For Seniors: What You Can’t Sell on eBay

9 of 11 in Series: For Seniors: The Essentials of Using eBay

While the majority of items sold on eBay are aboveboard, you can’t just sell anything on eBay. eBay forbids listings that are either illegal (in the eyes of the government) or prohibited by eBay’s rules and regulations. In either case, eBay steps in, calls a foul, and makes the item’s listing invalid.

Three categories of items can get you into trouble on eBay. Sometimes an item is okay to own but not to sell. Other times the item is prohibited from being sold and possessed. To complicate matters even more, some items may be legal in one part of the United States but not in others. Or an item may be illegal in the United States but legal in other countries.

  • Prohibited lists the items that may not be sold on eBay under any circumstances. You may not even offer to give away a prohibited or an infringing item — that’s right, it’s off limits even if it’s “for free” — nor can you give away a questionable item that eBay disallows; giving it away doesn’t relieve you of potential liability.

  • Questionable lists the items that may be sold under certain conditions. Just be quite sure that you know exactly what those conditions are.

  • Potentially Infringing lists the types of items that may be in violation of copyrights, trademarks, or other rights.

Items that you absolutely cannot sell on eBay can fit into all three categories. Those items can be legally ambiguous at best — not to mention potentially risky and all kinds of sticky.

eBay-prohibited items

To find a detailed description of which items are prohibited on the eBay Web site, click the Policies link, which is on the bottom of all eBay pages, and you arrive at the friendly eBay Policies page. Scroll to the Prohibited and Restricted items link and click. You see lists and links that help you decipher whether selling your item falls within eBay’s policy boundaries.

Understand that prohibited on eBay does not necessarily mean illegal. Even though possessing (and selling) many of the items in eBay’s prohibited list is legal in the United States and elsewhere, you are absolutely, positively prohibited from buying and selling them on eBay.

Ignorance of the Prohibited list is no excuse. If you list an item that’s in any way prohibited on eBay, eBay will end your auction. If you have any questions, always check eBay’s Trust & Safety department.

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Items considered questionable by eBay

Check eBay’s policies regarding questionable items. Because some items are prohibited in one place and not another, eBay lists a few items that you can trade but that are restricted and regulated. As a member of eBay, you’re responsible for knowing the laws and restrictions in your area — as well as those on the eBay Web site. It may be illegal to sell certain items (such as event tickets or alcohol) in one geographic area but not in another.

eBay-designated infringing items

Recognize that eBay prohibits the selling of infringing items on its site. Profiting from a copy of someone else’s legally owned intellectual property is an infringement violation. Infringement, also known as piracy, is the encroachment on another person’s legal ownership rights on an item, a trademark, or a copyright.

Trademark and copyright protection don’t just cover software, music, and movies. Clothing, toys, sunglasses, and books are among the items covered by law. Intellectual property owners actively defend their rights and, along with help from average eBay users, continually tip off eBay to fraudulent and infringing auctions. Rights owners can use eBay’s Verified Rights Owner (VeRO) program, as well as law-enforcement agencies.

Other items forbidden on eBay

Forbidden items make up another category you need to recognize. The following items are definitely forbidden:

  • Raffles and prizes: You need to sell something in your auction; you can’t offer tickets or chances for a giveaway.

  • Want ads: If you want something, you have to search for it. Don’t try to run your needs as an ad thinly disguised as an auction. Visit eBay’s Want-It-Now section and legally post your wants and needs there.

  • Advertisements: An eBay auction is not the place to make a sales pitch (other than attractive copy describing your item, that is). Some eBay bad guys list an auction and then use the auction to send bidders to some other auction or Web site.

    The Real Estate category is one exception to the no-advertisements rule. You can run an ad there for your property. You can also use a Classified Ad listing format in some other categories. Visit the Ad Format Fees page for more information.

  • Bait-and-switch tactics: These are a variation on the old sales technique of pretending to sell what you’re not really selling, and then tricking the buyer into shelling out for something pricier. Some eBay users who are selling an unfamiliar brand of item try to snag bidders by putting a more familiar brand in the title. For example, writing Designer Chanel purse — not really, but a lot like it! is a fake-out. eBay calls that little trick keyword spamming.

  • Mixing apples with oranges: This one tries to attract more bidders to view an item by putting it in a high-traffic category where it doesn’t belong. eBay will move the item for you, if necessary, but keeping that rutabaga recipe book away from the list of automotive repair manuals is more considerate.

  • Catalogs: “Buy my catalog so that you can buy more stuff from me!” If it’s only a booklet that shows off all the cool junk you’re selling, you can’t offer it as an auction item.

Chances are good that if you try one of these scams, you’ll get caught. Then eBay cancels the listing. Do it once, and shame on you. Do it a lot, and you’re no longer welcome on eBay.

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