Seller beware! A new eBay scam using its own return label

We’ve lost the item and our money, but the auction site won’t do anything to stop it

My wife and others have recently fallen victim to an eBay scam. In December she sold my iPhone 7 Plus for £345. The buyer paid via PayPal and requested the item be delivered to their local Argos, as eBay facilitates that. A week later, the buyer said he wanted to return the phone as he couldn’t activate it. We knew this couldn’t be the case, but felt we had no choice but to start the return and refund process.

On New Year’s Eve we got a notification that the phone had been returned, but there was no sign of it.

That’s when we found some blog/forum posts about a scam where a fake buyer requests a refund, then returns an empty package to a different address by adulterating the return label, crucially to an address that’s in the same postal area as the seller.

As eBay sees that the package has been delivered to the postal area, it assumes it was received and issues a refund. The problem is, Royal Mail’s tracking does not include the full address, just the postal town. We believe this loophole is being exploited by scammers.

Royal Mail cannot divulge to us exactly where the empty package was delivered, citing confidentiality. I find it unbelievable that a company as big as eBay can’t put changes in place to stop these practices.

We opened a dispute, but it was immediately shut down stating we had “received the item”. We have no money and no iPhone.

NB, Middlesbrough

eBay has not disputed your claims, suggesting that it is as you say – scammers are exploiting this problem. Since we took up your case we have been contacted by several other victims. As we have previously reported, and our colleague Anna Tims highlighted recently in the Observer, eBay invariably sides with the buyer, something scammers are exploiting.

Happily, eBay has decided to refund you your £345. It says: “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.”

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.

We welcome letters but cannot answer individually. Email us at or write to Consumer Champions, Money, the Guardian, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU. Please include a daytime phone number. Submission and publication of all letters is subject to our terms and conditions


Miles Brignall

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
eBay protects its buyers – but what about sellers?
The auction site ignored photographs and evidence and a seller lost a £249 router

Miles Brignall

23, Mar, 2020 @7:00 AM

Article image
PayPal refused to listen when eBay buyer returned item in pieces
Four months after being sold, the rotovator arrived back used and muddy, but still £112 was blocked from my account

Miles Brignall

28, May, 2017 @6:00 AM

Article image
Beware fake payment texts that claim to be from Green Star
Another warning about messages and texts that come with a live link

Miles Brignall

18, Jun, 2019 @6:00 AM

Article image
Stung by phone call scam after switching to TalkTalk
I received a message to call a premium number on day of switch and was charged almost £700 even though I disconnected quickly

Liz Phillips

20, Jun, 2016 @6:00 AM

Article image
Beware copycat websites overcharging for Esta and Ehic documents
Holiday season has brought a rise in the number of unofficial sites charging unnecessary fees for Esta permits and EHIC cards

Rebecca Smithers

08, Aug, 2016 @5:59 AM

Article image
I lost £1,165 to eBay fraudster when selling my electric guitar
The buyer of my Fender Stratocaster claimed there was no guitar in the case as soon as he received it

Miles Brignall

20, Aug, 2017 @5:59 AM

Article image
I could prove I had been scammed but eBay wasn't on my side
I sent all the evidence that a £450 pair of trainers were perfect, but it refunded the buyer who has kept my trainers

Miles Brignall

31, Aug, 2020 @6:00 AM

Article image
TV licence scammers caught out by dodgy spelling
Phishing email contains slip-up spotted by eagle-eyed recipient

Rebecca Smithers

07, Jan, 2019 @7:00 AM

Article image
Uber charged me a £60 fee – but I didn’t vomit in the cab
It feels criminal that it can take my money without proving I was responsible

Rebecca Smithers

30, Oct, 2018 @11:10 AM

Article image
It’s seller beware as eBay’s buyer guarantee is exploited by scammers
We have been telling eBay that it has a serious problem for years. Now it is going to do something about it

Anna Tims

25, Apr, 2016 @8:42 AM