How eBay scammers exploit return labels to get products for free

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eBay scammers are still taking advantage of returns policies to get free goods by tricking sellers that the products they sell are faulty. We have heard of this for many years, and it seems not to go away.

The way it works is a fake shopper request a refund because of defectiveness of a product and then returns an empty parcel with an incorrect address but stating the sellers’ postal area code. eBay automatically issues a refund as they assume that the package has been delivered to the postal area. As a result, the scammer is left with a product and a merchant with the consequences of product and margin loss as well as the fear of potential scammer-attack.

While this highlights eBay’s extreme trust in shoppers’ behaviour as well as the lack of clear communication between the marketplace and sellers, their suppliers’ tracking limitations also add to the equation.

eBay seller from Middlesbrough gave his witness account to The Guardian about falling victim to an eBay scammer. When talking about his recent experience of being ‘caught’ by a scammer, when selling his iPhone 7 Plus (£345), he points to “the problem” of Royal Mail‘s tracking. There’s a loophole being exploited by scammers, he says, as the supplier tracking only includes the postal town but not the full address.

Citing confidentiality, Royal Mail said that they couldn’t disclose the location of the parcel.  Possibly to the small-scale of the product value or negligence towards the sellers from the marketplace, eBay have closed the dispute the seller opened, stating that the merchant has already “received the item.”

I find it unbelievable that a company as big as eBay can’t put changes in place to stop these practices.”
-NB, Middlesbrough

Following the release of the story, eBay have decided to refund the seller £345. eBay say that they’re on an “on a lookout 24/7 for bad buyer behaviour,” but are these just empty promises to keep sellers hush?

We are constantly improving our systems …our team is on the lookout 24/7 for bad buyer behaviour backed by large-scale, automated detection systems that examine millions of transactions every day.”
-eBay

74 Responses

  1. Royal Mail must be aware of this as they log the LAT LONG Coordinates with the delivery scan.
    They seem to use this only with further investigations but it would be nice if when the postie scans the barcode that it came up with the address that it’s supposed to be delivered at.
    I asked my postie if they deliver by the package address even if doctored and he said it will be delivered to the doctored address.
    BUT, if you have a decent postie, like ours, he is more aware of who has what and would take it back to the delivery office.
    A temp though could be a different story.

    The only time ebay will start to listen is if the seller reports to Action Fraud and has a crime number.
    Many sellers on the ebay forums report that when they phone the police, the police say it’s a civil matter.
    The last time I checked, obtaining money or goods by deception, was still a crime.
    I know the police haven’t got the time but at least point the seller to action fraud.

  2. Bit of a damning indictment on eBay by the Guardian… “We wouldn’t sell high-value items on eBay unless we were prepared to meet the buyer and demand cash. Be aware of the risks you take. considering their eBay promotion… obviously they didn’t take the advice on their own site too seriously.

  3. We have sadly just started to get empty box returns from our high value collectible items in America. eBay US always side with the buyer, no questions. Nothing we can provide in evidence like discrepancy in weight of parcel, customs X-ray scans etc will change their mind.

    Talking amongst our network of eBay sellers, none, yes not one , has ever heard of a buying account being suspended for theft or scamming. Food for thought.

  4. Irresponsible ‘journalism’ at its best. Highlight a scam that works and tell lots of others how to do it.

    Bravo.

  5. whats new?
    scams and
    theft are a cost of doing business on ebay,
    unless it hurts ebay, nothing will be done
    individual sellers are cannon fodder

  6. Royal Mail have always given verification of delivery for the town only – and often adjacent postcodes. Its a flaw but not bays flaw. Its all they have to go on.

    Interestingly Hermes – a few months ago – are now offering full postcode verification on their UK track and trace web site. More often than not this also provides a “map” showing the GPS location of the delivery along with signatures and photos if left safe – but only if the FULL correct postcode is entered.

    Its not full proof but its an improvement over the tracked or 2d barcode system of Royal Mail. We have had good experiences with it. The full postcode is verified – not just the town.

  7. Total waste of time complaining to ebay. They insist on sellers giving good customer service but ebay dont give sellers good customer service. One star only for ebay

  8. @Alan P.
    That’s great to hear Alan but I’m somewhat sceptical- there are so many threads on seller boards and on a wider context throughout other internet pages suggesting the opposite. Perhaps the problem is so rife that eBay want to keep it quiet and not publish the full facts resulting in many folks believing they simply turn a blind eye to it ?

  9. I run a used car parts business on eBay. In the last 3 months we have seen this type of behaviour 4 fold.
    Strange however, that ebay are now introducing 4% more fees for sellers who have high return rates for this reason.
    Let’s get the sellers to pay 4% extra and they’ll just blame the buyers.
    That leaves ebay and PayPal fees at almost 20% of every sale Inc postage costs.

  10. The easiest and most simple way to stop this practice is for eBay to provide the returns label or provide one yourself. That way the address is completed correctly.
    Also when eBay provide the label they are actually entering into a contract with the carrier themselves. That according to the terms and conditions associated with all UK carriers mean they have agreed that they have ensured the parcel is packed correctly and safely for the journey through their network etc. That means that if an empty box were to arrive or a totally different item eBay are responsible.
    We put that to the test when receiving a £189 item back which was not ours ebay wriggled and refunded the buyer but not us and we fought back and lo and behold they settled with us as i messaged a “notice of intent” to take them to the small claims court.

    But there are so many scammers on eBay now they will just keep moving onto new things. 2 weeks ago i bought an Amazon Firestick advertised as brand new.
    Next day a message from eBay said it had been removed as the sellers account had been compromised.
    Yesterday i bought another from a different seller and again exactly the same.
    message.
    It seems they don’t care their sellers are all having accounts compromised or that is their camouflaged way of saying its a bogus listing. Our bank said the biggest cause of charge backs is down to eBay buyers linking their account to Paypal for one click buying.
    They browse on their laptop or phone then answer their door and the 3 year old sat their purchase a few items while they are out of the room.
    The banks have said don’t link ever then the person needs to have your eBay password and then your Paypal password its called security.

  11. On Amazon the customer doesn’t even need to return the parcel back, this has happened several times to me. One occasion the customer returned the parcel to the wrong seller, totally different address and still got a refund.

  12. Most times as we all experience, I unquestionably refund buyers unless there is evidence worth pursuing. I’ve recently presented a case to eBay. First time eBay buyer from china whom tried to cancel days after ordering the INR case 20 days later came as no surprise. Although I can prove sent via standard airmail eBay have stuck rigidly to no tracking, they found in favour of customer.
    Its time eBay simplify their terms and conditions too (you buy and sell on our platform at own risk!)
    Royal Mail are definitely not squeaky clean but I suspect they would very much welcome that change.

  13. Following the release of the story, eBay have decided to refund the seller £345, only because it hit the wider media….standard practice…

    eBay say that they’re on an “on a lookout 24/7 for bad buyer behaviour,”this is a lie as they have never done anything about bad buyer behaviour and keep repeating the same old mistakes…why they are in such decline.

    INR are pretty much gone now with delivery confirmation (funny that), so it is the bad buyers abuse of the unmanaged returns system, we went from pretty much zero returns to a regular occurance on ebay, funny also how many items DO not actually come back after you authorise that overpriced label, as the buyer cannot have their cake and eat it…

  14. Ebay selects the “partners” it uses to handle the returns element of a buyer dispute, therefore if this service ebay offer to “fully cover” the return, is fit for purpose – it IS within their control and as such the its THEIR problem if the scammer finds the loophole and exploits it.. If ebay chose a more secure return method with signed proof of delivery, then this would go away – they could also claim against the courier!.
    Had a couple of returns on Saturday, Royal Mail, post arrived we were closed! So taken to local depot for collection and card left for us to collect. Ebay tracking says “return delivered and I must refund” on Saturday evening from the time of the message… So this is flawed too, never mind the scammer system highlighted in the news.. The Guardian (not my choice of rag) does well to highlight ebay on this p*ss poor service provision. It is set up to minimise impact on ebay bottom line, never hamper the scammer buyers.
    A business account with Royal Mail means you get cheaper postal costs BUT, you also get reduce compensation for the loss of goods, i.e. soak it up yourself! SO ebay sell the return label (auto approved return label), get it cheap – mark it up to the seller, but get limited compensation on the return if its “lost”… Answer, get the seller to pay… Why do they push switch on “auto returns”… its another revenue stream, a good one for them..
    Never let ebay handle anything for you, it half baked, poorly thought out and based around their own ruddy interests… They cant even ensure a buyer inputs their name and address correctly… Says it all..

  15. Surely ebay must begin to realise they are losing potential sales with their attitude to sellers. We have a regular shop selling personalised items and not too many issues there as not high value BUT for example, my husband has a camera to sell. He knows on the one hand that ebay has a great audience but will not sell it on there because of the worry about scammers.

  16. Why publish these scams in the press and on this site? The article is of great use for the scammer and of no use for the seller. Sitting, waiting and ‘looking out for’ an empty box to arrive…

  17. I could sit here and type a huge lists of ebay scams and ebays pathetic responses… but im done even trying anymore… Ebay simply DO NOT CARE. They still consider themself too big to fail. that may be true in the short term, but the tides are turning and their figures are showing that. the days of the sellers being an endless source of extra funds to cover poor growth are gone…. along with an increasing stream of sellers.
    We sold a large pool pump last year, 24kg worth. Customer complained it wasn’t as described ( yet even in the ebay message they sent they admited they purchased the wrong one!)… So after the high cost of sending that we had to swallow, we were landed with an even higher cost to get it back. The box arrived back… empty.
    We checked the courier details and it was marked as weight discrepancy upon collection ( we stated 24kg they measured it as just over a kill and so went on volumetriic weigh). We took pictures of the box unopened, got proof from the courier that it was only a kilo on collection, got proof from manufacturers that is was 24kg…. Ebays reply? ‘As we are unable to see the parcel at the buyers or sellers location we can not act and so feel it best that us the seller fully refund them in line with ebay policies. We stated that we would take legal action… same ebay blah. We had to refund but messaged them to say we were aware of the scam and would be pursuing via scc. We heard nothing. So we sent a letter to the buyer via recorded delivery to inform again that they had 10 days to send us the unit or the money or else we would start legal proceedings at our local court ( over 200miles from them!)
    On the 9th day they got in contact and said that a friend had sent it for them as they were on holiday and have no idea why the box was empty… they then sent the money to us.
    Funny that….. on holiday, friend trying it on, nobody noticinga huge pump unit, not seeing any of the messages on ebay…. and of course the inital lie over description.
    This is ebay for you…. they know that there is little you can do to them.

  18. I am a full time eBay trader and have been for 15 years. I am an ex fraud investigator. I am afraid I have not taken the time to read all the replies to this, but this ‘same zipcode’ scam also happens with items bought, and not returned, i.e. the seller sends something, usually an empty box, to an address in the same postal area. The tracking is uploaded and the item is deemed to have been delivered to the consignee.

    Surely a simple solution would be this; when the consignee denies receipt, in any circumstances, the sender should be expected to upload a proof of postage (i.e. the ticket issued by the post office when the package is taken in, or similar), then everyone can see where the item was actually sent. I have suggested this to both eBay and PayPal to no avail. Wouldn’t that be the simplest solution in the world.

    What am I missing ?

  19. The best solution to this is for ebay to use a courier for returns that require the FULL postcode for verification – not just half of it.

  20. Hi Alan i fully understand the fact that we would not expect a newspaper to reimburse us if we were scammed while advertising in their paper. But guess what they don’t reimburse the buyer either.
    The only thing sellers want is a level playing field and equal treatment. If eBay want to play judge jury and executioner they ave to do it properly at all ends not just one.

  21. No Alan, it’s not a terrible idea. Every single time this scam has been tried on me, it has been done via sending goods at the Post Office. If in these cases, eBay had required
    the seller to upload a proof of postage (which is the printed ticket given to the customer at the post office), it would have proved that the item was never shipped to the me in the first place. That is the only way to defeat this ‘same zipcode’ scam.

  22. eBay is NOT a safe place to sell anything of any value.

    eBay does not care about its sellers as long as they can make money from them.

    eBay will ALWAYS side with the buyer despite what proof you give them.

    I NEVER trust the post office to send parcels, they are barely competent enough to deliver a letter without loosing or damaging it.

    I ALWAYS use a courier.

  23. I have been hit by this in the last month. Luckily the greedy scammer opened a Paypal dispute as well, this closed the eBay one instantly. That meant I could prove to Paypal that the item was in the wind and I got my money (£400) back. The local postal depot are helping track the random box as well, the benefits of a small community.

    eBay could fix this easily, returns must be tracked and signed for. After all, those are the standards they will happily hold a seller to. eBay have not even responded to my report.

  24. Royal Mail do not do a bad job for us the only issues i really have is the new confirmation of delivery tracking as that system has the makings of something good but needs finishing. Our area had its local sorting office closed and now everything goes to Sheffield suddenly that service is awful.

    We use click and drop which creates a label and uploads the tracking/confirmation number. All is fine then we get item not received and days later even weeks later the item number shows nothing more. When we call they say they have not received the item into their system.

    I say hold on a minute. Our account has no compo and your system produced that number so you are saying we paid you the money and did not send so we could then apologise to the buyer and post the item again paying you again. They then accept something is wrong and apologise (I feel much better then)

    But then the item suddenly shows up later on ebay as delivered.

    I have asked them to just introduce a scan on arrival at the Sheffield depot proving the item is in the system for us and our buyer.
    Our postal collection man said Sheffield has mountains of mail stacked up some outside the building as they cannot cope.

    So the road is in place but the final bridge is not making that service pretty useless when it fails.
    But otherwise fully tracked services are fine. Ebay should stop punishing when no full tracking is available if it was offered on the listing and not chosen by the buyer.

    We offer multiple shipping methods and the buyer chooses the cheapest then says where is my item and please send tracking.

    eBay should only get involved on the buyers side when the shipping method they chose and paid for is not given. Some low cost items just cannot warrant tracking prices.
    After all they say to the buyer here is your money back oh and here is the section for you to leave negative feedback. As if its your fault the shipment did not arrive so you are hit both ways cost and feedback.

  25. The truth is that the industry as a whole needs to grapple with the issue of returns, both real and fake, before it gets even more out of hand. Retailers and sellers have dug their own grave by being overly generous to consumers, racing to the bottom in an effort to get them to click that buy button but not considering the monster they were creating. Zalando, which has bought its market share through a staggering returns rate of 50%, is finally grappling with this by putting a label on clothing that people couldn’t possibly wear out. (Although, considering the inventiveness of fashionistas perhaps this could even become a new style).
    The fact that the Emperor – some might say the Napoleon due to its hubris – of returns, Zalando, is taking action shows at least that companies are realising this – hopefully it is not too late to gently recalibrate customer expectations and get back from Moscow.

  26. A good tool eBay could provide is a click where you can report without reporting.

    In other words where a buyer says item not received you can click on a button which has a background metric visible by eBay only. The reason would be reporting buyers every time they say they have not received is a lot of messing around and they are not all scammers.

    So the hidden metrics will begin to highlight to eBay who these people are then they could simply email them advising them that in the last however many weeks months etc they have had XXX number of items not delivered on X amount of occasions so they need to contact their local police to make them aware that your post seems to be being intercepted.
    They would be shocked that eBay no these figures and may stop the initial hardball contact the buyer makes to get another item sent or refund.

    Nice and easy

    also a blue mark in feedback which shows numbers of replies to feedbacks as when they leave negative that is outrageous but not removable you can reply yes but that reply is only visible if you go looking on their feedback. So make it visible so sellers can see what replies are left etc.

    Item broke and no refund.
    reply we can only help if we are informed of an issue
    item never arrived
    we cannot help unless we are told by you.

    again nice and easy

  27. Hi Alan you not quite right with the tracked 24 and 48 having an acceptance scan.

    We have an account and a free collection by Royal mail. He does not stand in our premises and scan every item in the tracked at all. He just picks up the sacks and scans the barcode on our wall to say he has been. So he could take a full sack home if he wanted to.
    The first scan is at the sorting depot. So if he decided to take the parcel home we would be told we never posted it. The only saving grace is that the barcode would never get scanned so w would not be billed for the shipping but we would be completely out of pocket for the lost item. So nothing has an acceptance scan at the total beginning.

    All i ask is that the items all of them get a scan at the sorting depot to admit acceptance into the system whether they are 2D or tracked i am not asking for full tracking.

  28. If you all want total proof of scammers and fakes on ebay just take a look at item number 163515782192.

    My brother purchased tis item over 12 months ago and when it arrived realised it was fake then the seller refused to refund saying no returns and the listing tells you that are not genuine. “LIKE THATS LEGAL”.

    Then eBay stepped in and refunded my brother and then my brother left negative feedback eBay then removed the feedback stating that my brother had said eBay refunded.
    Then he pointed out that the advert clearly states these are copies /facsimile in other words fakes. They said they would deal with it.

    Well one year on and the advert still says the same and he is still selling them we have reported it over 30 times and eBay just say Carl Zeiss need to report it even though the description clearly says they are fake.

    What do you all make of that then just take a look for yourself it proves eBay cannot give a S**T as long as money is rolling in

  29. @Alan Paterson
    There might be one department dealing with it Alan but there is another department thinking up even more ways of profiting from it. Remember eBay profit from returns and scammers- never forget that.

  30. Is Alan Paterson an eBay employee or has he just drunk the Cool Aid?

    Is there anything eBay could do that he wouldn’t fan fare on?

    What a grade a pillock.

  31. Well
    Alan i did not say you were wrong but as i spoke with royal mail i too now what they told me and crikey i may be a bit stupid but i am sure they have been trained in their own system.

    I was merely saying the RM system should scan the 2 d barcodes as well when they arrive at the sorting depot then our buyers would not accuse us of not even sending and sometimes that we have made up the tracking number.
    Royal mail also said that yes the items are on a belt and automatically scanned to be sent on the right delivery route so it would not be an issue to scan it as an Acceptance into the system especially as there is no redress on money its all around trust and it may be coming soon.

    Oh and i can only say i am pretty pleased that child pinched some of your smarties at nursery or the extra E numbers you will have consumed could have addled your brain making you even further up your own backside.

  32. Congratulations Tamebay on telling the world how the scam work. Now every chancer and his dog are going to be at it. Sellers be prepared for a big increase in “empty box” returns.

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