For the last week, I have been trying to sell my old laptop on eBay. I'm on my third auction so far, and I'll explain why.
I listed my laptop last Saturday, and when I got up Sunday morning I saw that the auction had ended because someone paid the "Buy it now" price. I thought that was great -- I could get my money and ship the laptop and be done with the auction without waiting the full seven days. I noticed that the winning bidder had just registered his eBay account that day, which concerned me a little.
The guy wrote me an email, and in it he said he lived in the UK (my auction said I would ship internationally), but that the laptop was purchased as a gift for someone in Nigeria. Now whenever I hear the word "Nigeria" I think "scam." But he went on to say he'd pay with Western Union Bidpay in advance of my shipment, and wanted to know the shipping charge.
I went to FedEx's web site and spent half an hour reading the instructions for international shipping. I had never shipped internationally before, and found that it is, oh, about a hundred times more complicated than shipping in the US. And depending on the destination country and what you're shipping, it's perhaps two hundred times more complicated. On their site they mentioned that you may need an export license, and FedEx isn't going to be responsible for telling you if you do, but they gave a link to some US gonvernment web site where, if are very patient, you can figure that out. I figured out (I think) that if I want to send a computer to Nigeria I need an export license. I wouldn't need one to send to, say, the UK, but I do for Nigeria (if I'm reading it correctly).
So I write back to the buyer and explain this. I tell him that I can't ship to Nigeria, and gave him two options: either he provides a UK address I can ship to instead, or we can mutually agree to end the transaction. But I can't ship the computer to Nigeria. His response was another plea to ship to Nigeria, and a complicated explanation of his situation and why the computer has to go to Nigeria. So I wrote him back a "bitch I told you!" email and decided to re-list.
I relisted the laptop again on Tuesday, and this time I specified that I would only ship to the US. The next day, eBay is telling me the auction is over because someone purchased it with "Buy it now." Great, I thought. Only, the new buyer has zero feedback and has just created his eBay account. Sure enough, when I check my email, I've got another story about how this laptop is being purchased for someone in Nigera. So I told this idiot that I put in my auction listing that I won't ship internationally, and that he should screw off.
Today, I relisted again, and this time I found that I could make eBay require that bidders have a PayPal account and not be registered in any foreign country. Maybe that will help, I figured. It has so far -- the auction has been open all day and no one has bid yet (which, strangely, is a good thing in my case).
What was killing me was that I knew this send-the-laptop-to-Nigeria thing was some kind of scam, but how? How does this guy benefit by paying me and having me ship to Nigeria instead of somewhere else?
Well I did a little Googling (which I should have done initially) and found this page called Beware of Fraud: eBay purchase for Nigeria using Bidpay (Western Union). Had I continued with this buyer, the scam would have been to send me a fake email from Western Union saying that the money had been given to them, but that they wouldn't release it to me until I gave them the tracking number of the item (meaning I had to ship it before receiving my money). This, of course, would only work if I was a moron, because the fake Western Union emails it says come from free webmail addresses.
The best part of the page was reading about this guy who got a bidder just like me who wanted to ship to Nigeria. Only, in this guy's case, the bidder sent him a prepaid FedEx shipping label to send the item to Nigeria. Then the guy discovers it's a scam, and decides to use that label to send the scammer a box full of concrete pavers, cat litter, dog shit, and a dead squirrel. Pure genius. And he tool pictures of the box before sealing it up. I should have pressed my buyer for a prepaid shipping label and done the same.