If you’re on the hunt for a real bargain, and don’t mind picking up an item that’s already been used, then there’s a decent change you’ll take a look at eBay.
Millions of us use the nation’s biggest online auction site, buying everything from electrical goods and old memorabilia to cars.
And in order to mitigate the risk of ending up with something we don’t really want, many people take a look at the seller’s ratings and reviews of the items on sale.
The trouble is, a new study suggests this review system is being manipulated, potentially conning buyers into purchasing dodgy items.
This isn’t what I wanted
Experts from consumer champions Which? looked at hundreds of listings for all sorts of products on eBay, including things like chargers, charging cables, headphones and smoke alarms.
And it found that there is a gap in the system which is allowing scammers to trick sellers into buying shady items.
It all comes down to the use of product IDs ‒ when you are selling an item on eBay, you can use a particular product code to identify that item if it has been sold on the site before. Reviews of that product are then shared on your listing.
So let’s say I’m selling a particular set of headphones from Samsung.
When I put together my listing, I can enter the identifying product code and all of the reviews from people who have bought those headphones from other vendors will be available on my listing, giving would-be buyers a better idea of whether they are any good or not.
One of these is not like the others
However, the study found that sellers are abusing this process, using the product ID for legitimate items when flogging dodgy or counterfeit versions.
It adds credibility to their listing, making it easier to flog their product, even if it’s a terrible copy.
Which? ordered 20 Apple and Samsung accessories which were supposedly official on eBay. While they were being listed by a variety of different sellers, they all had the same reviews available for buyers to read.
And every single one of those 20 products was found to “fall short” of what a buyer would expect based on the listing according to Which?, with some of them clearly fakes.
There are other ways that this system can be abused too, with sellers able to leave reviews for their own products.
Is this legitimate?
eBay has said that it will investigate the dodgy listings identified by Which? And remove them, though reportedly some of those for chargers which have been recalled over safety fears are still live.
The auction site, along with Facebook, earlier this year pledged to crack down on fake and misleading reviews following action from the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).
After the CMA flagged up its concerns last summer, eBay permanently banned 140 users, though it’s pretty clear that hasn’t gone far enough in cleaning up its reviews structure.
After all, checking reviews is an absolutely sensible thing to do when shopping, whether online or in person.
We have to ensure that people can actually rely on them, rather than have to take a gamble over what to believe and what to dismiss.
Am I protected?
So what can you do if the items you order from eBay end up being substandard?
Some protection is offered through the Consumer Rights Act. This piece of legislation means that any goods sold through the site by business sellers must be of a satisfactory quality, as described and fit for purpose.
If the seller is a private individual, then legally the product must only be as described ‒ there are no requirements over their quality or how fit for purpose they are.
If you want to make a claim under the act, then you only have 30 days from when you take ownership of the item. It’s worth speaking to Citizens Advice to get assistance with making a claim.
There’s also the eBay Money Back Guarantee, which it promises will refund purchases that are not as described, and where the seller has not put things right.
You have to give the seller the opportunity to fix the situation before eBay will consider the case unfortunately, which seems plain daft when it comes to suspected counterfeit items.
You can read more about how the site handles counterfeit concerns on this section of its website.