Hi Mac lovers,

Winning an eBay auction for a high-end Mac is easy – the hard part is to make sure that both buyer and seller are secure as a lot of scams and stolen goods circulate on eBay. eBay states that only one in 10,000 auctions is fraudulent - what they fail to say is that most of these auctions are for low value items. Based on my own experience over 50% of auctions for high-value items such as Mac Laptops or digital cameras are scams.

For a safe transaction for both buyer and seller the following 3-step process has proven successful:

1. The exchange and verification of traceable address details

The buyer sends the seller his details (address and
landline number) first - this is to ensure the safety of the seller – burglars are using eBay too. Advertising an expensive item and telling the prospective buyer when you are at home and when not is a definite no-no.

The seller calls the buyer (but
not at a pre-arranged time as scamsters have been known to use other peoples phones – a mate, a girlfriend, etc) and verifies his identity. Only then the seller sends the buyer his details (again address and landline number), and the buyer calls the seller to verify his identity in return.

Tip: use
http://192.com to see if the buyer and seller are listed at their addresses. However this is not always successful – I am ex-directory as I don’t want burglars to be able to reverse lookup my address.

2. The provision of the Mac profile

Newer Macs have a very easy way to get all the relevant information – the seller should start up the Mac, click on the blue apple menu (top left) and select 'about this Mac'. In the window that pops up click on 'more info' - this starts the system profiler app and displays the system profile. Save the system profile (as a profile,
not as text) and send it to the buyer (this contains all the info including serial number). The buyer can check the system profile by opening it on another Mac.

Note: If it is a new Mac then you do not need to register it in order to set up a user and get the profile - just hit Apple-Q (hold down the Apple key and press q) and the registration process is skipped. It can be registered later by the buyer. I sometimes hear the objection that the Mac is new and the seller does not want to set up a user - this is simply irrelevant as the Mac is already sold and the buyer has a right to get the profile information. If everything is above board then there is no problem with providing the profile!

Then the buyer should check the serial number with the police (probably with the help of a friendly police man) and Apple to make sure the Mac has not been reported stolen.

Tip: check
here that the serial number corresponds with the machine description (this will not tell you if the machine has been stolen)

3. Pickup in person

This is the most tricky part. As a buyer you don’t want to end up with a stolen computer or bring a a lot of cash to what might just be a drug junkie wanting his next fix. As a seller you don’t want to end up with a stack of counterfeit money. Ideally you should proceed as follows:

The buyer should prepare and take with him a “Transfer of Ownership” document on which is stated the following:

• Seller: address & landline phone number & ID

• Buyer: address & landline phone number

• Item: description
including serial number

• Date

This document is important for two reasons: if the computer should later turn out to be stolen then you have documentary evidence where you got it from and hopefully will be able to get your money back from the seller. If your new computer should be stolen at a later date then you need proof of purchase for the insurance claim (don’t forget to put the computer on your insurance as a named item – many insurances don’t cover it otherwise and/or have a limit to how much they pay).

The buyer should then visit the seller, show him his ID and ask for the sellers ID in return – the “transfer of ownership document is only useful if the details are true!
Note the IDs on the “Transfer of ownership” document.

The buyer should start up the Mac, and
check that the serial number is indeed the one given to him and as stated on the “Transfer of Ownership” document. From now on the buyer should not let the computer out of his sight. If it happens (like he needs to go to the toilet) then he should check again – scams are known where the laptop is put in a cover and into a bag, then taken out again by the seller claiming “Oh, I still need the bag” ... when the buyer later opens the cover there is only a worthless piece of wood in there! The scam works by having two covers (one already in the bag ready to be swapped)!

With the Mac checked out buyer and seller should go to the sellers bank (
take the Mac with you – buyer remember: don’t let it out of your sight!). At the counter the seller signs and dates the “Transfer of ownership” document and the buyer pays the money into the sellers account. This completes the transaction.

If this ideal version is not possible then keep the following in mind:


• check out the computer – if you have any doubts about the seller and feel insecure then leave (maybe by pretending to get the money from the bank)

if you feel it is ok then go to the bank, get the money, and then check the computer again before parting with the cash


if you accept cash then buy a “Forged Note Detector Pen” - too many sellers have been caught out by this money laundering scheme, and I suspect a lot of "cheap" laptops on eBay (which aren't straight scams or stolen) came from deals like this.

Under no circumstances get badgered into transferring money by 'Western Union Money Transfer' - I just had a case where the scammer send me a fake email pretending to come from eBay that stated that I must transfer the money by Western Union or I'd be barred from trading. Do they think I'm stupid?

After reading all this you might think I’m paranoid. However
you aren’t paranoid if they really are out to get you – and believe me they are. So far I have won twelve auctions for a MacBook Pro – of those

one (in my home town) was not as described (had a french keyboard and some damage)
two were scams where the auction was removed by eBay after it finished and a warning send to me
one was run from a hacked account (as I found out when I contacted the seller via his eBay account)
in four auctions the “seller” broke off contact when I insisted on a verifiable address (so they were scams)
three more who send their address stopped responding when I told them that I would need a “Transfer of Ownership” document with their details and the laptops serial number on it (so were most likely stolen laptops)
and only one so far was ok (from a seller with 1391 positive feedbacks)

I have been trading on eBay for a long time, and unfortunately I was caught out badly a few years ago. eBay claims that only one in 10,000 auctions is fraudulent – what they fail to mention is that most of those 10,000 auctions are for low value items. In my experience over 80% of high-priced computer auctions are scams – so please have a look at my fraud warning page

I've now taken the step of running a continuous eBay auction with safe trading tips. If you found my tips helpful then I'd like to hear from you. I also appreciate any support that others can give in keeping he auctions running (happy to receive donations, old software, etc).

Safe trading

Dr. Markus Winter