How to Buy a Notebook on eBay (and other online marketplaces)

by Reads (81,256)

by Perry Longinotti, Alberta Canada

How to Buy a Notebook On eBay (and other online marketplaces)

Last year we wrote an article on buying a used notebook and why you might want to consider this as a reasonable alternative to buying new. At the time buying a notebook online, most notably from, was mentioned in the article but I felt it would be hard to do the topic justice in a paragraph or two. Many people have since requested a guide so we have collected the common wisdom of a few eBay and online marketplace addicts into a single source and are offering it you today – free of charge! Hopefully this will be a case of getting something for nothing.

We have scoured through posts in the forums to create a list of questions as well as common themes that pop up when people discuss buying from online auctions and forums. From this we have put together a list of recommendations that should help you get the most from your purchase. Some of these suggestions are universal, but we are attempting to keep things topical.

As with any transaction there is an element of risk when bidding on an online auction or buying from a forum posting. If you have been led to believe the claims of online insurance, the degree of risk might actually surprise you. But if you take proper precautions you should be safe.

This guide is by no means comprehensive, but we will update the article based on your feedback. Post questions in the discussion thread in the forums and they will be answered there, or in an update to this article.

Checking out an online auction product

How can I be sure that a notebook is OK without seeing it in person?

It is possible to make a sound purchase decision online. In general here are some pitfalls to avoid:

  • Description: Good sellers provide detailed descriptions of their products – not just cut and paste jobs from the manufacturer website. If a seller purposely leaves out details that could make a product that they are selling more desirable, then it is highly likely that they would leave out details that would detract from an item’s desirability.

  • Model number traps: There are often numerous versions of notebook models and these will usually have varying specifications. One model might have Bluetooth where another might not. Make sure you have done your research.

  • Condition and accessories: Carefully review the list of what is included in the auction. Clarify the condition of everything you are buying. Some of the things you should look for:
  • How long does the battery last?
  • How was it used?
  • Original owner?
  • Are original accessories included?
  • Is all the bundled software included?
  • Is the screen bright?
  • Are there any dead pixels?
  • Is there a valid serial sticker (COA)?
  • Is the screen hinge solid?
  • Are there cracks or creaks?
  • Are the keyboard keys worn?
  • Does it get hot?
  • How loud is the cooling?
  • Do all the plugs work?
  • Is the operating system included?
  • Repair history?

  • Blurry pictures: Blurry pictures mean that the seller is hiding something – most of the time. If all you have is a picture to base your decision on, and you can not make out details, should you be disappointed with your item if it arrives in rough shape? Blurry pictures mean the seller is incompetent or hiding something – neither is a good quality in a person that you will be sending money to.

  • Short descriptions: Another way to obfuscate a transaction is to provide little information. How can you be disappointed with a deal if you were never sure exactly what you were getting?

  • Language barrier: This is not a barrier. If you can not understand someone’s description and they can not articulate answers to your questions, why would you buy from them?

  • Warranty: A seller may mention that their product has warranty, but make sure that this is transferable. Also make sure that it is valid in your territory (this is only an issue for cross border shopping). Dell offers its users the ability to look up warranty by service tag or express service code (unique ID similar to a serial number). Dell’s service in this regard is among the best — users can transfer ownership (domestic and international) and even report a stolen computer.

  • Ask lots of questions: The above points can be ameliorated by asking good questions. If a seller is not responsive before they have your money, how responsive will they be after you pay them? Be wary of anyone that can not give you the answer you want. Only use the eBay message system to initiate correspondence. Sellers that ask you to diverge from eBay’s system should be avoided.

Spotting a scam

Wow, there are a lot of notebooks for sale on eBay and some of them are new. Why would anyone legitimately sell anything for less than the current cost in stores?

Lots of individuals and groups turn to eBay to sell products. In addition to the average Joe selling a single item that they do not want anymore, you have companies that liquidate off-lease business equipment, sellers of distressed inventory and normal shops that use eBay to access a broader market.

Why would anyone sell a new unopened item online for less than it cost to buy in a store?

The real question is, what makes you think the price that you see in the store is a good price? Just because you and I can walk into a store and buy something for a certain price does not mean that everyone else would get the same price. Some people have more purchasing power because they buy greater volume, or have access to rebates and discounts that we do not get. A price that seems low is not always a sure sign of a scam, but temper this with the fact that something that seems too good to be true usually is.

Why does eBay or any online selling forum allow scams?

They don’t. The problem is that these virtual marketplaces have grown so immensely vast that it is impossible to completely vanquish all the scammers. Sadly, at least one person must usually succumb to a new scam before it is reported. Once a scam has been discovered, they are usually pretty good at cracking down before too much damage is done. The folks at eBay are not pre-cognizant.

eBay encourages its members to report suspected frauds. If you see something that looks like a scam you should report it – eBay has people dedicated to dealing with frauds.

Online market places are trickier to police, but good ones will have a area dedicated to ‘outing’ scam artists and descriptions of their modus operandi. There is less of a safety net against scams in these settings so you owe it to yourself to do some research.

The seller has good feedback, is that enough?

Feedback is a great tool for quickly summing up the type of character that you are about to deal with. It takes a while to earn a nice feedback rating and honest sellers will go to great lengths to keep theirs blemish free. A good feedback rating is a good start.

In addition to the feedback ratings on eBay which are earned by successfully completing transactions, there are services such as Heatware ( which allow sellers and buyers to leave feedback for each other. There are ways to spoof positive feedback so don’t let someone’s 100% feedback dazzle you until you consider the following.

Who have they been selling to?

It is possible to create multiple online accounts and buy/sell to one’s self or have friends boost your feedback. This is particularly true with feedback that is not integrated into the actual transaction mechanism. An example is  Heatware, where buyers and sellers are really on the honor system. You want to look at who has been dealing with the person you plan to buy from and see what their feedback is like.

What have they been selling?

A common technique employed by scammers seeking to inflate their seller feedback is to sell lots of small items and make the buyers of these low prices items very happy.   Doing this achieves a good feedback and what appears to be a long list of successful transactions. The scammer then lists a large number of expensive items. Anyone looking at one of these auctions that does not probe into the sellers feedback runs the risk of being taken. After time the details of an eBay auction are lost and it becomes impossible for you to know what the seller’s previous transactions were. This is one area where Heatware feedback is much better than eBay’s.

Related to the fake feedback scam is the hijacked seller account. eBay has been around long enough that there are many dormant accounts. Through a variety of methods (usually eBay phishing emails asking unsuspecting eBay users to correct account details), scammers can obtain the user id and passwords to these accounts and exploit them to scam people. What are the odds that a seller that has been selling ceramic horse statues for a few years would suddenly switch to selling notebooks? Sure, anything is possible but can you afford to lose your money? If not, stick to a safe seller.

What can I do to avoid falling prey to a feedback scam?

First, read the sellers history. A little research goes a long way. You can also be part of the solution too. Upon completing a smooth transaction the best thing you can do for fellow buyers and sellers is leave detailed feedback. For example if I buy a PowerBook on eBay leaving a comment like, “A+++++++ Great communication, fast shipping” is not as helpful as saying “15-inch PowerBook worked great! Thanks for the great transaction!”

I found a great price and the seller checks out – I am going to buy right away!

Although technically not a scam, one of the approaches to selling that I have seen more and more is a low price for an item – usually with a ‘Buy it Now’ option, accompanied by an outrageous shipping fee. This is to catch impulse buyers.

Impulse buying is human nature. From the magazine stands and candy bins near grocery store checkouts to the one click buy of Amazon and the Apple store, this behavior has been known to marketers for years. Under certain conditions we will buy things with out thinking. One of those conditions is fear of missing out on a good deal.

You need to train yourself to avoid this impulse. Instant gratification for deal hunters is better obtained in the bargain bins of big box stores.

In online auctions you will often find the best deals not in the ‘auctions ending soon’ zone, but rather the newly listed area. Here you have a lot of time to think about the deal and ask questions. Any auction that has a buy it now option is best spotted by sorting the list to show new stuff first. Many sellers want a quick and painless sale so they will post a buy it now price less than the market value. The default view on eBay is to show auctions ending soon. Not a lot of people look at the new auctions first so you have a bit more time to perform your diligence. Take time to research the seller and the item.

By this point you should be a position to make an informed and safe buying decision. You know how to check products and people out, and basic scams won’t catch you.

What is the safest way to pay?

It surely is not any form of check, money order or money transfer! You have to keep in mind that there is risk for the seller in accepting these payment methods. Why would they accept risk? There are exceptions but for the most part you should be wary of paying (or accepting payment if you are selling) using any form of payment that does not have some form of insurance. Many credit cards have insurance and PayPal has purchase protection – with some qualification exceptions.

When factoring in the value of insurance, keep in mind that just because there is a process to settle claims it does not mean that you will like the outcome…

If the deal goes sour will I get my money back?

Maybe. It depends on where you bought the item and if you are covered by some form of insurance. This can come from the web site, the payment method and even some third party offerings.

Insured transactions:  Keep in mind that online purchase insurance is designed to protect both parties. You may be sure that you have been scammed but eBay/PayPal as the intermediary has to insure that they are fair to both parties. In general buyer and seller insurance is focused on providing remedies to scams or lost merchandise. Proving that something is different than what you thought you were buying is really tough, especially if the description is short and followed by an ‘as is’ or ‘final sale’ statement. In an auction it is generally considered that a lack of information on a listing is factored into the selling price. Ask all your questions before bidding.

In situations where you clearly did not get what you paid for you may be able to file a partial or full claim depending on where you bought the item.

Uninsured transactions:  Some online auction and transaction processing companies will attempt to recover your funds even the sale was not insured. Buyers usually have to wait a while before filing a claim and getting their money – both eBay and PayPal have mandatory wait periods before they will take action. Unfortunately this is a lot longer than it takes to empty out a PayPal account. Many people have been disappointed to learn that yes, they deserve to get their money back but PayPal could not recover the funds for you.

Claims are met with a healthy does of skepticism unless you can prove that you were slighted. As a buyer it can be frustrating dealing with this, but from a seller’s perspective it makes a lot of sense. Sellers have rights too.

This all sounds scary, why would I buy from an online auction or marketplace?

Buying and selling online can instantly grant you access to items not available where you live or vastly increase the possible market for an item you are selling. Only you can decide if the benefits outweigh the costs. Once you have done this a few times you will get a feel for how these deals work and it should become easier to spot scams.

Buyers – stick to trusted sellers with lots of feedback, preferably in multiple online selling venues. Make sure that you read descriptions carefully and bid only after your questions are answered.

Sellers – diversify your seller feedback. In addition to eBay, you should definitely consider Heatware as well as feedback from any forum that you frequent on a regular basis.

Don’t let this article scare you. The vast majority of online transactions are trouble free.

Is it a lot of work to make sure that the person you are dealing with on an item is not a scam artist? Yes, but it’s also a lot of work earning the money to buy the item. An ounce of prevention… 

If you have any questions about buying on eBay or an online marketplace, post them on the discussion board.

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