What can’t you sell on eBay? A guide to eBay prohibited items

The majority of items sold on eBay are aboveboard. But sometimes eBay finds out about listings that are either illegal (in the eyes of the state or federal government, or even those of international authorities) or prohibited by eBay’s rules and regulations. In either case, eBay steps in, calls a foul, and makes the item invalid.

eBay doesn’t have rules and regulations just for the fun of it. eBay wants to keep you educated so you won’t unwittingly bid on, buy, or sell an item that has been misrepresented. eBay also wants you to know what’s okay and what’s prohibited so that if you run across an item that looks fishy, you’ll help out your fellow eBay members by reporting it. And eBay wants you to know that if you do sell legally iffy items, getting your listing shut down is the least of your worries: You can be suspended if you knowingly list prohibited items. And I won’t even talk about criminal prosecution.

You need to know about these three categories:

  • Prohibited lists the items that may not be sold on eBay under any circumstances.
  • Restricted lists the items that may be sold under certain conditions.
  • Potentially Infringing lists the types of items that may be in violation of copyrights, trademarks, or other rights.

You may not even offer to give away a prohibited or an infringing item for free, nor can you give away a questionable item that eBay disallows; giving it out doesn’t relieve you of potential liability.

Where to find the detailed list of prohibited items on eBay?

The 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. To find a detailed description of which items are prohibited on the eBay website, follow these steps:

  1. Click the Policies link, located on the bottom of all eBay pages. You arrive at the friendly eBay Rules & Policies page.
  2. Scroll to the Prohibited and restricted items link and click. You are presented with the lists and links that help you decipher whether selling your item falls within eBay’s policy boundaries.

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.

Because eBay’s base of operations is in California, United States law is enforced — even if both the buyer and seller are from other countries. Cuban cigars are legal to buy and sell in Canada, but even if the buyer and the seller are from Canada, eBay says “No permiso” and shuts down sales of Havanas fast. To see a current list of countries where trade is embargoed, visit http://pages.ebay.com/help/policies/embargo.html.

Prohibited items on eBay

The lists that follow are not fully comprehensive of everything that’s prohibited on eBay. Please be sure to visit the Prohibited link just mentioned if you have further questions.

Even though possessing (and selling) many of the items in the following list is legal in the United States and elsewhere, you are absolutely, positively prohibited from buying and selling the following on eBay:

Firearms of all types: This also means firearm accessories — including antique, collectible, sport, or hunting guns; silencers; converters; kits for creating guns; gunpowder; high-capacity ammunition magazines (receptacles designed to feed ten rounds or more into a gun, not the publications about ammo); and armor-piercing bullets. You can’t even sell a gun that doesn’t work.

Firearms and weapons: No way can you sell any type of firearm designed to propel a metal (or similar) projectile, regardless of whether it works. (If we’re talking paintball, archery, or spud pistols — that’s another story.) Military weapons? Items included in that category — and all verboten — are bazookas, grenades, and mortars.

Police-related items: Stop in the name of the law if you’re thinking about buying or selling any of these items, including actual United States federal (or state or local) or reproduction badges. In fact, selling just about any U.S. government badge (even the Forest Service) can get you in hot water.

Replicas of official government identification documents or licenses: Birth certificates, drivers’ licenses, and passports fall into this category.

Current vehicle license plates or plates that claim to resemble current ones: Note that expired license plates (at least three years old) are considered collectible — as long as they are no longer valid for use on a vehicle and you mention the plate’s age in the listing.

Lock-picking devices: These items can be sold only to authorized recipients. Federal law prohibits the mailing of such devices.

Human parts and remains: Hey, we all have two kidneys, but if you get the urge to sell one to pay your bills, eBay is not the place to sell it. You can’t sell your sperm, eggs, blood, or anything else you manage to extricate from your body. What’s more, you can’t even give away any of these items as a free bonus with one of your auctions.

Drugs or drug paraphernalia: Narcotics, steroids, or other controlled substances may not be listed. Drug paraphernalia includes a swath of items that are primarily intended or designed for using a controlled substance, including vaporizers, bongs, and water pipes.

Anything that requires a prescription from a doctor, a dentist, or an optometrist to dispense: Listen, just because it’s legal to use doesn’t mean that it doesn’t require special permission to get. For example, even though penicillin is legal to buy in the United States, only a doctor can prescribe it — which is why, when you get sick, you have to stand in that loooong line at the pharmacy sneezing on all the other sick people. And if you’re looking for Viagra auctions on eBay, don’t even go there.

Stocks, bonds, or negotiable securities: Nope, you can’t sell stock in your new pie-baking company or an investment in property you may own. And if you’re thinking of offering credit to someone, you can’t do that either. (Note that collectible items are permitted.)

Bulk email lists: No bulk email or mailing lists that contain personal identifying information. You may not even sell tools or software designed to send unsolicited commercial email or promote social-media “likes” or recruit “followers.”

Animals and wildlife, including animal parts from endangered species: If you’ve had it with Buster, your pet ferret, don’t look to eBay for help in finding him a new home. And you can’t sell your stuffed spotted owls or rhino-horn love potions, either. If you’re in the animal business — any animal business — eBay is not the place for you.

Child pornography: Note that this material is strictly prohibited on eBay, but you can sell other forms of erotica.

Forged items: Autographs from celebrities and sports figures are big business — and a big opportunity for forgers. Selling a forgery is a criminal act. The state of New York is taking the lead on this issue, investigating at least two dozen suspected forgery cases linked with online auctions.

Items that infringe on someone else’s copyright or trademark: Take a look at the very next section for details on infringing items.

Stolen items: Need I say more? (Seems obvious, but you’d be surprised.) If what you’re thinking about selling came to you by way of a five-finger discount or fell off a truck, don’t sell it on eBay.

Infringing items

In school, if you copied someone’s work, you were busted for plagiarism. 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. eBay prohibits the selling of infringing items at its site.

Here’s a checklist of no-no items commonly found at the center of infringement violations:

  • Music that’s been recorded from an original compact disc, cassette tape, or record.
  • Movies that have been recorded from an original DVD, laser disc, or commercial VHS tape.
  • E-books you purchased for your own use and do not have the rights to resell or distribute.
  • Television shows that have been recorded off the air, off cable, or from a satellite service.
  • Software and computer games that have been copied from CD-ROMs or disks (and that includes hard drives — anybody’s).
  • Counterfeit items (also called knock-offs), such as clothes and jewelry, that have been produced, copied, or imitated without the permission of the manufacturer. (Bart Simpson knock-off T-shirts abounded in the early ’90s.)

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.

Restricted 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 restrictions in your area — as well as those on the eBay website.

Certain items are illegal in one geographic area and not another. This list mentions a few of the major questionable items:

Event tickets: Laws regarding the resale of event tickets vary from state to state, even city to city. Some laws prohibit reselling the ticket for a price higher than the amount printed on the face of the ticket. Some states limit the amount you can add to the ticket’s face value. Be sure to double-check your state website for laws covering ticket sales. An event search engine website, SeatGeek, keeps a pretty up-to-date listing of the laws.

Wine and alcohol: Selling wine and alcohol on eBay — and anywhere else, for that matter — is tricky business. For starters, you have no business in this business unless you’re at least 21 years old and licensed to sell. eBay does not permit sales of any alcohol products unless they are sold without their contents for their “collectible” containers. You may sell wine for consumption if you have a license to sell and ship wine and are pre-approved by eBay.

Reporting a Problem Listing

You probably think that eBay can’t possibly monitor millions of items for sale on a daily basis. You’re right; it can’t. eBay relies on eBay members like you to let it know when you suspect a shady listing is afoot. 

If you ever smell something fishy, for goodness’ sake, report it to eBay. Sometimes eBay takes a few days to cancel a listing, but rest assured that eBay invests time to protect its users from fraudulent listings and violations of policy.

If you see something that just doesn’t look right, you should report the listing using an online form by clicking the Report Item link, which is on the right, on the same line as the Description tab on every eBay item page.

Intellectual Property Violations

If you own intellectual property that you think is being infringed upon by an item for sale on the eBay site, you should take advantage of the eBay Verified Rights Owner (VeRO) Program. Owners of trademarked or copyrighted items and logos, as well as other forms of intellectual property, can become members of this program for free.

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