A Few Things You Can’t Sell on eBay

Prohibited, restricted and otherwise questionable items

by Auctiva.com staff writer
- Apr 07, 2008

Bookstores and the Web are both filled with advice and tools designed to help you "sell anything" on eBay. The advice might be helpful and the tools useful, but the simple fact is that you can't sell anything on eBay because not everything can be sold on eBay.

Indeed, eBay has a long laundry list of prohibited items. Some are no-brainers (no auctioning off high-yield nuclear warheads, for instance). Others are a little less obvious and aimed at ensuring and protecting the community environment eBay tries to provide. And is buying used cosmetics from a stranger online really all that smart anyway?

Knowing what is prohibited and restricted is your responsibility as an eBay seller. eBay appends this list fairly regularly, so it's a good idea to review it every now and then, especially if you're unsure whether a particular item is allowed.

With more than 100 million listings on any given day, you might think that if you post a prohibited item on eBay, your auction would likely slip in under the radar. You would be wrong. If eBay's overseers don't spot the violation, users will. And one's likely to alert the powers that be. What's at risk? Well, at the very least, your listing will be cancelled. At most, you can expect account suspension or termination.

Fluffy, Spot or your pet alligator Choppers

eBay strictly prohibits the listing of live animals for sale. If your daughter's baby alligator has grown to the size that you're concerned for the family's safety, you probably do need to find the dear pet a new home. You just can't do so on eBay.

The site also points out that, in addition to its prohibition, there are state and federal laws regulating the sale of live animals, a caution that's cited in the explanations of many of eBay's prohibited items.

So is there any way around this rule? Well, we're not advocating anything untoward. But most animal skins and pelts—if not from an endangered species or in violation of any laws—are allowed on the online auction giant.

Also, eBay does have a Taxidermy, Mounts and Antlers category. And boots, belts and handbags are eBay auction staples.

Violations of the Prohibited Items Policy Can Result In:

  • Listing cancellation
  • Limits on account privileges
  • Account suspension
  • Forfeit of eBay fees on cancelled listings
  • Loss of PowerSeller status

Other options? Well, if you have a recipe for alligator stew, you may have one more out. Some food items are allowed on the site. However, guaranteed no-nos include non-pasteurized juice and dairy products, wild mushrooms and food past its expiration date. eBay's Prohibited Foods also links to information about state license requirements for food manufacturers, import/export restrictions, and ingredient labeling requirements.

Weapons of mass destruction

Simply put, if it goes "bang" and can be described as a weapon, you probably can't sell it on eBay. This really shouldn't be much of a surprise. If it is, your instincts are all wrong. How are you going to get that M-16 to Kansas anyway? It won't fit in the in Flat-Rate Priority envelope, and more important, there are strict U.S. Postal Service restrictions on mailing firearms.

So, whether it's the aforementioned nuclear device or a weapon that's slightly more—but far from completely—innocuous, find another way to peddle it. Even original lawn darts aren't allowed on eBay. At press time, the only related items listed were an original lawn dart instruction sheet; a couple of the new, soft-tipped sets; and a T-shirt that proudly displays the original Jarts logo.

Notable exceptions to the weapon prohibition include replicas; paintball guns; "air soft," cap, and other toy guns; and some "look alike" firearms. Also allowed are knives, as long as they're not switchblades, disguised knives or push daggers. While most hand weapons are prohibited, safer practice versions are allowed. More information is available on eBay's prohibited Firearms, Weapons and Knives page.

It should be noted that even a picture of a firearm is not allowed on the site. So take the bazooka off the coffee table you're planning to list when you snap the photo for the auction.

Finally, a related category, Hazardous, Restricted, and Perishable Items reminds us that you can't sell fireworks on the site. All such items are strictly prohibited, and highly regulated (if not banned) in most states anyway. Plus, you could blow your finger off.

If you've already blown your finger off, don't even think about it… The listing of human parts or remains is also banned.

The vice squad and your mom

It's a good idea to check eBay's list of prohibited items anytime you're thinking about listing a questionable item. But here's a decent rule of thumb anyway: If your local neighborhood police officer would disapprove, eBay likely will too. And if he'd need to refer your case to the vice squad, you really ought to know better.

So don't use eBay as a venue to sell prescription drugs, illicit drugs, related paraphernalia, substances purported to cause drug-like reactions, or instructions for manufacturing drugs. And whereas steroids, Viagra, marijuana and OxyContin would clearly be prohibited, so are supplements and herbal products offered to deliver similar effects.

Also, don't try to list electronic surveillance equipment, counterfeit currency and stamps, TV descramblers, radar scanners, or traffic signal control devices. These items obviously would not pass the "police officer" test. And neither would police patches, badges or credentials; so steer clear of these items as well.

To report an auction you think is in violation of eBay's policies, click here.

Now some items would get a pass from the police, but might raise an eyebrow for your mother. Many of these are permitted on eBay, but they're confined to the site's Mature Audiences category. The category houses auction items inappropriate for minors and is only accessible to users who've verified their age through eBay. Item examples include adult-only books, magazines and other products. Use your imagination.

Note: PayPal may not be used to pay for any item listed in eBay's Mature Audiences category

eBay also limits profanity to the Mature Audiences category. The only exception is for media titles that include otherwise restricted language. Your titles and descriptions for other items should be profanity-free.

The less-obvious

Some items are so obviously prohibited (like illegal substances, devices and weapons) that you shouldn't need to check eBay policies in order to know not to try and list such things. But don't let that fact stop you from reading through the site's prohibited items policy anyway. Some prohibitions and restrictions are a little less intuitive.

For instance, noxious weeds and certain seeds are prohibited. And the sale of herbicides and pesticides is strictly regulated.

Slot machines cannot (with few exceptions) be sold on eBay. And if you're a gambling enthusiast of another sort, you'll have to sell your stocks and other securities elsewhere too.

Just remember that every auction you post carries an implicit commitment to operate within the rules and parameters established by eBay and agreed to by you when you signed up. The simple fact is that no sale is worth losing your right to participate on the site. Be aware of the policies and err on the side of caution.

About the Author

Auctiva staff writers constantly monitor trends and best practices of those selling on eBay and elsewhere online. They attend relevant training seminars and trade shows and regularly discuss the market with PowerSellers and other market experts.

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