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I have an item on sale on eBay for the relevant price of about 750€, I am having a hard time to sell that and I don't want to get rid of it for little money because of supply/demand law.

A buyer with decent positive reputation (60+), 100% positive feebacks and a recent successful purchase, has contacted me via eBay messaging to ask for installment payments, because they claim they don't have full money available at the moment. I was never asked to continue somewhere else (e.g. direct email, Whatsapp, Telegram...). Buyer is from my country and writes in a correct non-English national language.

Their proposal was to split the payment in 3 monthly installments, after which I could ship the item. The buyer may assume that we make a private, out-of-auction deal, which is against the rules of eBay, and is often requested by buyers. I asked for the preferred payment method between SEPA wire transfer and PayPal. They chose PayPal.

For both parties' safety, I had the following plan in my mind:

  1. Ask the buyer to win the auction by bidding, so it comes an official eBay purchase
  2. After deal is completed, private messages won't be redacted by eBay and we can exchange private contact information
  3. Via eBay messaging, I would disclose my PayPal email address
  4. Buyer pays for the first installment (1/3 of the total amount)
  5. eBay will charge me next month for auction fees, which are larger that 1/3 of the total amount
  6. Buyer continues to pay me until full settlement
  7. After settlement, I will ship the item with tracking delivery to the person/address identified in the PayPal payments

What possibly could go wrong?

I also have made a list of spare plans for my own safety.

  • If buyer doesn't pay first installment via direct PayPal payment at the first agreed deadline, I can ask eBay to restart the auction and claim full refund of fees. Buyer doesn't get the item
  • If buyer stops paying on second or last installment, we can try to politely discuss next steps. I could eventually restart auction with eBay and claim fee refund, or retain those fees from the amount I return to the buyer. Buyer doesn't get the item
  • I will triple-check (yes, that's triple) the destination address on every payment. They must come from the same PayPal account and must report the same name/address I will ship the item to. If the buyer tries to send me money from different accounts, I can decide to revert everything and put the item again on auction. Buyer doesn't get the item, I pay no additional fees
  • If the buyer tries to revert PayPal transfers after shipment this situation is no different from a straight single payment, as the bank may reverse credit card charges and leave me with the empty bag in any case. While a reputable account may be hacked, I consider the reputation as a positive factor. Buyer gets item and money in this scenario
  • I don't think this falls in the common Advance Fee Scam as the buyer is not asking me for money, and I always have the option to cancel the deal if they ask for some. See related Q&A
  • I don't have reasons to believe falls in the common Money Laundering scam both because the account is reputable and I am not going to ship an item earlier than full payment, not to expect any kind of overpayment, and I am ready to report any case of future overpayment to PayPal to seek help. See related Q&A

And if for some reason I get more money on my PayPal, I am ready to never send it to another address or buy Bitcoins (the buyer never mentioned any overpayment)

Some research:

Is this Paypal request a potential scam - Indeed, I have received a direct request. But the buyer never asked me to send direct PayPal request. Come on, I think it's very paranoid to suspect of any private message. And I said that banks may reverse credit card payments even on legitimate sales

How to protect yourself from fraud when selling on eBay UK - Fully agreed and following advices. Actually this is about general safety in eBay sales and does not only apply to installment payments

eBay Q&A - The answer says "DO NOT SEND" a paypal invoice for partial amount. Likely. This all is likely not within the rules of eBay, but nor against, so we are in a grey zone. I assume that as soon as eBay gets their own fees they will have nothing to discuss with me. And while the answer says that in caps, it doesn't explain why not to send. And that's not my intention to send partial invoices which could cause unwanted problems later.

My current conclusion

Currently, I have no yellow or red flag here. I don't see ways for this buyer to get both my item and their money. No way that can't be perpetrated with a regular one-time PayPal payment (see literature on reverse charges and false claims by buyers). But since I never experienced such a situation, it looks anomalous and is alerting me.

Question

In order to review my case with the community, I would like to ask:

Is there anything fishy or, particularly, a common scam pattern in this?

From the financial standpoint, not (just) my compliance to eBay rules, can I risk losing money/item?

Could be there something I may have overlooked?

I am asking this question to better understand possible outcomes.

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    it's a total scam, forget it
    – Fattie
    Sep 24, 2020 at 13:03
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    Please provide arguments. I asked where could the scam pattern lie Sep 24, 2020 at 13:28
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    there is absolutely no possible reason, whatsoever, that a buyer would need or want to use "installments" from the seller to buy on ebay. ipso facto: a scam. (there are endless scams involing "getting payments from someone" - read the details of scores on this site.) you are in an utterly identical situation as if someone "from Nigeria" wants to "send you money". it's a "send you money" scam
    – Fattie
    Sep 24, 2020 at 14:10
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    What is the "offer/demand law?" Do you mean supply & demand? The fact that you're having trouble moving the item suggests that there is little, if any, demand at the price point you've set, so "supply & demand" would suggest you should lower your price.
    – Steve-O
    Sep 24, 2020 at 14:15
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    There's a fairly common pattern with scams, where people go "I think this might be a scam, but I think I'm protected". Remember, these folks probably do this for a living. There's a very good chance that "I think I'm protected" really means "I've missed a loophole". If it has the scent of a scam - and this one definitely does - quit while you're ahead. They're preying on your desire to get above-market price for the item, which is getting you to do logic contortions like "This all is likely not within the rules of eBay, but nor against, so we are in a grey zone." You are not in a grey zone.
    – ceejayoz
    Sep 24, 2020 at 14:52

6 Answers 6

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Here's a useful test for these sorts of situations: put yourself in their shoes and think if their actions are reasonable. If you are afraid of being scammed by this person, why aren't they also afraid of getting scammed by you?

In other words, if you really wanted something on ebay but could not afford it, would you come up with this convoluted transaction method with a complete stranger? Personally, I would be terrified of paying off the item only to have the seller disappear with my money. I would be afraid of not having any recourse since it is no longer an ebay transaction.

There is an obvious explanation for why they don't appear to have any fear about this transaction: they are scammers. Are there other explanations? Sure, it's always possible. But the vast VAST majority of the time it's a scam. It doesn't need to make sense. It doesn't need to fit a pattern.

Is there anything fishy or, particularly, a common scam pattern in this?

The con in conman is short for confidence. Conman schemes work because they are experts in the marketing technique of "foot in the door". The whole point of the initial conversation is to find a mark who isn't turned off by strange requests. They want to gain your confidence.

Here's the problem with trying to fit what you know to a common scam pattern: that part comes later after you are already invested.

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  • That is a very useful explanation Sep 24, 2020 at 16:03
  • The buyer's explanation (they didn't disclose age or profession) is that they don't have the money readily available on the (credit? debit? prepaid?) card Sep 24, 2020 at 16:04
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Other people's problems (I don't have the money right now) are not your problem. The item is not attracting many bids. OK, so it's likely to still be on the market when this person has saved up the money they need to buy it. They claim to worry someone else will buy it before them? What do you care? You just want to sell it. Really sell it, not maybe-sell-it-maybe-not-I-won't-know-for-3-months. You are tempted to take their offer because you think no-one else will buy it and this is the closest you'll get to selling it. But if that were the case, this person wouldn't need to lock you in now, would they?

If it is in fact overpriced and no-one will ever pay you 750 for it, this person should not need to buy it now even though they don't have the money (which means they are in fact almost certainly trying a scam of some sort, using your worry no-one will ever buy it.) And if it's not overpriced and there will be other buyers, then you don't need to take their offer. Either way, it's a no thanks.

To be specific, thank them for their interest and tell them you look forward to selling it to them when they've saved up the full price.

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  • The buyer might consider 750€ to be an amazing deal, which is why they want to lock the seller in. In an illiquid market like this, neither the buyer nor the seller can know whether there's going to be one or three people interested in the item in the coming year.
    – TooTea
    Aug 24, 2022 at 15:29
  • Sure, but what's the benefit to the seller of taking this deal? If someone else offers (and actually has) 750 before this person saves it up, that's a benefit to the seller, who sells at the desired price without having to wait as long. If no-one does, well then it will be available for this buyer still. Aug 24, 2022 at 21:30
  • Well, there's a chance that someone else will list a second similar item in the meantime, perhaps for a lower price, and OP will then be left with no buyers. It's purely a matter of risk vs reward; having the buyer close the deal now but pay later locks them in as they can't change their mind without getting punished by eBay.
    – TooTea
    Aug 24, 2022 at 23:13
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I disagree with the other answers on here. Though very unorthodox, the item might be unique enough for the buyer to want it off eBay while they come up with the funds. As a buyer, I would never trust the seller with this arrangement, but this is none of the seller's concern.

From the steps proposed so far, there's no way that the buyer can scam the seller of their item or money. Automatically assuming this is a scam is a bit paranoid and is not backed by any evidence presented so far.

Having said that, if the seller wants to go down this road, they should be VERY, VERY, VERY careful and back down as soon as the buyer proposes something the seller cannot protect themselves from; so far the seller has shown the competence to recognize such a situation.

Note: If the payments are going to be made over PayPal, make sure the buyer categorizes it as "personal" (no buyer protection). These payments are irreversible and the buyer has no recourse to file any complaints with PayPal afterwards.

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  • Scammers are good at finding ways to scam you that look as if scamming is impossible. Solution: Don’t deviate from the normal process.
    – gnasher729
    Aug 28, 2022 at 15:22
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Just give them time to save up and pay later.

There are two possible reasons why the buyer would come up with a payment plan like this:

  • They don't have the money now but they really really want the item (perhaps the item is hard to come by, perhaps 750€ is actually a great deal). The buyer thinks that paying you a third now is the way to lock you in so that you don't sell it to somebody else before they get all the money together.
  • They're planning to scam you somehow.

You said you're struggling to find buyers. OK, then why not just take this offer and wait until the buyer can pay you in full in one transaction?

Just send the buyer a message along the lines of:

Thank you for your offer but I don't think this installments plan is safe enough for both of us. Just go ahead and buy the item. If you send me the 750€ at any point in the coming three months, I will send you the item. If I don't receive the money by the end of the third month, I will cancel your bid and put the item up for sale again.

If they are a scammer, they will lose interest now. If they genuinely want the item, paying you in one go is actually safer for them. Just make it clear that they can trust you that you will patiently wait for them.

The worst thing that can happen to you is a 3-month delay in selling the item. Sounds acceptable for something that's already hard to sell. (Well, I assume you don't desperately need the money now.)

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Never take an installment plan over the internet

This is almost certainly a scam. Why?

  1. They contacted you directly and want to bypass eBay - red flag.

  2. As you've already pointed out, the buyer could back-out and demand his money back. This sounds like a new form of of the we overpaid scam, where they overpay and request money that was never theirs back.

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    But the buyer can pay full 750€ + shipping, get the item, and claim money back. However, paying price + shipping is what happens 99.9999% on eBay, without requiring to write private messages. This is where the proposal doesn't make sense to me as a scam Sep 24, 2020 at 16:01
  • Also, I was not yet asked to bypass eBay. I assumed/speculated that the buyer might, in the next steps, propose to bypass ebay (red flag). Sep 24, 2020 at 16:03
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What's the worst that can happen? If you let him pay "in instalments" you are likely to lose your 750 Euro item. If you don't sell to him you keep your item. Assume the worst will happen, when anyone thinks they need to deviate from normal practices.

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