

I Almost Got Ripped Off on eBay - How to be More Cautious

Recently my wife and I have been watching reruns of Friends on TV. She has never seen the show before and took a liking to it. However we've been frustrated that they run the episodes out of order and seem to skip key episodes. So we decided to buy the complete series on DVD. The plan is to buy the DVDs, watch them all and then resell them. I figure this is a pretty good way to watch the show at our own with relatively low cost. Amazon had some for sale fairly cheap but eBay auctions looked a bit cheaper. I started shopping around to buy the complete series on DVD on eBay.

Over the past few years I've bought dozens of items off eBay and never had any real problems. Most sales work perfectly and I've been very happy with the experience. This time was different. I have high confidence that buying on eBay is safe in general but I've also tried to be cautious with who I buy from. There are definitely scammers on eBay unfortunately.

I shopped around for a few days and placed some bids on some auctions but was outbid. Then the other day one seller had multiple copies of the series going for $40-70 range. That is a good price since other auctions were running $80-90 range mostly. The seller had 100% feedback with around 40-50 positive reviews and no negatives. The auction listing said they accept Paypal but don't "prefer" it. Nothing raised major warning flags for me at that point. I went ahead and bid and ended up winning the auction at $75.

Warning sign #1: My first warning sign was when I was looking at the auction listing after I initially bid and I noticed that the DVDs were "unrestricted". Normally DVDs are restricted to certain geographies. DVDs sold in the USA / Canada are only usable on DVD players made for the US/Canada market. All the other Friends DVDs on the auctions were restricted to the US/Canada market. So I was a little concerned that the DVDs being sold may be 'greymarket' from some other country or worse, and more likely they could be forgeries. At this point I was hopping I would not win the auction. But I did end up winning it. So I forged ahead with fingers crossed that I wasn't buying a cheap forgery.

Warning sign #2: The seller then sent me a invoice for Google checkout. I prefer to pay with Paypal so I went ahead and paid via Paypal. The seller then denied my Paypal payment and asked me to pay by Google checkout instead since they "HIGHLY" prefer it, but if not they'll take Paypal. Hmm... ok well I prefer Paypal and their auction says they accept Paypal so I'm paying with Paypal. I sent them a mail asking them to accept Paypal. Now I'm not really very happy with a seller that tries to argue me into paying outside eBay with his preferred method. If he doesn't want to accept Paypal then he should just not accept Paypal. Given the way the guy has acted thus far more warning bells are going off in my head. But I won the auction so I really have to proceed with the transaction at this point, since I dont' have any direct evidence of fraud or anything.

The clincher:

The next time I went to look at the auction I got an error:

Thats odd. I don't recall auctions being removed that soon after the auction ends.

Then I noticed in the "My eBay" that it showed this:
Oh, oh. That can't be good. Why would a seller be unregistered at that point?

Whew. No money lost:
Thankfully the seller never actually accepted the Paypal payment. So the payment didn't go through. I guess he was still waiting for me to send money via Google. I went into Paypal and cancelled the payment. I then sent eBay an email asking them whats going on. I also sent the seller an email telling him that I'm cancelling payment on Paypal and asking him why he's no longer registered in eBay. Its been about 3 days since then and I haven't heard a word back.

Warning Sign missed:
Only after the fact did I realize that the seller was using a PO box for their google account. I never followed the Google checkout invoice until after the fact, but when I do it gives a PO box for their address.

What can I learn?

Be Extra cautious with very cheap deals. The price seemed pretty cheap and I was wondering how they could be so much lower than everyone else. But I went ahead anyway. A low price alone should not keep you from buying on eBay. But a super "too good to be true" price should be a big warning flag. Generally a very cheap price should be reason for you to be extra cautious.
Be more careful examining auction listings before bidding. If I had read the auction listing more carefully in the first place then I would have noticed that the DVDs were 'unrestricted'. I probably wouldn't have bid on them because of that.
Be wary of people asking for alternative payment. If someone is explicitly pushing you towards a form of payment that isn't protected like Paypal then this could be a warning sign. Of course not all sellers who prefer alternate payment are con artists but its something to out look for. If a legitimate seller really doesn't want to take Paypal then they can simply not take Paypal.

I think was only lucky that I didn't get ripped off for $75. Next time I'll be even more careful on eBay and hopefully continue my trend of successful purchases there. I really do like eBay and 99.9% of the people there are honest. Its the remaining .1% that you have to be wary of.

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