How to buy and sell on eBay safely and the risks to watch out for

Make sure you know how to safely buy and sell on eBay, whether you are looking to spend less or make a bit of extra cash

Young Woman Doing Online Shopping With Laptop
(Image credit: getty images)

Knowing how to buy and sell safely on eBay can be a really handy skill if you’re in need of a bit of extra money (opens in new tab). From selling clothes (opens in new tab) you no longer wear, to neglected gym equipment and long-forgotten toys, there are few things that won’t sell. It’s also great if you’re looking for ways to save money (opens in new tab).as you can often find some really great bargains with a bit of digging. 

Holly Andrews (opens in new tab), managing director at KIS Finance and eBay (opens in new tab) fan, says: “You can pretty much find anything on eBay now.” 

 “It’s no longer just pre-owned and vintage items. You can often find brand new items which are normally much cheaper than the high street.”

Becky Derbyshire (opens in new tab), who runs The Lifestyle Blogger UK, agrees. “A lot of what you can get on eBay is so much cheaper, yet such good quality. I got a Gymshark sports bra a few weeks back for just £6 – brand new with tags.”

However, whether you’re buying or selling on eBay it's important make sure you understand the risks involved and how to avoid them. 

How to safely buy and sell on eBay

Whether you are wanting to set up as a seller on eBay or are a savvy buyer looking for a bargain, understanding the risks is key to staying safe when buying and selling online. 

Keep your wits about you. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is. You should also check reviews of anyone you are planning on buying from or selling to - if all you see are bad reviews or reports of items not being as described, it's best to move on. 

It's also crucial that you only use eBay's approved payment options, so should the worst happen, you are covered by the retailer's Money Back Guarantee scheme. 

What are the risks from buying on eBay? 

The biggest risk you can face when you’re buying on eBay is that items are fake, or not as described.

KIS Finance' Holly Andrews warns: “The huge majority of sellers on eBay are genuine, but scammers will always be there to take advantage.”

“Scammers use online sites like eBay to try and sell items that don’t exist, are damaged, poor quality, or even stolen. They will often advertise their listing using stolen images of designer goods to trick people into thinking they’re getting a genuine item. Once payment has been taken, the item will never arrive or it will be damaged, poor quality, or something else entirely.”

There are some strange scams too, notes Sarah Coles (opens in new tab), personal finance analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown. “Empty box auctions, for example, are carefully worded to make you think you’re getting the item in the box. It’s only when it arrives empty that you realise they were only ever selling the box.”

But the fear of scams shouldn’t stop you shopping on eBay and there’s plenty you can do to stay safe. 

  1. “Make sure you check reviews of the seller,” suggests Becky Derbyshire. Frequent sellers may have the odd bad review but if they’ve got significant negative feedback take that as your warning and don’t shop with them.
  2. Play close attention to descriptions and photos – particularly if you’re buying new or branded items. Becky Derbyshire says: “If they haven’t taken a close-up photo of the label then there’s probably a reason, so be wary!”
  3. If you do get caught out, get in touch with eBay. The eBay Money-Back Guarantee (opens in new tab) offers protection to buyers if items are faulty, damaged, not as described or simply don’t show up. Most purchases are covered – with notable exceptions being payments for services, property or vehicles. Becky Derbyshire adds: “I once had an item that took three months to arrive.  To this day I have no idea what the issue was but eBay got involved very quickly and refunded me - even when the item arrived I didn't have to give the refund back.” Holly Andrews also successfully used the eBay Money Back Guarantee after she inadvertently bought a fake Superdry jacket. “I was able to show them what the seller was advertising compared to what I received and I also sent the proof of postage to show that I had returned the item.”
  4. Always use eBay approved methods to make payments. To get the benefit of eBay’s Moneyback Guarantee you must pay via eBay using one of its approved methods. These include credit and debit cards, Paypal, Apple or Google Pay. You won’t be covered if you pay by cash or bank transfer. If your seller insists their Paypal isn’t working or demands direct payment, walk away!
  5. It’s easy to get carried away in an auction, but before you make a bid, do some research to find the going rate of an item and limit your maximum bid. The same applies for ‘buy now’ items. There are plenty of bargains on eBay but that’s no guarantee it’s the best price.

The risks of selling on eBay 

As a seller on eBay, you’re the one in charge. As you don’t need to part with your cash, it’s lower risk than buying on eBay. But that’s not to say that it's completely risk free. There are still some unscrupulous buyers, keen to rip off trusting sellers.

Personal finance analyst, Sarah Coles warns: “One example is where the buyer claims to have received an empty box. eBay will demand a refund, so you have to repay them. They’ll then send you the empty box, so you’ve lost the item and the money.”

“Sometimes they won’t even bother with the box argument. They’ll just say the item never arrived or was broken, and demand a refund.” 

Again, worry about unscrupulous buyers shouldn’t stop you selling on eBay. The vast majority of buyers might want a bargain, but that doesn’t mean they’re primed to rip you off.

However, just as when you’re buying, you need to be careful, aware of the risks and take sensible precautions.

  1. Always check buyer reviews. If a buyer has a history of being difficult, you can block them.
  2. Holly Andrews says that when you’re listing items for sale it’s important that you describe the products as accurately as possible. “Make it clear what’s included in the price and be 100% honest about the condition of the item, the brand and whether it’s new or preowned. This means that buyers can’t come back to you and complain that something isn’t as described,” she says.
  3. Make sure you have a postage paper trail. “Only ever use tracked or signed for delivery when you post something out to a buyer,” Holly Andrews adds. “This ensures you’ll be protected if a buyer claims something arrived late or not at all, as you can provide proof that you sent the item and that they received it.
  4. Only allow payments through eBay's approved methods. If you use Paypal you may also be eligible for additional protection under the Paypal Seller’s Protection Program. This can provide protection if a buyer claims the goods you sold didn’t arrive or if the payment you wasn’t authorised – for example from a hacked account.
  5. Finally, don’t post anything until you’ve received payment and the money is in your account.
Rachel Lacey is a freelance journalist with more than 20 years' experience writing about all areas of personal finance and retirement planning. After 17 years at Moneywise magazine as both writer and editor, Rachel now writes for a variety of websites and newspapers as well as corporate clients. She is passionate about financial education and simplifying money matters for all.