How I almost got scammed selling my old iPod Touch on eBay

Looking to sell your old gadgets online for some extra cash? Read this true-life tale and learn the warning signs of a scam artist.

Dan Ackerman Editorial Director / Computers and Gaming
Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications. "Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times
Expertise I've been testing and reviewing computer and gaming hardware for over 20 years, covering every console launch since the Dreamcast and every MacBook...ever. Credentials
  • Author of the award-winning, NY Times-reviewed nonfiction book The Tetris Effect; Longtime consumer technology expert for CBS Mornings
Dan Ackerman
4 min read
Sarah Tew/CNET

After reading a recent article about places to sell unwanted consumer electronics online, I decided to look through my semivintage gear for items to recycle for some spare cash.

I located my original 16GB first-generation iPod Touch, purchased via Apple's Web site the week it was announced in 2007. Having barely been used in at least the past two years, it was in mint condition, and after carefully resetting it to the factory state (thereby wiping my apps and data), it was time to find a new home for my iPod Touch.

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After checking out various resale sites such as Gazelle.com, which offered my $43 for my device, I snapped a couple of photos and put it up on eBay, with a minimum bid of around $95 and a Buy it Now price of $150. That seemed in line with what other similar units were selling for, which made sense, considering the least expensive current new model was an 8GB one for $199.

Until the last day of my auction, I had only a single bid, but I knew from previous experience most bidders jumped in at the last minute (as I did several years ago when purchasing my prized JVC Videosphere TVs). The hour before my auction ended, the bids started coming in, first past $100, then $125, to finally settle at $147.50.

Even though I was out socializing after work, I quickly dropped the winning bidder (who had a decent amount of positive feedback) a note, and directed him to my PayPal account. (Actually trying to get anything done through PayPal is an entire story by itself--if eBay looks like a Web site five years out of date, than sister company PayPal's Web site is like a medieval torture device.)

I quickly got a response from by winning bidder, and I was ready to declare this an almost entirely positive experience. But, several things about my winning bidder's response gave me pause.

1. He responded from a different (but similar) e-mail address to the one on his eBay account.

2. He offered an exorbitant unsolicited shipping fee, even though my auction post clearly said free shipping.

3. The actual name on the ship-to address provided did not match either of the bidder's supposed e-mail addresses.

4. One of the two e-mail addresses used gave zero returns in a Google search. The second had a single search result, from a Nigerian message board site--a red flag if there ever was one.

Putting all these clues together, I had already decided to cancel the sale by the time I got home to check my e-mail, although I still wondered if I was perhaps overreacting.

Fortunately, I didn't have an opportunity to second-guess myself, because three hours after my auction ended, eBay sent me the following automated message:

Hello Dan
We recently learned that someone was using an account to bid on items without the account owner's permission. For this reason, we have canceled all bids on the following listing:

[ID number removed] - Apple iPod touch 1st Gen (16 GB) -- Mint Condition!

All associated fees have been credited to your account. Please note that we're working with the account owner to prevent any additional unauthorized activity.

Your listing may be eligible for relisting through My eBay. If your listing is eligible, you'll see it in your Unsold Items page within My eBay. Listings that aren't eligible for relisting won't appear in the Unsold Items page.

If you have any concerns or questions, you can contact us by clicking "Help" at the top of any eBay page.

We're sorry for any inconvenience, and we thank you for your patience and cooperation.

eBay Customer Support

What's the takeaway from the whole affair? First, eBay deserves praise for discovering the problem quickly, and moving decisively to fix it.

Second, despite the credit eBay deserves for stopping the transaction before I could, I'm not likely to give it another shot. Since my product listing, along with the actual bids, photos, and description were also erased, my only option would be to rebuild the listing from scratch. And why go through that effort again if I'm just as likely to get another phony bid?

Still, both eBay and I did our due diligence and came to the same conclusion--and anyone selling or buying something on eBay (or Craigslist, etc.) would be wise to be just as careful.

As for my mint condition first-gen 16GB iPod Touch--like a bad penny, I suppose I'm stuck with it. Perhaps I'll make a little wall mount for itand turn it into a full-time weather station or Pandora streaming-media center.