The Basics

A Serious iPhone Scam on eBay – How I Beat It (and Then Lost and Won Again!)

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Written by Charlie

Here is an elaborate iPhone scam on eBay that I got drawn into. I won it, then lost it, and then finally won it! Here are all the details.

eBay is the obvious marketplace for individuals to sell and buy from one another and eBay has built protections into the platform for both sellers and buyers. Unfortunately, sometimes those protections are stronger for the buyer and skewed against the seller. Here is an elaborate iPhone scam on eBay that I was unfortunately on the other side of and how it finally worked out.

A Serious iPhone Scam on eBay

For many of us, eBay can be a nice place to resell items we may buy at a discount to earn miles and points. While Amazon is definitely a better platform for certain devices or bulk, eBay can be a good place for many one-off type of sales, especially for some niche items or gear with high dollar value.

This has been what I have largely used eBay for over the last few years and been mostly successful with it. It is not about making a bit profit but trying to sell some things either when I upgrade or reselling something that I bought primarily to get the miles and points from the purchases.

A few years ago, I wrote this post detailing how a seller can win eBay claims filed against them. I had a 100% track record on claims over the years on claims, as the seller. I was extremely fortunate in this as eBay almost always sides with the buyer on many claims but I had followed what I wrote in this post and this has helped to protect me a bit against fraudulent claims.

However, this month, I went up against a serious iPhone scammer on eBay that definitely was not doing this for the first time – and he even was able to beat me, for a while.

The iPhone eBay Scam – First Step

I will say I was a little suspicious of the buyer of my iPhone 11 Pro due to the screen name (a seeming-random combination of letters and numbers) and the address they wanted it shipped to. But, they had just under 50 positive feedback with a 100% rating, including a recent transaction, so I went ahead with it.

The first right step I made was shipping it through the eBay platform – I bought the label through them so the tracking was immediately available to both buyer and eBay. Plus, you get a discount on USPS shipping!

The buyer received the item on December 1 – and promptly opened an “Item Not as Described” claim and requested a full refund. The reason? “Face ID not working…” For anyone familiar with iPhones, you know that this is absolutely not a thing! Face ID uses the front-facing camera and software – if Face ID didn’t work, the camera would not work and that would be what they were having an issue with.

I immediately replied asking for a photo of what they were talking about so I could try and figure out what was going on. I knew that I could potentially be facing a scam as they may try to refund a different phone or that they may have broken the phone and they are just hoping I would refund them, partially or full, and they keep the phone.

I didn’t receive a response for 24 hours so I called eBay to have them advise and look at the details. They said that if the buyer didn’t respond, the claim would expire in 21 days. The problem is that eBay immediately freezes that sale amount in your PayPal account when a claim is filed. That would mean the money was off limits for 21 days.

The Second Step – The Escalation

However, on December 6, the first allowable date, the buyer escalated it to eBay. Since I had not responded as far as the return, eBay immediately sided with the buyer and gave them back their money. The buyer’s excuse? “I already sent back item.”

This was strange because I had not issued a refund and return label and eBay had not yet sent them a label either. This meant they handled it on their own and before eBay okayed it. This violates the eBay Money Back Guarantee so they should not have received the money back. This was one of two violations they made yet eBay still refunded them.

But, an eBay rep did rule in my favor and gave me my money back and closed the case!

The Third Step – The Fraudulent Shipment

Here is something to look for if you are a seller in a similar situation. The buyer had uploaded a tracking number to show proof that they had sent it back. However, they knew that the tracking could not show as delivered yet or eBay would not refund. Instead, the buyer designated the shipping service as USPS while uploading a UPS label. This way, it would not show as delivered but did show that there is a shipment.

Once the buyer changed the label issuer to UPS, he appealed the ruling and showed he had the device delivered, this being two days after eBay okayed the return. Boom, my money was gone again and the case was closed in the buyer’s favor. I had won and then lost.

When I ran the UPS label on the UPS website, I found that the item had been sent on December 3 and showed having been delivered to me on December 4 – two full days before eBay okayed the return. The problem? I never received the phone back! 

I looked deeper into the UPS shipment details and found that the shipment weight was .10 pounds – or about an 18th of what the package should have weighed. In other words, he used an empty envelope for the return. It either blew away or someone at the house opened and saw it was empty and tossed it.

The Fourth Step – eBay’s Terrible Handling

Another violation the buyer made was having the phone shipped to an unauthorized third-party mail forwarder. This violates the eBay Money Back Guarantee and was brought to my attention by one of the 10 eBay agents I spoke with.

Because of these two violations, the refund should never have been allowed. Every rep I spoke with agreed and kept filing appeals. Yet, the appeals department kept ruling against me and closing the case in the favor of the buyer.

This went on for 9 days. Each time I e-mailed a reply to an appeals agent detailing the issues that were wrong, I would receive a boilerplate e-mail back that often even confused me for the buyer and apologizing that I could not “return the device I bought” but they decided to side with the “buyer” – again and again.

See, the problem is that eBay only saw the “Delivered” status on the return and never looked any further to see that it was not even close to an appropriate weight for an iPhone, box, charger, cable, and extra cases. They also never looked at the violations the buyer had made against the Money Back Guarantee.

Getting the Win – The Other Seller

I dug a little more into the buyer and found that his most recent positive feedback came from someone who sold the exact same kind of iPhone that I had sold. I reached out to them and found out that the buyer also claimed “face ID broken” with them as well and started a return process.

I brought this to eBay’s attention and the agent again said this, along with everything else, was enough evidence that it was a scammer and said I should win the case – nope, the appeals agent turned it down again!

Finally, I was able to talk to an agent in the appeals department and he ruled in my favor and did a manual override and refund to me. The reason? It was the fact that buyer had used an unauthorized mail forwarder.

In other words, he ruled according to eBay’s own regulations on this issue and what his department should have done one week earlier but failed to. They were too mesmerized by the “delivered” status to look any deeper. It took 5 days but I finally received my money back once again!

Important Things to Note

Know your rights as an eBay seller! The Money Back Guarantee was their for my protection but eBay failed to apply it as they should have so it took a while to get the right decision.

Another thing – be careful in selling Apple products, especially iPhones. Set a high bar in the auction for something like at least 4 positive feedback in the previous 4 months as the bar to meet to buy the item. This scammer knew how to work the system and was scamming at least 4 people in the same 24 hour period that we have found out about so far. Fortunately, we had eBay finally shut down the account but he was likely done with it anyway.

Be careful about these types of scammers – they know exactly how to fake out the eBay system to not lose the money or the phone. Your best way to protect against them is to:

  • Call eBay – they put notes from these calls in the file on the auction and these can help later on
  • Ship through eBay’s system to have the tracking process in place
  • Escalate to eBay as soon as you are allowed to if you have tried to work it out and the buyer won’t respond
    • eBay may rule in favor of the seller but at least you were the one to escalate and this may help you to show that you had tried to work it out
  • Ask to speak to the appeals department if you lose the initial case – these are the only agents with the power to handle it while on the phone. Every other department will simply escalate it to this department.

Of course, you could be better off just not selling iPhones on eBay. Try using online sellers like Gazelle or Swappa, even though you will take quite a bit less. You can also try selling on Craigslist but that also comes with challenges as well!

For those of you selling on eBay, hopefully this experience will help you to avoid the mess I had to go through – and the hours of wasted time! At least I got my money back from this more elaborate iPhone scam on eBay.

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About the author


Charlie has been an avid traveler and runner for many years. He has run in marathons around the world for less than it would cost to travel to the next town - all as a result of collecting and using miles and points. Over the years, he has flown hundreds of thousands of miles and collected millions of miles and points.
Now he uses this experience and knowledge to help others through Running with Miles.


  • On high dollar items (over $1000). I google the shipping address and make sure it is not going to a freight forwarder. If it is a home address I cross reference the buyer’s name to the address using google searches. If it is going to a business I call the business and verify that person works there.

    If I am not comfortable with what I find, I refund the sale. On one $2000 item I refunded it twice before I found a legitimate buyer.

  • Yes, that is a long, tough and complicated situation. I would say 50% of my few sales have been scammers. I always win. But it is honestly stressful and I feel terrible. Especially because I know it’s a real person out there in the world hurting me.

  • One interesting point to this is one time I did use a freight forwarder to buy an iPhone from eBay and I got scammed the opposite way by the seller. the seller sent it to a different address about 5 mi away from the freight forwarder. It showed as delivered…. it was probably their friend’s house. I claim the item was never received and showed the tracking was delivered at the wrong address to eBay but they sided with the seller saying since I sent this to a freight forwarder no matter what happened I would lose the claim. The seller must have run the address seen it it was a freight forwarder and sent the phone to himself! Needless to say my credit card did not agree with eBay’s stupid policy and immediately charged back the item.

  • “I dug a little more into the buyer and found that his most recent positive feedback came from someone who sold the exact same kind of iPhone that I had sold. I reached out to them and found out that the buyer also claimed “face ID broken” with them as well and started a return process.”

    I don’t understand this part…if this scammer was trying to scam that other seller then why in the world would that seller have given him positive feedback?

  • I tried to sell 4 Apple Watches last year and 2 of the sales went fine. The last two went to the same area in a mall. My scam senses were off the scale so I waited as long as possible to end it out. Eventually everything cleared so I sent out the first one. Of course right after I sent it out, I got the fraudulent transaction alert. So I never sent out the second item to that one as well. A week later, I had the funds frozen for both. Surprisingly, they ended up ruling in my favor since I had complied with the rules. So in the end, I got the funds for 4 watches but only sent out 3.

    • SSSSShhhhh…that is one of the ebay secrets you should never post about. If enough people start doing it, ebay will catch on.

  • My buddy go scammed last week over trying to buy a used $1200 watch. He called ebay about the posting trying to get confidence that if the item was BS, he could get a refund. His credit card company said no way they’re liable. Well anyone that knows anything about ebay knows they dont have a phone number. Long story short he called them back and redeemed $1250 worth of ebay gift cards over the phone to an “ebay agent”. And then the posting wend dead and so did the phone number! sucker!

    • I don’t see a comment here from you – try again as it may have gone automatically to spam (but I don’t see it) or it never even posted! I always try to answer questions so give it another shot!

  • The problem with your idea of “Set a high bar in the auction for something like at least 4 positive feedback in the previous 4 months as the bar to meet to buy the item” is that ebay does not officially allow you to do this. And if you have an ebay store and cancel the purchase, if you do this more than once or twice your metrics will go below 95% and then ebay will double your selling fees. Unfortunately, anyone sells computers pretty much has to have an ebay store as the final value fee is only 4% instead of 10%.

    • You are correct with it but I have used it in the past as mainly a deterrent to those that may otherwise try. On occasion, you will get someone who does not mean it but will e-mail to ask if it is ok to bid/buy. I always feel better about that kind of buyer!

  • I downsized and was selling my childhood coin collection. I sent the coins, and the buyer claimed the coins weren’t in the envelope. The buyer sent me photos showing the cardboard I used to protect the coins. The silver residue in a circle was clearly visible, indicating the coins were sent. eBay ruled in my favor.

    I now attach photos of the packaging before shipping to let the buyer know I am on top of it and do not even think of scamming me. The photos have improved the issues.

  • I am dealing with this issue right now. The exact same one. I have copied this URL, the BBB URL and the Buyer Beware URL all showing that the address I sent my Iphone Pro 11 to as known scammers a third party mail forwarder to County of Georgia (unfortunately, too late). I finally accepted the return on the last day (yesterday) and sent a USPS label – Today I received an unordered package through DHL from I’m 100% sure (if you look it up- they use Rockauto like Amazon to scam you) that this is what they are going to put as the return tracking number on Ebay. Thanks to your post I am a little wiser- and instead of just opening it- I am taking it to the post office and opening it in front of witness (and on video) to verify that it obviously isn’t my phone. Thanks to taking the time to write this. It gives me hope that I won’t be out phone and money!

  • Thank you for this article! I just went through this exact thing and was lost in the forums and eBay customer service kept providing me different answers. I was about to provide a return label with shipping insurance to make sure my phone arrived intact or at least was insured so I could recoup the costs. I then found this article and stuck with the eBay label to keep things within their system. The jerk of a scammer then sent a 0.1lb UPS item to an address they found on a real estate site that was pending sale so eBay of course found in their favor. I appealed and won thanks to your advice.