Is Shopping on eBay Safe?

Shopping on eBay

To say that has changed how many people shop would be a grand understatement. For many people, eBay has become one of the first “shops” they go to when looking for anything. For most plugged-in people, eBay is at least one of the go-to sites when looking for either unique or larger-ticket items.

At first, many considered eBay to be just an online flea market, but that reputation has mostly gone away. As the number of people both buying and selling on the site has grown, most people have seen that nearly anything can be found, whether new or used.

One reputation that many people struggle to overcome about eBay, however, is that it might not be safe to buy things over the service. Is it really safe to buy things on eBay? As with any other purchase, you are always taking a risk, but there are ways to reduce that risk, even online. Here are some tips to help you be as safe as you can be when shopping on eBay.

1. Only buy from reputable sellers.

eBay’s “star” system for rating users is not totally foolproof, but it is a very good first step to see how familiar the seller is with both eBay and with shipping items. If a seller has a very poor rating, it is not worth the risk to purchase from them. If a rating concerns you, take some time to read the comments. Maybe the negative comments are very old, and now the seller has learned from mistakes. Generally speaking, if a seller is not very close to 100% in their rating, they probably are not worth the risk.

2. Make sure you can view pictures.

With the ease of taking digital photos combined with eBay’s policy of allowing a lot of photos on an item for free, there is no excuse for a seller to keep an item from being seen. The more pictures, the better. Not everyone is good with a camera (I certainly am not), but a seller should at least provide a couple of pictures of the item. If there is some flaw with the item, a good seller will have a picture of that, too, so you can determine whether or not to go ahead with your purchase. Further, most sellers are more than willing to share additional photos via email or text if you just ask for them.

3. Contact the seller with questions.

For some reason, very few people ever do this. The more unique the item, or the bigger the price, the more you should be willing to send an email to ask about anything concerning it. This is a good way to check for additional flaws, or to simply ask about shipping options if you are concerned about the item being damaged. If a seller seems upset that you made contact, they probably are not worth dealing with. Most are thankful that there is interest in their item.

4. Look for money back guarantees (especially on large ticket items).

In my experience, these have most often been offered by businesses or companies using eBay, but some “regular people” also offer them, because they know that some items just cannot be described well online. I have never had to take advantage of one of these, but I have had to give one once. I shipped an item and it was not packaged well (my fault), so when I was confronted by the buyer, I simply refunded the money. He still gave me a positive rating, due to my kindness in handling the situation.

5. Contact eBay if necessary.

There are stories of people who have not had good experiences at all, and eBay is willing to help as they can. After all, eBay wants to keep as many people happy as they can, so they will allow you to contact them if an experience is terribly bad or if a seller is being unethical. They move slowly, but as a last resort, this is a possible step.

I have used eBay many times – even selling stuff on eBay – and have rarely had even a slightly negative experience. I have found that, with a little work and by avoiding an impulse purchase, eBay is a safe and often money-saving way to purchase many good items – or start an online business! If you are willing to take a few steps, you can bid with confidence.

What’s your experience with eBay? Leave a comment and let us know!

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  1. de

    How does one contact E-bay? I can’t find a link anywhere.

    • joe

      Customer service link is on the very top of the first page.

    • Mike

      WRONG! I have searched this and all other pages there is only useless faq available. Look before you make false assertions.

    • Mike

      That’s a fact de!

    • joe

      Go to In the upper left hand corner it says “EBAY” in rainbow letters. Above that is my greeting, “Hi, Joe.” Follow the greeting all the way to the right and you will find among other things, “customer support.” Click on that link and follow the prompts.

      Here is their phone number available on “customer support.” But, they want you to use a pass code that is generated by using “customer support.” online first. But, if you call, maybe someone will answer anyway if you can’t find the link. 866-540-3229

      Don’t forget to scroll so you see the very top of the screen.

    • Julie

      When once I had cause to contact eBay support for a transaction gone bad, I found them very helpful. The case number I first obtained online allowed them to review my transaction before they reached me with assistance. It also provided a trail for future communication.
      The same was true when a buyer and I disagreed about the description I provided versus what they expected. Though eBay agreed I was probably in the right, they recommended I recompense the buyer to preserve my ecellent eBay rating. I did as suggested because the cost to my reputation is greater than the shipping.

    • joe

      I can see it going that way.

      By law, brick and mortar stores do not have to give you a refund on anything. They do it for good will. Most stores will take anything back with a receipt. Few sell open box. The others must just toss the stuff returned.

      Then consider the price of items. I now the CPA for Best Buy. Whole sale is 20% of retail. The rest is profit, insurance and other costs of doing business.

      It is like the credit card. The store pays 3% to the credit card people. But, they feel it is worth it because of the increase in business a card creates.

  2. joe

    Answer: YES!

    I have over 500 purchases from sellers over 8 years and use Paypal.

    Have there been snags. Yes. Were they resolved? Yes. Were they resolved quickly? Yes!

    Here are a few tips. Obviously, read the auction. Make sure you are buying the DVD and not the poster for the movie you don’t want.

    Anybody with less than 99% positive feed back I avoid. Surprisingly, many of the big box stores on eBay have ratings of 96% or below. I believe the seller working from his kitchen table is much more motivated to keep a high rating.

    Once I received a carpet sweeper instead of a vacuum cleaner. I notified the seller by email. In less than 24 hours, I had my vacuum cleaner in the mail and I was told to keep the carpet sweeper. Another time, I received the wrong size shirt. I received the correct size shirt in the mail that included a postage paid envelope to return the wrong size.

    Half the fun is finding a real deal. A small seller may make a mistake in the auction and honor the deal. A big box seller like Wayfair cancelled the sale and it was within the rules.

    I experimented with buying things from China. Mailing time takes 30 days or so with customs, but they always come through with some very nice deals.

    To save money, don’t bother with bidding up. Find an item, make a bid for what you are willing to pay and wait for an email to say if you won. If you bid $100 for n ordinary coffee cup and nobody bids higher than $2, you win the auction with $2.25. Beware there may be some kid online that has no intention of paying and bids the cup up to $90. Therefore, only bid what you plan to pay.

    To grease the wheels when dealing with people (receptionist, waitress, plumbers), I pass out rhinestone stretch bracelets. I tell the men to give it to their wives. They are really attractive and retail for $3-$6 even at the flea market. My cost is 26 cents each, delivered to my door. I buy 100 at a time.

    The big box stores take their time mailing since it within the rules to allow 30 days to ship. The smaller guys send goods often the same day.

    Use “advanced search” and click “completed sales” and “lowest price and shipping.” This will give you the history sales for that item. Now you will know the market value on a common item.

    Don’t be afraid to check that price against, as I have been surprised many times.

    I could write a book about eBay, but eBay has already done that.

    I just heard on Jay Leno’s Tonight Show, that over 1 million people make a living by selling on eBay. Selling is not my thing, but I will keep it in mind should I need to make some money.

  3. Joolie

    I’ve had much better success buying than selling on eBay. I agree with Joe (above) – be sure to check pricing against a Google/Shopping search, as I too regularly find better prices elsewhere. Because of it’s early roots as mainly a resell site, people may assume (wrongly) all sales are deals, but that’s often not the case.
    Typically I go the sure-thing Buy-It-Now price rather than play with auctions, but I have won some good deals (though my husband points out I’m buying; not winning!).

    • Adam

      That’s a good tip, to use Google Shopping before just assuming eBay is cheaper. Good reminder!

    • joe

      Good line. Buying not winning. I like that kind of thinking.

      I have good luck with “make an offer” after checking “completed sales.”

      I do all my Christmas Shopping on eBay in the summer. Certainly things that don’t come in sizes like bracelets and Winnie the Pooh Collectibles. I bid really low on a lot of items and end up winning (read buying) very few. But the prices are great. If I buy too many, those go on the shelf for the following Christmas. is another site to check out as well as I notice ioffer sells boot leg stuff which are ban from eBay. Cragslist is a good place to buy large things where shipping costs would be too great. You have to drive to the owner’s house to pay and pick up. I once had 2 over the stove microwaves in the box (legal, but that is another story) that I sold for 1/2 price. I took pictures of the recreational room wall paneling that I was going to remove and sold it on Craigslist. Listing is free. I sold a car on Craigslist for free knowing that eBay charges, I think $50 or more, knowing any buyer would be local.

      Besides, shopping is more fun when you buy cheap. It is not what you make, but what you spend.

      Your a shopper, so file this away someplace when it comes to remodeling. The skilled labor in the Chicago land area in 2011 (carpenters, non-certified electricians, etc.) are paid $12-$14 an hour. No perks. The contractor hires independent contractors (self employed carpenter, etc.) I had one man tear our and install a kitchen in 3 weeks and I felt like I was stealing because the labor was so cheap. I have stories there too.

      It pays to shop…………….big time.

  4. Joan

    I LOVE eBay!! I sell and buy on there. I can make a $100 pretty easy. The best story is of me selling a decorative cat that I picked up from Goodwill for $2.99 and sold it on eBay for over $1,200.00! That was fun! Check out my blog for the neat story!

  5. Into Independence

    I have been able to find some great deals on eBay over the years. I look for pure auction listings that end at crazy times. For example, you may not have a lot of competition with other bidders if an auction ends in the middle of the night. I have been impressed with the eBay Buyer Protection Services. They really have done a lot to shore up the experience. However, you still need to pay attention and follow what is outlined in this article to be safe.

  6. Mike

    I tried e-bay with pay pal to sell. Sold 3 items and pay pal never deposited the funds. Lots of lame excuses and even “fun” lectures from phone workers in India. Lots of laughs for them I guess. I will never use pay pal again and probably e-bay either.

    • joe

      Don’t ship the goods until the funds are deposited. I never heard of paypal having help in India.

      I’ve never had a hint of an error with the 20 or so items I sold. My sellers never had any complaints when I bought over 500 items.

      I once bought an umbrella. Paid. Got the umbrella. Then the seller complained. He was dropped from eBay for being a nut job. It is all in the online records.