How I avoided a potential eBay scam

Recently I’ve started to use eBay more often, mostly for getting rid of older electronics while they are still in their shelf life, and have never had a problem. That includes 3 sales and about 9 other purchases to and from the UK, US and Canada. My most recent sale was/is a 20 GB iPod Photo. Originally it sold to a buyer in North Carolina. Soon after the auction ended, things started getting a little interesting.

I received an email from “PayPal” that said the transaction had begun. I logged into my PayPal account and checked for confirmation, like I had done with all the other transactions. There was nothing. This is the email I originally received (click for a larger version).

While at first glance it appeared legit, something struck me as being different when I looked at it closer. I compared it to an authentic PayPal email, and noticed a number of differences:

  • from email address is not
  • first line says “Dear PayPal member”, or “Dear eBay user name” instead of my full name, as PayPal typically does
  • font is italic and bold
  • buyer shipping options
  • excessive use of *** and bold type
  • ™ icon after PayPal
  • Never miss a thing. Make Yahoo your homepage. (cut off from printout)

That last one makes me laugh; why would PayPal suggest Yahoo as a homepage?

Combine these things together and it becomes obvious that something was amiss. I think it was the Dear eBay user name that really stood out, along with the refusal to release funds until the iPod had shipped. I was unsure of how to proceed (besides not shipping it), so I emailed PayPal support and asked if they could look into it. I never heard back.

Soon after getting the original email, I received another one from eBay that said that the seller’s account had been deactivated due to “fraudulent activity”. Ha! Turns out my suspicions were not unfounded, and that someone had hijacked this eBay account. Now I have to relist the iPod and do it over again.

So what can be learned from all this? Without being overly suspicious about every email, I think taking some time to carefully look at emails from institutions like eBay or PayPal is important. These businesses take great care to make the process as secure as possible, and many of the little details can slip past. Check the greeting, from email address and footnotes to see if they are different from previous messages, and above all, never ship a package until the money has reached you.

Hopefully with this extra information, more people can avoid having auctions go bad and protect themselves from dishonest users.

UPDATE: Doing my good deed for the day, I sent the email message to PayPal’s crime department ( and they responded that it was, in fact, a phishing email.

Thanks for taking an active role by reporting suspicious-looking emails.
The email you forwarded to us is a phishing email, and our security team
is working to disable it.

Every email counts. By forwarding a suspicious-looking email to, you’ve helped keep yourself and others safe from
identity theft.


The PayPal Team

[tags]eBay, PayPal, iPod[/tags]

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One comment on “How I avoided a potential eBay scam
  1. Matt says:

    “The email you forwarded to us is a phishing email, and our security team is working to disable it.”

    I’m curious how they expect to go about doing that. Users should already know that PayPal emails should always address them using their full names, and not aliases. The only recourse I can see is legal action. It may be that they just wanted you to feel as if they were working at the problem to avoid bad publicity.

    It’s useful to keep in mind that your best bet for security on the internet is your own common sense. You can never rely on anyone – even offline – to protect you from every scam. Since most people are more trusting than this, this sort of scam is pretty successful.

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