The anatomy of an eBay scam

So a few months ago I decided it was time to sell off the jewelry I’d been given in a previous relationship. I couldn’t stand the sight of the stuff, much less contemplate wearing it, so off it went. I listed it all on eBay with minimum starting bids and, by and large, it went for almost no money at all–which was as I wanted it. I didn’t want to profit from anything the jerk had given me (though on the other hand I was happy for people to have some nice jewelry for cheap, instead of just throwing it away).

The one thing I took the time to research the value of was a gold bracelet, because hey, gold has a concrete market value. I calculated the cost of the gold in the bracelet and listed it for that. It was won for about 10% higher than the initial asking price. I packaged it up and sent it.

Without a tracking number. Keep your eye on that fact.

A week later I get an email from another eBay seller, who claimed that the same buyer had bought a gold bracelet from her, then claimed it never arrived and initiated a PayPal chargeback. I said, it was still early days with my transaction, but if anything interesting happened I’d let her know.

One month later, sure enough, I get an email from the buyer claiming the bracelet hadn’t arrived. I’m feeling feisty so I reply that I don’t have tracking information (ah, me…) but I do have an email from another seller about her trying this trick before, so there! I feel so smart.

Almost a month later–right up at the end of the grace period for initiating a chargeback–she emails me again. I don’t reply this time. On the last possible day, she initiates a PayPal chargeback, due to supposed non-receipt of the item. I write a long email to PayPal outlining the order of events and citing the other seller. The issue goes to PayPal for consideration.

Meanwhile, 60 days post-sale elapses, and my ability to leave feedback on eBay lapses.

Yesterday PayPal sent me an email asking for tracking information, so I assume that I have lost the money at this point. I respond to them that I have no tracking information. Because I need to use my PayPal account for other things and they won’t let me do that till I give them the chargeback money, I give them the chargeback money.

Now. I’m not upset, because philosophically, I shouldn’t have charged any kind of money for that bracelet in the first place. I didn’t want to profit from it.

It’s quite the elegant little scam, though. It’s the first time I’ve been fleeced by a real professional. Here’s how I’m sure this seller operates:

  1. She buys the gold

  2. If she gets an official “your package is on the way!” email from eBay, she knows it has been shipped with tracking information. She leaves positive feedback for the seller, who leaves positive feedback for her. Thus she racks up positive feedback on eBay, and since I’m sure she’s savvy about what she pays to begin wtih, she probably re-sells the gold at a small profit.

  3. If she hasn’t gotten official notification that there is tracking information, after a month she sends out a fishing email, asking for info about the item that has supposedly not arrived. If the seller has it, the seller will give it to her, and she will proceed as in step (2). If the seller doesn’t have it, the seller will tell her that there isn’t any. The then moves on to step…

  4. At the last moment she initiates a PayPal chargeback. She knows that PayPal will only refuse to refund her money if the seller has documentation that the item was shipped… and she knows that the seller doesn’t have documentation that the item was shipped. While PayPal is considering the case, the seller’s opportunity to leave bad feedback on eBay expires. Thus, she doesn’t acquire any negative feedback. She gets the gold and the cash. End of story.

Not quite The Italian Job, but very smart and basically watertight.

Moral of story? Get a tracking number.

Wouldn’t Paypal get suspicious if the same person repeatedly claimed to have not received the item?

I had a seller reassure me some “dvd’s were on the way”. I even got a tracking number in the notification. I tried it at the post office web site and it didn’t show anything. Finally two weeks later and after several emails the seller admitted he was waiting for an order to come in. :dubious: He was selling stuff he didn’t even have yet. I finally got my dvd’s. The tracking number suddenly worked after he decided to actually mail my order.

I’ve had some great transactions on ebay. I used to buy computer parts all the time for my business. I found a seller three weeks ago selling homemade divinity and fudge. Best transaction all year. :wink: I’m glad the bad transactions are rare.

You’d think, but who knows. At the time the buyer bought my bracelet, she had about 150 positive feedbacks on eBay. She’s managed to keep her account open for more than two months past that time.

PayPal does have a limitation on how many chargebacks you can do within a certain period of time (I think it’s 3 per year), so if you space them out long enough you can get away with it without raising red flags. Unfortunately that’s a risk you take when you ship without tracking; whenever I sell on eBay I will not ship by any method that does not include it, and reflect that in my shipping charges and information. I’ve never had a chargeback that succeeded. On the other hand I’ve had sellers try and scam me, and succeeded in a few chargebacks of my own – coincidentally for the same reasons, because the seller could not provide tracking information. However, I wasn’t scamming. (I don’t often initiate a dispute if the amount is small, unless the seller wants to be a dick. Then I’ll do it out of spite.)

It sounds like this was a deliberate scam, though frankly one without a huge payoff given the limitations and time spans involved. I wouldn’t call this buyer a pro, as it’s pretty easy to do if you really want to scam someone and know they didn’t ship with tracking. Unfortunately that’s one of the downfalls of working with PayPal, as they will almost always side with the recipient if the sender can’t provide proof of delivery.