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How to Deal with Weird Number & Finance Requests from eBay Buyers

Published at Mar 03, 2017.

Just when you think you’re going to have a nice, normal day of work, you find out an eBay buyer wants something totally unexpected: a discount, a VAT receipt, or even your phone number. Here’s what to do about some of the weirdest requests eBay sellers get:

Last updated 1/14/2020.

eBay Buyer Wants IMEI Number

Holding a Smartphone

If you sell used cellphones, a buyer will eventually ask you for an IMEI number. This puts you in a tough spot.

Getting an IMEI number can give a buyer a lot of peace of mind. It’s commonly recommended as a way to avoid buying a stolen phone. In fact, buyers often hear that if a seller refuses to give out this number, it means they’ve stolen the phone.

From the seller’s side, giving out an IMEI number is a huge risk. Some sellers have lost their phones’ usability to hackers after giving the IMEI out to criminals masquerading as potential bidders.

The safest bet is to only give the IMEI number to someone who has already paid for the phone. Explain to anyone who asks that you cannot give out the IMEI due to the risk of hacking and remind them that eBay and PayPal protect their purchases. You take all the risks as the seller—the buyer will get their money back if they end up with a bad phone.

All of the advice above is for legitimate sellers with usable phones. If you sell stolen phones, cease immediately and turn yourself in to the nearest police officer.

eBay Buyer Wants Serial Number

If an eBay buyer asks for the serial number on something other than a phone (see the section on IMEI numbers above for that), it’s usually pretty safe to give out. However, the buyer could file a false police report using the serial number and try to convince the cops you have their “stolen” item.

Most buyers who ask for a serial number just want to check specifications with the manufacturer. For example, the first two digits in the serial number of a Schecter guitar specify the year in which it was made. That kind of info can make a big difference, especially in an auction.

So, if I were to sell my guitar (perish the thought!) the buyer might want to know the serial number so they could see its year of manufacture. However, they wouldn’t need the whole serial number—they’d just need to know that the first two digits are 09.

If you don’t want to give out the entire serial number, you can just send them the important parts. But I do recommend sending the entire thing if you feel secure in doing so. For example, if you have the receipt for the purchase, there isn’t much to worry about.

Why would sending the whole serial number ever be a good idea? Since it allows buyers to check police records and make sure it isn’t stolen, it makes you look more trustworthy. It also serves as useful documentation if a dastardly buyer switches out the item you sent for a faulty model and then attempts return fraud.

eBay Buyer Wants VAT Receipt


VAT (Value Added Tax) is a sales tax for the European Union. Just like any other online sales tax, you can’t charge it unless you’ve registered with the appropriate authorities.

If you’re registered for the VAT, you can provide the appropriate invoice by following eBay’s instructions here.

If you aren’t registered for the VAT, then you can’t provide a VAT receipt. You should speak to a tax professional about how to proceed. Thankfully, you can do this at no cost! Sellers can get free VAT help from eBay's tax consulting partner, KPMG, by following these instructions.

You shouldn’t sell to countries in the EU unless you are registered to collect VAT with that country’s authorities. This Quaderno article explains the legal intricacies involved.

eBay Buyer Wants Discount

If someone orders from several of your listings and then asks for a reduced shipping rate, see “eBay Buyer Wants Combined Postage.” Otherwise, you should generally refuse, as you can’t build a business on cutting your prices for everyone who asks. The buyer knew how much they had to pay when they decided to make the purchase.

It is unacceptable for buyers to threaten you in any way for refusing to give them a discount. If you’re receiving this kind of threat, report it to eBay and continue fulfilling your original terms for the sale. eBay will then protect you from negative feedback and may take action against the buyer.

eBay Buyer Wants Bank Details

Greedy Banker

There is a lot of debate over whether it’s safe to give out your bank account number for direct deposit. On one hand, you give out your account number every time you write a check, and in theory it can only be used to add money to your account. On the other hand, it’s your freakin’ account number.

I recommend calling your bank and asking for their opinion on the matter. (And if something does go wrong, you can point back to the fact that you made this call.)

To keep their money secure, some sellers create an eBay-specific bank account with a minimal balance in it. This way, they don’t risk losing much if a “buyer” does pull off a scam.

Failing all that, you can stick to PayPal and other more secure methods.

Note that eBay forbids buyers from demanding payment methods not specified on your listings once they’ve committed to making a purchase. They have to use the options you made available.

eBay Buyer Wants My Phone Number

As someone who’s dealt with least half a dozen different phone scams, I have to say that if you don’t absolutely have to give out your number, don’t do it. The buyer will receive your number after they make the purchase, and you’ll get theirs. Explain that you’ll answer any questions before that point via eBay messages.

Is There Any Way to Make eBay Messages Easier to Deal With?

Overwhelmed Customer Service Agent

When you get obscure questions like these, it’s easy to find yourself looking up how to deal with them over and over again. You can spend more time answering messages than making sales.

The best way to solve this problem is by connecting eBay to a helpdesk. You can archive answers you’ve created and instantly fill them in as canned responses rather than re-researching and re-typing them every time. You can also give all your support agents their own accounts rather than being forced to share your eBay login details with all your employees.

I Get a Lot of Other Weird Questions from eBay Buyers…

Don’t worry—whatever your eBay buyer wants, we have you covered. Check out the other articles in this series:

  1. How to Deal with Weird Shipping & Delivery Requests from eBay Buyers
  2. How to Deal with Weird Payment Requests from eBay Buyers
  3. How to Deal with Weird Auction Requests from eBay Buyers
  4. How to Deal with Weird Return and Refund Requests from eBay Buyers

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