Recently I sold some gear on eBay. Big mistake.
Here’s my nightmare story. I hope this will act as a warning for everyone thinking of using eBay for selling valuable cameras or other much loved items.
I have so far lost not £100, not £500, but a grand total of £1754 and I have only just started selling my gear.
This loss comes from just TWO items.
In fact eBay has so far cost me this magic figure of £1754 from sales of £1280!
If you are wondering how this is even possible, do read on…
As a seller, I am regularly abused by buyers on eBay. In my situation eBay Customer Services actively enabled genuine law breaking and extortion. What’s worse is that eBay are practically a monopoly. You can’t decide you’ve had enough of eBay. eBay are it. Well, enough is enough.
Although eBay allows you to state “No Returns” on a private sale, this means absolutely nothing. There’s an almost hidden, abuse ridden 30 day money back guarantee policy which exposes you to outright fraud as a private seller. It also expects you to act like Amazon in terms of returns generosity on fragile used goods. In fact, so many buyers are now abusing the policy that it is flat-out unsafe to sell valuable items like cameras or lenses on eBay.
In my case I sold three flagship camera-spec leading smartphones – an iPhone 12 Pro Max for £950, an iPhone 11 Pro Max for £580 as well as a Huawei P40 Pro Plus for £700. It could have been even worse, had this been £9000 worth of valuable cameras or lenses.
Above: My Huawei P40 Pro+ with Google Services up and running
Still, £2230 is a lot of money although these were generous sale prices and it took a lot of care and effort to advertise these professionally on my part with nice photos and accurate descriptions. I didn’t stand to make any profit from any of the sales. I just needed the money. I’ve gone back to using my trusty old iPhone XS Max and a Huawei Mate 40 Pro when I need even better photos and a better zoom.
I even left a hint on the Huawei P40 Pro+ auction for how to get Google Play Store working on it. The P40 Pro Plus has an amazing camera with 10x optical zoom and 50MP near-1″ size sensor, but Google Play Services have to be enabled by the user since Trump cock-blocked it with a trade embargo. It is capable, but things like the Play Store are not installed out of the box officially.
I decided to sell it and keep the Mate 40 Pro. The 5x zoom on that is more versatile at 135mm than the 240mm on the other model for me. The P40 Pro+ has benefits, like even better colour science in the Leica profiles, as well as OIS on the main camera but the zoom optics are 3x and 10x. I’d rather just have a really nice 5x.
Anyway, eBay had advertised “£1 Max Fees” in an official email to me, so I accepted through the link in the email. The terms and conditions said no final value fee on any of the items listed. I then put up for sale several of my items including my Canon EOS R5 (bye!)
Afterwards eBay charged my account over £600 in fees.
So we begin this story with a bit of misleading advertising, and move onto the fraud and extortion next.
The iPhone 12 Pro Max sold to an angry guy in the UK. I posted it from Berlin. After receiving it, the nutcase buyer went on an extortion racket via eBay’s system asking for a discount and threatening to leave negative feedback if he didn’t get it.
I had a string of abusive, really nasty messages via eBay and then negative feedback on top as well. The phone was delivered within 6 days from Germany to the UK in the middle of a pandemic with key workers on long shifts getting items swiftly between countries (and Brexit on top of that), but this spoilt brat of a customer complains that 6 days is too long and he wants compensation. Somehow he pays just £18 import tax and wanted that back as well even though I said in the item description that import costs were responsibility of the buyer.
But it was about to get far worse…
In the case of the iPhone 11 Pro Max, DHL in Berlin immediately lost it and couldn’t say why. The tracking showed it didn’t even leave the post office on Kantstrasse. During the investigation by DHL in Berlin, eBay didn’t even bother to ask me any questions about it – they immediately refunded the buyer and debited my bank account. If the item shows up later, he’s got a free iPhone.
So far, down £580 loss, £600 fees, plus my account had bad feedback for the first time ever from the iPhone 12 Pro Max guy, after building up a 100% rate of 1040 positives over two decades.
But I at least the Huawei P40 Pro+ had sold right?
I was wrong. Very wrong.
Combined with the stress of an extortion attempt, abusive messages and misleading advertising over eBay’s auction fees, I thought that was about as bad as it could get but I was in for much worse. First a quick recap – I sold 3 smartphones for a total of £2230 and out of that £2230, I was down £580, £330 fees, plus as I will explain next, a further £974 for a total loss of £1884. That means it would have been more profitable to sell the iPhone 12 Pro Max for £350 to a stranger in a Berlin bar and throw the rest in the bin.
3 long weeks – no, make that 5 weeks
3 long weeks after the £700 Huawei P40 Pro Plus was posted, of course I get a message from the buyer complaining that he couldn’t get Google services up and running on it officially. This sets in motion a further 2 weeks of bullshit. He had apparently checked the Huawei website and claims he was surprised to see Google Services not officially factory installed on this model. OK.
Of course this was an absolute con, the buyer obviously read the description before buying it and he knows from the description (or even from rolling BBC News coverage) that recent Huawei phones don’t come with official Google’s services out of the box. If you buy a £700 smartphone not realising this and not researching what you are getting, you’re an absolute idiot. This is all due to the high profile Trump embargo. I even said in the auction the Google apps were not guaranteed or installed out of the box, but it would be capable if you did the install yourself. I politely reminded him that the UK distance selling regulations is 14 days for a change of mind and that the phone wasn’t defective. I pointed out that the auction clearly states Google apps were not guaranteed and “no returns” but that I’d help the buyer with advice on how to try it anyway and even offered him £70.
This buyer was an absolute potato.
He understood all of this and spent 3 weeks using the phone, then changes his mind and wants his £700 back a month later.
eBay said this was not an abuse of their returns. It was only an abuse of the UK distance selling law which protects both buyers and sellers but this didn’t seem to register with eBay – I had to say again and again this was a return outside of the UK law but they were having none of it. Their 30-day policy was everything yet they wouldn’t even make sure the rules in it were enforced for the buyer.
It was by this point at least 30 days since the phone was paid for. They even wanted me to pay for the return postage.
At this point I noticed the buyer had cut & paste my original item description – every word of it – and used my own photos of it – all 6 of them – to list the P40 Pro+ for sale on his own eBay account at the same time as claiming his refund for a “defective item”.
At this point I’d had enough.
I had to explain over many, many messages to intellectually stunted eBay reps that my buyer was making false claims about it being defective and not as described, at the same time as using the same description to sell it on his eBay himself while claiming a refund. But they couldn’t even figure this out either and then decided to make things even worse.
They said that if I did not refund him within the next 3 days he would be allowed to keep the phone and get a full refund!
I politely pointed out this would be theft but apparently eBay consider this good customer service for buyers.
I was then lied to by their customer services agent.
I was told that if I accepted his illegal return 35 days after he bought it, they would look at the case again if I receive my phone back, before deciding whether to debit my account or not and for how much… They told me I could prove to them with photographic evidence that the phone was not in fact “defective” and that it was in fact as described. Whatever.
So having been told this little lie, I reluctantly paid for the tracked postage label for the buyer to send it back and emailed this absolute mouth breather the pre-paid label as instructed (forced) by eBay. What choice did I have? Let him keep the phone and the £700 on top?
I heard nothing from the buyer, but eBay flagged the return on their system and said that the buyer would be refunded £974.05 automatically when the tracking number showed the item had arrived with me.
After mentioning this for the first time to eBay, asking how they had managed to come up with £974.05 for an item which sold for £700, here was their reply:
“I’ve carefully reviewed the details of your email but I can see my colleague has already addressed this concern for you. If you have any new information or additional questions for us, I’d be happy to help you. For now, we can take no further action. I understand this might not be the answer you had hoped for. I wish you all the best for the future.”
This was new information AND an additional question but it didn’t matter – they did not give a solitary fuck about it.
At this point – massive stress. Big losses racking up.
The person had got to use my mint condition P40 Pro+ for a month and do whatever he likes with it. Scratch it, bend it, fuck it, put it in the toilet.
Then, without any proof that the phone is in the box he returned, or even still working, eBay tell me they are giving him £974.05 for a £700 phone and a total profit for the buyer of £274.05 just to rub it in a bit more.
So what do I get out of this?
A £974 hole in my bank account to add to the other £780 in costs and losses from just two sales.
So that’s the current state of the cricket.
That’s the score on the cards.
eBay does not bother to enforce their own policies and engages in false advertising
In my opinion eBay has a fatal vulnerability for seller safety, and therefore should be used at significant risk to yourself for sales of expensive cameras or important gear. Or indeed flagship smartphones, which apparently people are never quite satisfied with.
The eBay 30-day money back guarantee policy, or so eBay claims, is only supposed to cover defective items or items that are significantly not as described. Since eBay refuses to inspect any items themselves (even remotely using photographic evidence), they cannot mediate when a buyer abuses the policy.
If you want to rip off a seller on eBay it is all extremely easy.
See that £7000 camera you like? Go ahead. Complain later. Profit.
Even after 30 days and a further 10 days to return the item, eBay will enable outright fraud. Aside from acting as a free rental service for camera gear at a great loss to private sellers, it opens up sellers to unchecked criminality.
I have no idea whether the buyer will return the Huawei P40 Pro+ in the same condition I sold it to him originally, or whether it will even be present in the parcel. Since eBay only watch the delivery tracking number, and have an automated system issuing refunds based on that with no human intervention – BOOM refund. You can still be physically without the item and not even have had opened the return packaging yet, and be down thousands of dollars.
If the item is used, damaged or scratched, eBay may refund just 90% of the original purchase price to the buyer and leave you with 10% compensation that just about covers your fees. This level of compensation doesn’t even reach 3 digits on a £800 smartphone. They might not even do that either, because it is up to you to prove that you sold it in a better condition than how it turned up a month later from some idiot.
In my situation, I was just trying to raise money for an important house move with my girlfriend.
On top of the stress of that, I have to sell £20,000 worth of camera gear in Berlin in the coming weeks.
How do I do it?
eBay is a monopoly. If I have to sell this stuff quickly through such a dangerous platform, there is not any real alternative. What’s to stop this happening on an even bigger scale, with even bigger fraud and even bigger losses?
The truthful answer is –
It is time for a class action lawsuit against eBay. It is time for trading standards in the UK, indeed authorities worldwide to look into eBay’s approach to sellers. We are falsely advertised to, we are mislead into thinking “No returns” means what it says, lied to by customer service reps, expected to act like Amazon in terms of delivery times and returns, mistreated by dishonest buyers, exposed to criminal ones, and defrauded out of thousands of dollars. It is happening everyday to a huge number of private individuals right now.
And it is time it stopped.
I made eBay aware that I would publish this article, and the company has been contacted for comment.