Auction/Classified Ad Scams

How do Auction (and online Classified Ad) Scams work?

Probably the largest and oldest online scam, scammers use various ploys to part you from your cash and/or goods. Victims are harvested from auction sites (eg. eBay) and Classified Ad sites (Craigslist etc). Runs from simply accepting payment for an item that is never sent through to wholesale fake/counterfeit goods selling. Can generate huge profits from the unwary victim. This is a list of the most common classified/auction scams:

Non Delivery of Purchase
The simplest form of fraud - you pay for an item (by check, money order or other online payment method) but the item does not arrive. May be excused by the vendor with claims of postal theft, delays or even fraud - "I sent you the item, you must have received it and be pretending it's missing".

Counterfeit Payment
Bounced check, fake money order - often combined with 'Overpayment' scam to compound the fraud.

Overpayment Scam
Payment fo more than the item costs, with instructions to 'send on the rest' to a third party (usually Western Union, usually to a recipient in a foreign country). Often used for Cars and other large items.

Counterfeit Goods
Items not as described - often clothing, jewelery, purses, fashion items. Items may be virtually identical with logos, tags, price labels etc but quality is usually poor. jewelery will be sub-standard (eg. plate not solid gold, lowgrade diamonds).

Shipping Fraud
Often used with vehicles. Overpayment is sent to cover shipping charges which must be sent to the shipper (see Overpayment).

Sending Junk
Payment received and shipping confirmed but item turns out to be junk (eg. a phone book instead of a laptop). Also broken items, bait and switch items.


Here are some signs that the item you are buying/bidding on is probably a fraud.

  1. Low priced high-ticket items, like TVs, phones, laptops, or jewelery — especially if there are multiple items for sale, especially if the price is way below similar items on sale by other vendors.
  2. Brand-new sellers with no sales history. (Look for the seller ranking/rating).
  3. Sellers requesting payment by Western Union or using an unfamiliar Escrow service or payment in foreign currencies, or sellers wanting to pay more than the auction price, with instructions to send the remainder to a third party (esp. in Africa).
  4. Auctions that begin and end over a weekend, since eBay customer support is light during those days.
  5. Seller telephone numbers or addresses that can't be verified, sellers who are based in unusual countries (Nigeria, Korea, Romania, Bulgaria etc).
  6. Sellers with good feedback ratings that have not bought or sold anything for a long time (hijacked accounts).
  7. Sellers of high value branded items who have a lot to sell at very low prices (Counterfeit products is a huge industry on eBay).

eBay Auction Scams