Is eBay UK buyer return fraud on the increase?

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David-BrackinDavid Brackin is the co-founder of Stuff U Sell and has sold over 150,000 different items on eBay. He is also a regular contributor to Tamebay.

Pierre Omidyar, the founder of eBay, famously said:

“Most people are honest. And they mean well … But some people are dishonest. Or deceptive … It’s a fact of life. But here, those people can’t hide.”

We think he’s right — we’ve heard many stories of dishonesty published in the media, but overwhelmingly our experience of both buyers and sellers on eBay is that most people are honest and decent, and will go out of their way to make something right for another person.

However, over the past year, we’ve also seen a sharp increase in both the level and sophistication of buyer frauds. These aren’t the payments frauds of days gone by but are focused on returns. With the latest proposal to hold sellers to account for returns levels over 2%, for them, it is no longer about whether most buyers are honest, but nearly all.

Increasingly innovative fraud

In my business, the simplest fraud we’ve seen is simply to claim a warehouse mistake happened and the wrong item was sent out. In one particular instance the buyer said she received a £10 dress instead of a £400 Vivienne Westwood Jacket. Sadly she didn’t tell her Mum who answered the phone and confirmed that she had the jacket and confirmed the warehouse stock code on it.

However, eBay only considers communications via its Resolution Centre so the refund was made when the dress was sent back and the case is currently with the Greater Manchester Police.

Another a common fraud is “wear & return”, which retailers try to prevent by attaching large uncomfortable labels to garments. However, it only costs £15 to buy a tagging gun and enough tags to keep you in fresh clothes each weekend for a year.

We uncovered a particularly nasty case of this when a buyer put the tag back on a pair of high street jeans and returned them instead of the designer ones she had bought. Most of the time you at least get the same item back — even if it does have a bus ticket and an empty packet of cigarettes in the pocket.

The most convoluted fraud that we’ve come across is a “nearby address” fraud. In this, the buyer deliberately sends the return to a nearby address (for example unit 44 instead of 14,) where someone signs for the item and is bemused to find an old catalogue being sent Special Delivery.

The tracking shows it as properly delivered from the right Royal Mail sorting office to the right postcode and with a signature so eBay process the return. It’s very, very hard to investigate, although your Royal Mail account manager might be able to dig out the original till receipt if it was sent from a Post Office.

The solution isn’t simple

So why the increase in fraud? Maybe this is just part of Austerity Britain. Maybe it’s because eBay has had to focus on protecting buyers from bad sellers to fix its reputation.

Perhaps users are starting to think of eBay as a faceless system with rules to get around rather than Pierre’s vision of people trading with people.

We think that eBay needs to become a lot more flexible in the way in which it handles refunds and returns and put in the same level of personal service and attention to detail that the very best buyers and sellers do.

Simply engineering a one-size-fits-all solution is no longer good enough. The pain that sellers experience with returns fraud is much more than the financial loss: often it’s their good standing with the marketplace that is at risk and the time and trouble that they have to go to get customer services to understand and address the problem. Calls of up to an hour are not uncommon.

What do you think? Have you seen more returns fraud and cunning ruses to get round the rules? What should eBay be doing to make the marketplace safer?

50 Responses

  1. absolutely agree, i dont know about becoming more cunning – customers just need to provide a royal mail tracking number, even if its an item royal mail wouldn’t even considering posting (e.g. a wardrobe), eBay will still refund them and call you a bad seller.

    in times of economic crisis crimes such as shoplifting see a marked increase. return fraud being the modern equivelant of shoplifting, i would expect it to rise too. however, if i ran a B&M store and noted a significant increase in shoplifting, i would try hiring security staff, adding cctv, and other things to discourage theft. I would be totally outraged if the owner of the marketplace my store is located in, was stood outside actively helping the shoplifters to steal from me – thats how it feels dealing with eBay.

  2. – i’d also like to add; i’m seeing a significant increase in the number of complaint beggars. – being as offended/unhappy/complaining as is possible, with the threat of going to eBay if you dont refund them 95% of the purchase price. they know fine well eBay will side with them automatically, why pay full price when you can get it half price just for inventing an issue?

  3. Apparently, Facebook are introducing their own E-Payment method shortly, and i’d love it, really love it if they were to follow it up with a Facebook Marketplace.
    i’d love that, really love it, love it i would.

  4. Buyer comments: Hi there,

    I’ve sent the item by using special delivery
    It will be with you tomorrow.
    Here is the tracking number:

    Because the buyer told us that the item was not as described, you are responsible to pay for return postage charges.

    Lovely go out hermes, come back ‘Special Delivery’

    Great System.

    We should prob all pump prices up on ebay to cover this !

  5. What next,

    I suppose we will all be expected to give buyers a quick hand job with all orders.

    Nothings ebays fault, its sellers, there bad !

  6. When we think we are being stiffed by a buyer (95% of the time we are being had) and find us having to refund an item for not received or not as described, we do process the refund and then point out that the ownership of the item returns to us – we now own it because they have been refunded. We make a point of passing that ownership to a local (to the buyer) charity, by asking the “buyer” to donate the item to a local charity of their choosing. We all get some sense of satisfaction that a genuine buyer with a problem will agree with us and that a level of guilt for stealing from a charity if they are having us on. It might not be much justice in this life, but we get a smile of satisfaction thinking that when they go knocking on the pearly gate, St Pete will look at his list and say “now then, this item you nicked from a charity?”
    Managed returns genuinely frighten us much more than the 180 days of Paypal.

  7. Nice article but you forgot about the buyers who will have a simple change of mind, but not want to pay return costs and so purposely damage the item before claiming faulty and opening a case.

    I actually had a woman insist on returning a brand new with tag pleated frock-style coat as she said it had arrived and the back pleats were positioned in such a way that it ‘looked like it had been sat down in’ and therefore attributed that to it having been worn. I argued that the folds were from it having been neatly folded into a square for shipment. She disagreed. I offered to pay for dry cleaning and ironing if she was that unhappy with the folds and she declined, claiming it was for a gift and was ungiveable in that condition. (It seems she forgot that shed previously messaged me with her measurements asking if the coat would fit her as she really wanted it). It wasnt her size and seems she took a risk and when she was too large for it made up a crappy reason to return it. At least she was original, I guess. Oddly enough she tried to buy another item 2 months later and asked why she had been placed on my block list 😛

  8. We have had customers say an item was rubbish and demanded a full refund. We offer them a free post label and they then claim was they had thrown the item away and still demanded a full refund. Who operates like this? We would win if they buyer opened a case and not returned the item but that does not stop them leaving comment like “Worst seller ever. Don’t Trust them”!.

    Because it is not a specific lie, Ebay will not remove the comment. How can you be the worst seller with 99.9% positive feedback and thousands of transactions?

    Sometimes we feel people attempt to blackmail us with negative feedback even if not overtly.

    It is a shame as most buyers are honest and understanding people but unfortunately it is the ones that are not that really affect your day.

    I do not believe you should be able to receive negative feedback unless a buyer has won a case. Especially when the buyer has made no attempt to contact you or is obviously on the fiddle.

    I just hope some more alternatives arrive before Ebay and Amazon become so dominant and controlling we have not other choice, which is actually how it currently feels.

  9. My wife says ‘is the Pope Catholic’ in reply to the headline of this article. 🙂

  10. Ebay and Paypal have made things very clear, and it’s something we have to take on the chin.
    You can record a video of the postman handing you a parcel to opening it, and it will not be permissible as evidence. they actually told me that.
    My gripe is that Ebay will happily annihilate a Seller and let the whole world know, but we have no idea how fraudulent Butyers are being dealt with. Why arn’t we allowed to vet a Buyer the way a Buyer can vet a seller ?

  11. We all know that the majority of buyers are decent people. But there is a small percentage that do play the system and know how to play the system. Surely if there is no way for eBay to police this, we should receive some of our eBay and Paypal fees back in compensation. Sellers are the back bone for eBay’s profits and wealth. The more easy it is to commit fraud on eBay, the more it will happen. Maybe it will back fire on eBay if more and more sellers only use eBay to sell lower value goods.

  12. Mr John Donahoe seems to be willing to squeeze every little drop of cash he can from ebay sellers. So it will be of little concern to him that the profits of sellers are also getting hit from the army of scammer buyers that now “operate on ebay” we closed down our own account due to the amount of statements such as ” My item never arrived ” Or the item was broken on delivery I want another now” no pictures or proof ever being sent. ebay as already stated automatically takes the money from your account and hands back to the buyer. Buyers operate without any fear of negative feedback, why because ebay doesn’t want to upset buyers. I’m guessing a scammer wouldn’t lose to much sleep over a negative feedback on ebay, however it would make it much easier to see a pattern on account for all future sellers.

    Does anyone know if ebay has even bothered to set up filters to see how many times an account files for item not arrived or problems with transactions?

    During the John Donahoe era the critera to meet ” top seller statuses” has increasingly risen yet the discounts have constantly decreased.

  13. eBay: we’re making your entire livelihood far more vulnerable, but dont worry, if you report a buyer we’ll do something about it.

    me: and they can’t make another account?

    eBay: yes they can make a brand new account and go straight back to scamming.

    me: how does that help?

    eBay: they’ll have to keep making new accounts?

    me: and how do you stop abuse from these ever-increasing number of guest accounts?

    eBay: we dont.

    me: thanks eBay.

  14. Definitely the case
    A lot of the time a buyer will say that they have received the wrong item but when you request to see an image of the wrong product received then there is no further response.

    In addition the ebay return process is just so systematic that it is ridiculous. Where a customer returns an item, as long as the tracking shows that A parcel has been delivered to the return address then the process pretty much gives a full refund even if the product in question is a gold brick and then a load of coal is returned. There just is no process for the sellers inspection of the returned item input into the process

    Also, some items buy items and then remove valuable parts from the item and then return the main unit. For example returning without the valuable remote because it is very expensive to buy on its own

  15. I had a case recently where an item was delivered, and the buyer (Manjit) claimed the box was empty. As I used RM Tracked, which is delivered separately from standard mail, I was able to track down the driver. He confirmed he delivered a large box to a old lady (his mum – thanks to investigation work on 192.com) not 20 mins previous. He said it felt like 2kg or so.

    I then got the stamp profile from my inventory management system – so weight, address data etc, tracking info. I took all the email correspondence and data to The Police, who said it was a blatant case of fraud, and they would pursue. I spent 4 hours at The Police over 2 days, only for the Police Management to say they would not be prosecuting the gentleman (no reason given by Police!).

    Its clear that certain buyers from certain postcodes do try it on. I have a zero tolerance – I will always report them to The Police so that they are least on the system as a reported fraud.

    Some people may not like this statement, but I do sift through certain postcodes, towns and names that are foreign sounding and place them at a high risk of fraud. These then get extra protection – e.g. we use signature, check weighed services (such as courier) plus a number of other methods personal to me.

    My top towns to be wary of (in order of problems):

    Ilford (Essex)
    Glasgow
    Bradford
    Manchester
    Wolverhamton
    Birmingham
    East London postcodes in general
    Luton
    Liverpool

    Also I look on google street view, if its multiple occupancy with cars on gardens, shitty looking area etc – then that puts me on an even higher alert.

  16. I will be sending out a small jar of vaseline with every order now. Just to save the pain of being shafted every time.

    I aim to be leaving eBay, and taking 14 clients with me. Though I doubt very much that eBay will care. I told the chap when I was in Richmond that this would be catastrophically bad news. But hey ho.

    I wonder how it will affect the big players in bed with eBay, or if they will continue to get special treatment??

  17. We dispatch probably around 500x parcels to the UK every week using Royal Mail not tracked, we record our missing parcels, and the ratio between ebay and website losts for same shipping method is 8:1.

    Pretty damning!

  18. I find the dishonest one’s are the nastiest to deal with..as they are experts..It peeves me off for me to present evidence etc for it to then still go in the buyers favour…I think us sellers should write a book on all the scams to date from buyers..I usually do suspect from messages before any returns that its not sounding right..for me to be correct once I have received worn items back, empty boxes back etc, them damaging the items..
    I have never got mad before when ringing eBay..but one individual got me that mad I swore as I am very passionate about what I do and the sad thing is i feel i live for eBay and he didnt listen…as soon as I ended the call I got a warning..it said it all to me…buyers can do what they like!

  19. It’s not just selling though. Buy on eBay and you are much more likely to be shafted.

  20. “Maybe it’s because eBay has had to focus on protecting buyers from bad sellers to fix its reputation”? What on earth does the banning of “bad” sellers (often banned because some parcels sometimes disappear in the Far East and suchlike) got to do with your fraud problems? They’re blamed for that as well!?

  21. Why dont we all protest the upcoming changes and take our ebay shops on holiday for one single day. I think it will definitely prove something about seller rights to ebay.

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