Kathleen G. Kane - Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General - Protecting Pennsylvanians

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ASK THE ATTORNEY GENERAL: How can I avoid the "Second Chance" scam on eBay?

To most consumers, eBay is a household name. It is an online auction for people not only in the United States, but around the world, to buy and sell virtually anything. While eBay is exciting to use, buyers should beware that consumers have already been victimized by the recent "Second Chance" scam.

What is the "Second Chance" scam?

Bidding on an item for sale is often fierce with multiple bidders and only one winner. "Second Chance" scams occur when the bidders who did not win the auction are targeted by a scam artist.  When the auction closes, the thief poses as the seller and sends an email to each of the remaining bidders saying the sale fell through and the item is once again for sale. Each bidder thinks they are the only one being given the opportunity to buy the item. The losing bidders are so happy for the second chance they immediately mail their checks, wire the money or pay by credit card. Unfortunately, the thief, who is only posing as the seller does not have the item to sell and takes the money and runs. 

How can I avoid this scam?

Always be wary of any emails you receive after an eBay auction closes and you didn't win.  The email might look like an official eBay email but it could be from a scam artist. These are known as "spoof" emails. Online "hackers" are very good at making an email look like it is coming from a particular company such as eBay. You may even click on a link which takes you to what appears to be eBay's website but is really a fake website set up by the hacker to steal your financial information. Tips to avoid being scammed include:

  • Never give your credit card information online, mail a check, or wire money without first verifying directly with the seller that he or she contacted you and the item is for sale.
  • When you use eBay to buy or sell items you have to set up an account. Your "My Messages" folder on eBay should be the only place where you receive emails from eBay or its sellers.
  • If the email looks suspicious, it probably is. Look for spelling errors or other indications the email is not legitimate.
  • Avoid any emails that ask you to provide personal information such as username and password within the email sent to you. For example, the email might say "For security reasons please re-enter your user ID and password."
  • Visit eBay at http://pages.ebay.com/education/spooftutorial/index.html for a tutorial and more tips on how to spot fake emails.

How do I know if I'm receiving a legitimate or "spoof" email?

"Spoof" emails fake the appearance of popular Web Sites or companies, hoping that unsuspecting recipients will take the bait and send them their personal information. This type of online activity is also known as "phishing" and is becoming more common in the cyber world.

There are some warning signs that you can look for in "spoof" emails.  Carefully think about and look at:

  • Sender's Email Address: It may be a phony if it is not recognizable or is something like billing@ebay.com or eBayAcctMaintenance@eBay.com.
  • Greeting: "Spoof" emails will usually begin with a generic greeting like "Dear eBay User" or "Welcome Valued Customer."
  • Claims of Urgency: If there is a sense of urgency in the email, such as "Hurry, we're updating our files and don't want to leave you behind," there is a good chance that it's a fraud.
  • Account Status: Scammers will threaten you through email saying that if your account isn't updated immediately you will not be able to buy or sell on the site.
  • Links: Make sure that the links you're clicking on are safe and secure.  Instead of clicking on the link within an email, copy and paste it into the web address bar.
  • Personal Information Requests: If you're asked to enter a user ID, password or account number by clicking on a link or completing a form than it's a obvious sign of a scam.

Are there steps I can take to protect my eBay account?

Of course! There are a number of things that you can do to be proactive in protecting yourself from would be scammers. EBay suggests that you download their toolbar with account guard.  The guard alerts you when you're on a potential fraudulent site and lets you know when you're on a secure eBay or PalPal site. It is also wise to change your password frequently.  If you're constantly switching passwords it will be difficult for someone to hack into your account. Passwords should never be your social security number, first name or something that can easily be deciphered.

The best thing you can do to protect yourself is be cautious.  Periodically checking your account to see if there has been suspicious activity can save you a lot of time, money and stress.

What can I do if I am a victim?

If you suspect that an email from eBay is a scam, report the email by forwarding it to spoof@ebay.com. Make sure you also contact your credit card company and bank immediately. You can also file a complaint with the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Bureau of Consumer Protection at www.attorneygeneral.gov or call the toll-free hotline at 1-800-441-2555.