Laptop Selling Tips for eBay

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Since my first story about selling a laptop on eBay appeared, I've learned a lot about the process. This week, I'm sharing some of those lessons learned, to help you reduce your chances of being defrauded by unscrupulous buyers.

Before continuing, you might want to read last week's Mobile Computing, in which I excerpted e-mail from readers who've had scary experiences selling laptops on eBay.

Be Wary of Inconsistent Addresses

A cardinal rule I've learned: If a buyer's eBay user ID location isn't consistent with the shipping address, you may be dealing with a scammer.

For example, one of my laptop's prospective buyers had eBay user ID location of New Mexico--but he wanted the laptop shipped to Bali, where he claimed to be currently living. (The buyer turned out to be a fraud.) Such address inconsistencies, particularly when they involve two countries, can be a tip-off your buyer isn't legit.

PayPal's Security Center puts it this way: "It's fairly common for shipping addresses to differ from billing addresses. However, be extra cautious when sending high-priced items, especially if payment is received from one country and sent to another."

Monitor the Auction's Close

The vast majority of bidding occurs within the last few minutes of an auction. As Mary Lou Arnold of Fountain Valley, California, pointed out in her e-mail excerpted last week, scammers using hijacked eBay user IDs sometimes bid up an item as an auction is ending.

You may be able to avoid this by scheduling your eBay auction to end at a time you know you'll be able to monitor its conclusion, such as a Saturday morning at 11 a.m. This may enable you to do a quick background check on high bidders before the auction ends. For example, if a high bidder has a poor feedback score or appears not to have been an active eBayer for a year or more, these could be warning signs. (Dormant eBay accounts are sometimes hijacked by crooks for fraudulent buying and selling.)

As you monitor bids, each bidder's eBay feedback score will be visible along with their eBay user ID. Another option is to search a buyer's profile and score using eBay's Community pages. Keep in mind that a legitimate eBay buyer may go months without making purchases. By canceling bids from inactive members, you risk ticking off honest customers. Consider adding a "fraud prevention" note to your listing's description. State that you reserve the right to cancel bids from long-inactive bidders or those with poor feedback scores.

Don't Assume PayPal Will Cover You

Many eBay transactions are paid for using the PayPal electronic payment system (which eBay owns). PayPal offers a Seller Protection Policy, which covers sellers for up to $5000 (U.S.) per year on "any transaction PayPal deems fraudulent."

However, in order to qualify for PayPal's coverage protection, your transaction must meet a number of criteria. Among them:

  • The item must have been shipped to an "eligible" address. As detailed in PayPal's Seller Protection Policy, that means "the transaction must be between a U.S., U.K. or Canadian buyer and a U.S., U.K. or Canadian seller." (PayPal spokesperson Sara Gorman recently told me that PayPal would be announcing changes to this policy in coming weeks.)
  • For any item above $250, you must be able to provide a proof of signature by the recipient. Shipping via UPS, FedEx, and some U.S. Postal Service options will provide the signature you'll need.
  • You must have a verified PayPal Business or Premier Account.

In short: Because many eBay transactions are paid for via PayPal, it's a good idea to familiarize yourself with PayPal's Seller Protection Policy before auctioning your laptop--so be sure to read the fine print.

Consider Selling Through acts as a "trusted third party that collects, holds, and disburses funds according to buyer and seller instructions. Escrow services are provided by a licensed and regulated escrow company," according to the service. protects both buyers, who can "inspect the merchandise before the seller is paid," and sellers, who "receive their money if the buyer accepts the merchandise." service fees are based on a percentage of the purchase price. Fees are "as low as 0.89 percent," according to its Web site. You can get an estimate using the site's calculator. In my informal test, I found that a transaction valued at $1700 would have an escrow fee of $55.75 for's Standard service, or 3.2 percent. Another option: Pay $107.10, or 6.3 percent of $1700, for's Premier service, which features additional buyer ID verification and fraud screening, among other perks.

The potential downside: Your buyer will have to register with Also, doesn't cover transactions from Burma (Myanmar), Cuba, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Liberia, Libya, Moldova, Nigeria, North Korea, Romania, Syria, and Zimbabwe.

Wait Before Shipping

I've mentioned this before, but it's worth repeating: Do not, under any circumstances, ship an expensive item like a laptop to a winning bidder for at least one business day after a PayPal payment has been received into your account or other payment (such as money order) has safely cleared your bank. This will help prevent you from shipping your laptop, only to discover later that the payment was fraudulent and the funds have been transferred out of your account.

In your listing's description, advise bidders that, due to concern for potential fraud, you will not ship the item for one or more business days. Be especially cautious of any requests for urgent shipments. After all, time is rarely on the crook's side--but it can be on yours.

Communicate via eBay

Send and receive e-mail communications with potential buyers from within the eBay site. By keeping all communications with buyers within the eBay system, you will have a traceable record that may help eBay, PayPal, or other agencies investigate a fraud.

For background on eBay fraud, and even more tips on how to avoid it, read my colleague Becky Waring's take on the subject, "How to Buy and Sell on eBay Scam-Free."

Clean the Hard Drive

To ensure your personal info doesn't fall into the hands of a crook, "shred" your hard drive's information with a program like WipeDrive ($40) before shipping your laptop to its new home. You could also download free and inexpensive programs for erasing your hard drive from our software library.

For more tips, watch the video "How to Completely Erase a Hard Drive."

One Last Thing

You may have assumed by now I'm no eBay fan. Truth is, until my efforts to auction off an expensive Sony laptop, I've bought and sold on the site with barely a glitch. I still believe eBay auctions are an excellent way to get cash back for your old laptop. Just make sure you know what you're getting into.

As for my efforts to sell my laptop ... since I first reported on my efforts, I re-listed the laptop a third time. It didn't sell. I lowered the price and re-listed. Within three days, an eBayer used the "Buy It Now" option to purchase it. But PayPal has held up the purchase. The buyer has a verified PayPal address, and as far as I can tell appears to be legit. She is not making any suspect respects, and her shipping address is the same as her eBay user ID location. Yet, PayPal is requiring further validation from her. And so I'm still waiting for this matter to be cleared up.

As for that strange noise you just heard, it was me, letting out a deep sigh of exasperation.

Mobile Computing News, Reviews, & Tips

Multi-Touch Trackpad Coming to Other MacBooks? Not long after Apple announced the MacBook Air, rumors began buzzing on AppleInsider and other sites that the company will add the Air's multi-touch trackpad soon to a MacBook Pro refresh. It makes sense: The pinching and swiping gestures, first introduced with the iPhone, are extremely popular. Why limit them to the Air? Check out our video of the MacBook Air Also, you can see a video specifically about the trackpad on my blog, Traveler 2.0.

Five New Things to Do With Wi-Fi: Wireless networks aren't just for e-mail and Web browsing, as PC World contributing editor Dan Tynan points out. Among his five examples: The $249 Music Gremlin lets you wirelessly download tunes and share them with other Gremlin users anywhere in the world.

Tips for Preventing Laptop Theft: Did you know 10 to 15 percent of all handheld computers, PDAs, mobile phones, and pagers are eventually lost? Find out how to minimize the risks with our guide, "How to Stop Laptop Theft." One tip: Put ID tags on all your portable devices and record them with a recovery service, such as BoomerangIt, StuffBak, and TrackItBack.

Contributing Editor James A. Martin offers tools, tips, and product recommendations to help you make the most of computing on the go. Martin is also author of the Traveler 2.0 blog. Sign up to have the Mobile Computing Newsletter e-mailed to you each week.

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