The "Fake Tracking Number" scam perpetrated by bad sellers isn't new, but I happened to have been contacted by several eBay buyers in the past 2 weeks complaining about it. Unfortunately it may have consequences for sellers in a way you might not have considered.
Here's how the scam works, as described by a reader:
"You buy an item (usually a low cost ink cartridge) and the seller marks it as shipped, but does not upload tracking.
"After the expected date has passed, you file an INR (Item Not Received claim). The seller uploads USPS tracking, which shows delivery to YOUR zip. so, you lose your INR case as the item shows delivered.
"Now, if you file a lost mail claim with USPS, you get back an email stating that the tracking number is associated with an item to someone else's address - and it was correctly delivered."
The reader said eBay filed in favor of the seller.
Another buyer I spoke to was so disgusted when it happened to him *twice* that he said he's rethinking buying things on eBay - that's one obvious way the scam harms good sellers.
But the reader who sent the above explanation went on to say:
"My suggestion is to NOT claim INR, but actually claim SNAD (Significantly Not as Described), which will force the seller to issue a shipping label or you get your refund. They can't very well say you are lying because they never shipped anything in the first place!!!"
While it's understandable why the reader is tempted to file a false claim, it means sellers who legitimately fulfill orders that are subsequently lost or stolen could suffer, not only for that order, but they'll get black marks on their record.
In 2015, a reader emailed us about the problem of fake tracking numbers
. At the time, the reader advised buyers to get proof from the USPS that the fake tracking number is going to a different address - "You can then provide this information to PayPal or eBay, and the case or appeal will be granted to the buyer."
The reader had also written, "So what is PayPal and eBay doing about this? Not much yet, but the technology is there now from USPS and hopefully they will cooperate together to make this information more easily obtainable to combat seller fraud."
So why six years later are we still hearing from buyers who were defrauded in this manner and reporting that eBay ruled in the sellers' favor?
The clincher, though, is this story from 2019
about a pair of sellers accused by the Department of Justice of perpetrating fraud using the fake tracking number scam. And it wasn't eBay that uncovered the fraud, despite the government alleging $64,000 in losses involving 506 victims.
"The scheme was uncovered when postal customers all over the United States received priority mail packages containing random items of no value and contacted their local police departments and post offices," according to the DOJ.
Will online marketplaces and shipping carriers ever solve this problem?