A guide to buying and selling on eBay

Raise your hand if you have a lot of extra stuff in your home that you would like to get rid of. Keep it up if you really don’t want

Raise your hand if you have a lot of extra stuff in your home that you would like to get rid of. Keep it up if you really don’t want the hassle of having a yard sale.

OK, hands down.

Raise your other hand if you have ever wanted to buy something online instead of paying retail. Keep it up if you’ve looked for something that you just can’t find in the shops near you. OK, hands down.

If you raised your hand at least one time, you are a part of eBay’s target customer base. I am too. When I was chatting with some of my colleagues across the pond last week, eBay was a focal point of discussion. Sure, you can buy and sell merchandise across the world, but is it always safe? As someone who has used the site for more than a decade, I have seen both good and bad as both a buyer and a seller.

As with many sites on the Web, a lot of the security and protection issues come down to a need for common sense. In today’s post I’ll break down a number of issues ranging from getting started to some personal stories to help keep you safe.

Getting started

If you have an eBay account already, feel free to scroll down to the next heading.

If you are new to eBay, get started by setting up an account from their https sign-up page.

A guide to buying and selling on eBay

When filling out the forms, make sure that you have a strong password, and do provide your phone number. The phone number is important should you need to have conflict resolution on a sale or purchase.

If you do not have a PayPal account, you will want to set one up; PayPal offers a seamless way to pay for products on eBay. When you are setting up your eBay account, the service will ask you to integrate with PayPal. From personal experiences, I would suggest selecting the option where you can select PayPal but need to log in each time as opposed to being logged in to both services at once. Do not use the same password for these accounts.

Going mobile

eBay makes buying and selling super-easy for people on the go or without a home computer. The mobile app puts e-commerce literally in the palm of your hand. However, you should be sure to download the official app from the Google Play (for Android) or App Store (for iOS) stores. Otherwise you might not be downloading the real thing.


eBay is the founding father of peer-to-peer online buying. You can buy most anything through the site, from historical artifacts to knickknacks to homemade goods (think Etsy) to high-end automobiles.

It is really no one’s business what you want to buy on eBay. Chances are, someone is out there looking to sell your favorite childhood toy or component to a vintage video game system.

Some buying tips:

  • Don’t buy illegal items. It might seem tempting to buy something online that is not legal, but it is really a bad idea. Every purchase that you make on eBay is logged, and something being listed on eBay is not a guarantee of legality — some items are legal in some countries but not others. eBay lists their Terms & Conditions here.
  • Beware of counterfeit goods. Many people heading to eBay are looking to get a deal on a product, whether it is new or second-hand. One thing that you should always do is read the description of a product before making a purchase. If you have a question about an item, ask the seller via the listing on the site. Sometimes, sellers make it impossible for you to know an item is counterfeit — pictures can lie. On two separate occasions, I was pinged by eBay noting that a seller had been selling counterfeit items or misrepresenting what they were selling.
  • Don’t just trust; verify. To go along with the tip above, you can always see how well rated a seller is by clicking their profile and looking at their recent reviews. A rule of thumb I tend to follow is that if an item looks too good for the price or if it is an item that retails for a much higher price, I should probably look elsewhere.
  • Do your research. If you are buying something vintage or a piece of memorabilia, you really need to do your homework. Check out the going rates for these items at major auction houses or collector sites. Scammers at times will look to pass off reproductions as the real thing. You do not want to be stuck paying hundreds of dollars for a bootleg Civil War relic or a counterfeit autograph of your favorite sports star.


Time to turn your trash into cash! Well, something like that. Did you read above where I noted that people were looking for a deal? Yeah, keep that in mind when you are selling. Chances are, there is someone out there who wants what you are selling.

However, just because you have some nostalgia for an item does not mean that a buyer will be willing to overpay for it. There will be trial and error along the way in selling items, and you will probably have a moment where you say, “They paid what for that?” I had that moment when I sold an empty beer can for $35 — but I’ll tell you about that offline.

Some tips for sellers:

  • Never ship until you get paid. By using PayPal in tandem with eBay, users have the ability to have money held in escrow and guaranteed after a sale. I would advise anyone selling either to use this route or not to ship the item until you are paid in full for the item and the check clears.
  • Never let a buyer contact you via e-mail. eBay has a built-in messaging system, so there is no reason to use your real e-mail address to talk to a buyer. Many times, buyers will contact a seller asking to buy an item outside of the eBay ecosystem or just to talk directly, off of eBay’s platform. Sure, it may sound harmless, but taking the purchase off-site not only violates some T&C but also increases your risk level. Personally, when I get these notes as a seller, I feel grossed out. Not only is it sketchy, but sometimes people take it way over the line.
  • Monitor transactions in your account. If you use the eBay and PayPal ecosystem, you can see the transactions on both ends and get an alert if something fishy happens. A number of years ago, I got a call from my bank that I had $400 worth of charges to eBay via PayPal that did not look right. After going back and forth with the three companies, we figured out that someone got through to one of the parties via social engineering to get into my PayPal account, printed out a bunch of shipping slips for one order (that was sold 12 months prior), and then issued a refund to another account. Needless to say, the fine folks on all ends saw that I’d made no sales to China, Latvia, or Estonia and took care of the situation. This is another example showing why you should not fully link accounts or use the same password.
  • Beware of phishing. PayPal and eBay are large players in the e-payments and e-commerce spaces, respectively, so both often appear as the subject matter of phishing campaigns. On the day of writing this post, I received both a legit e-mail from PayPal and an illegitimate one.

Can you spot the difference between this picture —
A guide to buying and selling on eBay

— and this one?
A guide to buying and selling on eBay

Conflict resolution

One parting thought for people using eBay: If you have a problem, use the company’s conflict resolution center. The company reportedly handles more than 1 billion transactions per day. Not every one will be perfect, but when something goes wrong, the company tries to make it right. In an ecosystem of individual buyers and sellers with common community values, an amicable resolution can typically be reached.