eBay gift cards make great gifts, but they can also be used in a scam that circumvents the platform’s purchase protection features.
But the catch to the protections offered is that both parties in the transaction follow the platform’s rules and policies. Unfortunately, scammers find ways to exploit eBay’s brand and trust messaging by tricking lesser experienced buyers to circumvent its rules.
The con may also permanently boot honest sellers off the platform.
Last week, Phoenix TV station KPHO-TV reported that an Arizona man was scammed out of $1,000 on eBay using eBay gift cards trying to buy a used truck.
Using this example, let’s take a look at how this scam works and why sellers need to be careful as well.
The eBay Gift Card Scam
The scammer posted a truck for sale on eBay Motors but stipulated that the vehicle could only be purchased with eBay gift cards.
But instead of completing the transaction online with the gift cards, the scammer tricked the victim into buying eBay gift cards at a local grocery store and provide important information from the cards over the phone.
On the back of eBay gift cards, there is an area that needs to be scratched off to reveal hidden numbers that are needed to use the cards in a transaction.
What the buyer didn’t realize was that once the seller had those secret numbers, the scammer could immediately use the gift cards to make purchases on eBay or try to turn them into cash through a gift card exchange.
In all, the buyer was asked to purchase five $200 eBay gift cards to pay the $1,000 agreed price for the used truck. Splitting the transaction into multiple gift cards makes it easier for scammers to use up the value of the cards quickly before eBay may have a chance to freeze the cards.
Since the original truck purchase was never completed on the platform, the buyer lost the $1,000 they paid for the eBay gift cards and there is no eBay buyer protection for him.
The deception worked because the scammer exploited the brand awareness and trust of eBay but manipulated the victim to follow directions that circumvented the standard buying process that would normally provide buyers with purchase protections offered by eBay.
Therefore, using a trusted brand like eBay as cover, con artists have an easier time convincing people to follow directions with a payment method that offers no purchase protection such as credit cards or even many debit cards offer.
Gift cards make great gifts, but they should never be used as a condition to “finalize” a purchase. That is a big red flag!
Last year the FTC reported over 40,000 people were swindled out of over $148 million in the first nine months of 2021. This number is likely an undercount as many of these scams are never reported to law enforcement as many victims are embarrassed to report these crimes.
It is unknown how widespread this scam may be on eBay using eBay gift cards, but buyers should always look out for some unusual steps that sellers may ask them to do.
Any requirement to only use gift cards to complete the transaction and provide information from the gift cards offline should raise immediate suspicion, even if this comes from what appears to be a long-standing eBay selling account. The selling account may have been compromised and stolen as well.
When buyers feel something is off they should review this eBay page on how to avoid being scammed, and if applicable report the transaction immediately to eBay and stop all communications with the seller.
But this scam can also make victims out of eBay sellers whose account was compromised and used.
eBay Sellers Can Become Victims Too
Although it wasn’t mentioned in the original news story, the eBay seller account used in this gift card scam was probably stolen to make identifying the scammer virtually impossible.
Sellers who have stopped selling or who only sell occasionally may not pay that much attention to their eBay account or eBay emails and could become indirect victims as well.
With almost certainty, the selling account used in this scam was suspended once eBay was made aware of this con and it may be a permanent suspension.
eBay seems to offer little recourse to sellers whose accounts are suspended and even if they accept an appeal, it may take a long time before a decision is reversed. The company also doesn’t offer many details on account suspension notices, leaving sellers in the dark about why it happened.
In addition, it’s very possible that some “out of the blue” suspension notices sellers have reported receiving may be because the account was compromised and used in a scam.
That is why all sellers, active, dormant, or occasional, should follow eBay’s recommendations to protect their account which includes enabling 2 Step Verification and watching out for spoof or phishing emails.
Not only does this make it more difficult for scammers to victimize buyers, but it also prevents an honest seller from having their account suspended, and potentially losing access to the marketplace platform for good.
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