I Wire Transferred Money for an eBay Item that Never Came

How to deal with impostors and scams

Overhead view of an empty cardboard box
Seth Joel Photography / Getty Images

Some people make the unfortunate move of wiring money for an eBay item, only for it not to show up.

If this has happened to you, take a deep breath. What you're about to read is not going to make you happy, but the sooner you know, the sooner the initial blow is out of the way.

Getting Scammed

You were scammed. No, there is no doubt about it. No, it doesn't matter if you sent the money "to eBay" or put it "in escrow" or if the seller was "eBay approved" or any number of other official and above-board-sounding things. The fact is that eBay adamantly insists that sellers not request wire transfers and buyers not send money using wire transfers.

If you sent the money "to eBay," the person or website you were interacting with was an impostor and not part of eBay.

If you sent the money "to escrow," there is no real, above-board escrow company by that name and any eBay "certification" that they are supposed to have had was forged or faked. If you sent the money to an "eBay seller," the fact is that they don't have any actual items to sell and never did and probably do not make any actual money selling on eBay. If they have a real profile on the site at all, they use it only to entice would-be buyers to send wire transfers their way.

If you sent a wire transfer anywhere for a purchase that claimed to have something to do with eBay, there is no doubt that you were scammed. (If you sent a wire transfer for any purchase, even a purchase that did not ever mention eBay in any way, and you happen to have found this page via a Google search, there is a 99.5 percent chance that you were scammed.)

In today's global e-commerce world of credit cards, e-checks and PayPal, untraceable cash sent via wire transfer is not a payment method used by any reputable seller or company. The only seemingly commercial parties interested in wire transfers for everyday buying and selling transactions are thieves and scammers. Period.

What to Expect

Unfortunately, this is where the news goes from bad to worse. What you can expect now is...not very much.

This is one of the rare instances in which there is no point in trying to contact eBay, which will simply tell you that they are not associated with or do not endorse the party that you interacted with and that they have little or nothing to tell you. Shoppers who have been scammed in this way often feel that eBay ought to do something about it, since in many cases the scammers used the eBay logo graphic and claimed to be associated with eBay. But in fact eBay had nothing to do with the transaction and has no legal responsibility in the case, just as is true in phishing instances.

It's the same sort of thing that happens when you buy what you thought was a real Rolex and it turns out to be a fake. The real Rolex company has an interest in preventing fakes because it makes life harder for them, but you wouldn't expect the real Rolex company to refund your money for the fake and certainly not for the value of the real Rolex you thought you were buying.

The typical advice at this point is to contact the police, the FBI or other direct commerce authority in your area. However, each of these organizations is almost certain to tell you the same thing: You've been scammed. Sadly, lots of people get scammed. The key is never to send wire transfers since they're untraceable.

This may seem anticlimactic, but in fact this situation is all too common online and very little of the money lost this way (mostly to overseas organized crime organizations) is ever recovered.

What to Do Afterward

After the initial sting wears off (and it can be quite a sting since major electronic appliances valued in the thousands and cars valued in the tens or hundreds of thousands are amongst the most common items "sold" this way), there are some practical things to decide:

  • How You Feel About E-Commerce and eBay: Many who have been affected this way swear off e-commerce and eBay forever, assuming that eBay doesn't care about online crime. If this is you, nobody can blame you.
  • Never to Pay by Wire Transfer Again: No matter how good the deal seems to be, decide never, ever to send money by wire transfer again, for any reason. Unless it's a close family member on vacation halfway around the world who has just lost their wallet, there is little reason ever to use wire transfers for any kind of transaction big or small.
  • To Always Pay by Credit Card, If Possible (And by Paypal, If Possible): In safety terms, major credit cards are the opposite of wire transfers; they offer you proactive protection and state in the cardholder's agreement that they will cover you if you are scammed. And despite the sometimes mixed press, there is likely no safer way to pay online than by credit card through PayPal, who keeps your credit card number out of others' hands while preserving all of the safety benefits that your credit card offers to you as a buyer.