Is eBay safe? Yes, but its safety protections tend to favor buyers over sellers

Is eBay safe? Yes, but its safety protections tend to favor buyers over sellers
Before you buy or sell on eBay, make sure you know what protections the site offers.Smith Collection/Gado / Contributor/Getty Images
  • eBay is safe thanks to its Money Back Guarantee, but some experts are critical of the protections in place for sellers on the site.
  • eBay is more than 25 years old and has developed some robust protections for buyers and sellers in its history.
  • You can buy and sell on eBay with confidence by taking advantage of its built-in protections and using other safety precautions.

As the second online auction site on the internet, eBay is one of the oldest commercial websites still around. It was founded in the fall of 1995, just months after, the first online auction house.

With age often comes maturity and security, but wondering about the safety of using eBay is a valid concern. Both buyers and sellers frequently wonder about the relative safety of using the site.

eBay is relatively safe to use

The good news is that using eBay, particularly as a buyer, is considered safe. The site has implemented a variety of protections over the years, so the most straightforward problems which victimized early eBay customers decades ago, like fraud, are now largely a thing of the past.

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Daniel Foley, a cybersecurity manager for Halcyon London International School and director at Assertive Media, said it's generally a safe bet for buyers. "Defective products, scams, items that arrive 'not as described,' and other issues are all covered by eBay's extensive buyer protection program," he said.

Is eBay safe? Yes, but its safety protections tend to favor buyers over sellers
If your eBay order arrives in a condition "not as described," you can request a refund.Emilija Manevska/Getty Images

Foley said that if a seller refuses to accept a return request, eBay often resolves the case in the buyer's favor and compensates for the loss, while account termination, fines, and other restrictions can be imposed on the seller.


But eBay's protections aren't as robust for sellers, said Aaron Bossig, a former eBay seller. "I stopped selling on eBay about five years ago because eBay changed its feedback policy to offer no incentive or safety to the seller," Bossig said. In particular, he noted the company's change to disallow sellers to leave any negative or neutral feedback for buyers as a reason for his leaving the platform.

eBay's protections for buyers

Over the last 25 years, eBay has implemented and enhanced its protection for buyers in an effort to make the site feel like a safe retail environment. Today, buyers are amply protected through eBay's Money Back Guarantee.

The eBay Money Back Guarantee covers most transactions on eBay. Excluded items are specifically identified as exempt and generally fall into categories like motor vehicles and real estate. If there's a problem with an order, the buyer is eligible to get a full refund from eBay for the full purchase price plus any shipping charges the buyer paid. Most of the time, the buyer also needs to return the unsatisfactory item to the seller.

Moreover, buyers are protected when they do the following:

  • Purchase an eligible item using an eBay-approved payment method, like PayPal.
  • Pay for the item in a single transaction (you can't make multiple payments).
  • Pay using the "Pay For It" button on the eBay invoice page or by clicking the "Pay Now" button on the eBay item page.

If there's a problem with an order, buyers can make a claim in the eBay Resolution Center within 30 days of delivery (or eBay's estimated delivery date).


eBay's protections for sellers

Sellers are also offered some protection, though many sellers contend it's not as robust as what eBay offers to buyers.

Is eBay safe? Yes, but its safety protections tend to favor buyers over sellers
eBay offers protections for sellers as well as buyers.Maskot/Getty Images

Here are the kinds of protections that eBay offers to sellers:

  • Negative feedback given by "abusive" buyers can be challenged and removed. Abusive buyers are individuals who make false claims, demand things not offered in the original listing, misuse messages, bidding, or returns, or who refuse to pay for items they committed to buy.
  • If the buyer damages a product and returns it, the seller can deduct up to 50% of the item's value from the refund.
  • Sellers can be refunded the listing fee for an item a buyer won the bid for but opted not to purchase.
  • If an item arrives at the buyer late for reasons beyond the seller's control, eBay can remove negative feedback for the transaction.

As a seller, you should familiarize yourself with the rules and protections that eBay offers to sellers. "Before you sell, ask yourself: 'Do I know what to do with a non-paying buyer'? If you answered no, you probably shouldn't be selling on eBay yet," said Kevin Parker, a cybersecurity expert and co-founder of vpnAlert.

How to stay safe on eBay

eBay can be a perfectly safe retail and auction environment, but just like any online activity, you need to be careful and take precautions.

Safety tips for eBay buyers

  • Never take a conversation or transaction off the site. You're only protected by eBay by operating within the site's virtual borders, so ignore requests from possibly unscrupulous sellers to complete a deal elsewhere.
  • Read the complete product description and item details. Make sure you understand exactly what is being offered, and its actual condition. Beware of misleading phrases or descriptions that imply things without being explicit.
  • Consider the seller's rating. Every seller has a rating that indicates how many ratings they've received and their overall feedback percentage. Sellers with few ratings or low ratings are less trustworthy than sellers with thousands of happy buyers, obviously.

Safety tips for eBay sellers

  • Write a detailed and accurate product description. Be sure to include photos you have taken yourself, showing the item's current condition.
  • Use PayPal. Tightly integrated into eBay, PayPal makes it easy to demonstrate a full audit trail and transaction history, to ensure payments are complete, and to trace fraudulent buyers.
  • Keep all paperwork and documentation. Be sure to keep shipping receipts so you can prove how and when you shipped the item.
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