A safe computing bulletin
provided by The Open University
Mathematics and Computing Faculty


With Christmas fast approaching many of us are using eBay to buy and sell goods. Unfortunately, we're not alone; there are a large number of scams and frauds running on the system - as fast as eBay clear them out, more come back. Here are some simple tips that will help keep you safe on-line.


  1. Always read the description! It's not unknown for sellers to write misleading item descriptions or to phrase them in such a way that you think you're getting something different. One example was the 'XBox box' - a box that once contained an XBox games console which sold for over 100! Also make sure that items claiming to be brand name goods - such as iPods or Nike - are those items - an 'iPod-style MP3 player' is certainly not going to be an iPod.
    Confusingly, eBay often lists accessories to items alongside the main item itself, so take a few moments to read the description in full.
  2. Look for the reputation of the seller, each eBay user has a rating which starts at 0 for new users and rises as they complete more successful trades. The higher the rating, the more successful trades they have completed. Do not discount sellers because of low ratings or if they have one or two negative or neutral reviews, but take care.
  3. Look for the payment method. eBay offers a range of payment methods - beware of those people who only accept cash.
  4. Where are goods coming from? Many items such as laptops, mobile telephones and iPods are available on eBay at what appear to be incredibly low prices. Often these items have been listed by companies based in mainland China and many of these companies are fake. We would recommend against buying from these auctions.


  1. Beware of payment fraud! Scammers are targeting eBay by placing winning bids on auctions and then emailing fake PayPal payment notices informing you that money has been credited to your account. If you receive such an email, DO NOT click on the links in the message, they might take you to a fake site that will ask you for your PayPal login and password.
    Instead, use your browser to go to the main PayPal website (http://www.paypal.co.uk/uk/) and log in as normal. Check your account - has money been credited? If not - IMMEDIATELY inform PayPal of the attempted fraud by forwarding the fake message to spoof@paypal.com
    You should then inform eBay of the fraud. Go to the eBay website (http://www.ebay.co.uk)
    Go to the Help section, then choose [Contact Us] from the left-hand menu. Select, [Selling and Managing Your Item], [Continue], [Fraud and transaction problems], [Buyer paid or attempted to pay with fake/stolen funds], [Continue], [Email us]. Then fill out the form, you will need the buyer's eBay account name. We also recommend copying the full text of the fake payment email into the form.
    It usually takes a day or so for eBay to resolve these cases. In the meantime do not reply to the seller's email. eBay will allow you to relist your item for free or you can make a 'second chance' offer to the runner up in the original auction. Keep any messages from the buyer and from eBay until the problem is resolved.
  2. If you are selling a high value item such as a computer, mobile phone or games console you are more than likely to be targeted by scammers. You can reduce your risk by taking some simple steps.
    If you have had problems from a bidder in the past, you can block them from your auctions, or you can insist that bidders are pre-approved before bidding - they must email you to be allowed to bid. You can find more information at http://offer.ebay.co.uk/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?PreApproveBidders

    You can also refuse bids from people who:
    • Are registered in countries that you don't post to
    • Have a feedback score of -1,-2,-3 or lower
    • Have received 2 Unpaid Item strikes in the last 30 days
    • Are currently winning or have bought '1-100' of your items in the last 10 days
    • Do not have a PayPal account

    by going to My eBay and choosing [Preferences] from the My Account column. Go to the 'Seller Preferences' section, click [Edit], a new window opens, choose the options you want to use.
  3. Never ship goods unless you have received payment and it has cleared. Once money has been credited to your PayPal account it has been cleared, cheques take up to five working days before they clear. Send goods recorded or special delivery. If they are valuable, pay the extra for special delivery so that they are insured. Keep your tracking number in case you need to make a claim for loss or damage.


If the fraud has taken place through PayPal you must contact PayPal immediately through their webpage at http://www.paypal.co.uk/ Additionally, contact your bank and credit card. Change any on-line passwords immediately and keep a careful eye on your statements.


Don't be tempted by overseas bargains without doing research. Some common mistakes:

  1. The US and Japan use 110V mains electricity, plug a device into the UK mains and it could be damaged or destroyed, it might even start a fire. If buying electrical goods from abroad, check the current. Many devices have dual voltage transformers and can be safely used in the UK. If the listing does not specify, ask! Alternatively, a good electrical wholesaler will sell you a step-down transformer which converts 240V to 110V.
  2. Television systems. The US and Japan use a television system called NTSC, Europe uses PAL. Most televisions and videos sold in the UK can handle both signals, but check yours first! (Obviously an American television set will not work in the UK at all)
  3. DVD Region encodings. DVD movies are sold in separate regions; disks are encrypted and can only be played in certain geographic areas. North America is Region 1, the UK, Europe and Japan is Region 2. As-sold, many big-brand DVD players will not play disks from regions other than 2. However, some retailers modify players to be 'multi-region' and can play any disk. Interestingly, most of the cheapest players are always multiregion. Check your player first.
  4. Game regions. Game companies do the same for video games. Some consoles (Playstation, Playstation 2, XBox, XBox360, GameCube and Wii) have region-locked games, others (Gameboy (all versions), DS and PSP) do not. Again, check! Also, it is well worth checking if the games have alternative languages - many games sold in Japan will not have English language options. Still it could make for an entertaining Christmas - game controller in one hand, Japanese phrase book in the other."


ebay: http://www.ebay.co.uk
VNUNet: http://www.vnunet.com/vnunet/news/2170207/researchers-warn-holiday
ebay Security Centre: http://pages.ebay.com/securitycenter/

Remember always to update anti-virus systems daily, to use a personal firewall and a spyware inhibitor and to check for system updates regularly.

Safe Computing!