Editorial Policy

EBay Welcomes Under-18 Crowd — How to Keep Tabs on Your Child’s Account

Marcia Frellick

July 31, 2012

By the middle of next year, kids under 18 may be able to open their own eBay accounts and start to bid on everything from baseball cards to jewelry, with parental supervision.

That brings a new load of challenges in terms of privacy and protecting kids from scammers and inappropriate content. And, for parents, it could mean finding ways to keep tabs on their kids’ spending — spending they are ultimately responsible for.

Young people already using eBay
In its user policy, eBay explains why the company currently requires account holders to be 18. “When eBay members agree to buy or sell items,” the policy reads, “they are entering into contracts with each other. In most countries, you must be at least 18 years old to enter into a contract.”

Yet minors are already part of the eBay community. Some are piggybacking on adults accounts — which is allowed, as long as the adult gives permission. Other minors are lying about their ages to set up their own eBay accounts and using PayPal to make purchases (PayPal allows minors 13 years or older to get PayPal debit cards with a parent’s permission).

Young Internet users have a history of finding ways around the rules. Take Facebook, for example. Consumer Reports found in a 2011 study that about 7.5 million Facebook users in the U.S. are under 13, which is in violation of Facebook policy. About 5 million were under the age of 10, the study found. Meanwhile, in April 2012, MinorMonitor (a website that lets parents monitor their children’s social media activity) surveyed 1,000 parents of Facebook users under 18. Responses indicated more than 38 percent of the users were 12 and younger.

Challenges for parents
Welcoming minors into the eBay community would allow young users to set up legitimate accounts of their own — and help eBay grow its community. But parents, who already have to be fierce protectors of their kids’ identities and social network presence, will now have to add online shopping to their scope. After all, if eBay opens the door to this group successfully, other online marketplaces are sure to follow — and it’s parents who will be ultimately responsible for any damage control, if their children bite off more than they can chew (or pay for).

EBay has yet to explain exactly what kind of access kids will have to the site as buyers and sellers. Yet some possible challenges facing parents include:

  • Protecting their own wallets: If your child is using your credit card to shop eBay, keep in mind that whenever your child wins an auction, he (ultimately you) is “obligated to purchase the item,” according to eBay’s policies. In other words, if your child is new to eBay and starts bidding on every item that catches her eye and wins several auctions, you could be on the hook.Prepaid cards can be a useful budgeting tool for young people— and a way for parents to control how much money their kids have to play with. Consider requiring your child to use a prepaid card (that you load with a limited amount of funds) when shopping on eBay.If you decide to go the PayPal route (which is becoming the norm for many eBay buyers and sellers), keep in mind that PayPal will not allow you to link most prepaid cards to your account. You can, however, get PayPal’s branded prepaid MasterCard (and link it to the PayPal tied to your child’s eBay account). PayPal allows parents to add their children (age 13 and over) as secondary cardholders and top off the card online.
  • Protecting their children’s identities: With financial and contact information being entered into the site, eBay has become a target for identity thieves. Users have also reported scam emails (designed to look like they are coming from eBay) that ask for debit and credit card details.Explain these risks to your kids. Instruct them not to give out personal or financial information to sellers over the phone, through the mail or online, unless they are certain the contact is legitimate.

Setting parameters
Although eBay hasn’t released specific details about how it will protect its youngest users, limited access and parental guidance will be key, Devin Wenig, eBay’s president of global marketplaces, told The Wall Street Journal.

“We wouldn’t allow a 15-year-old unfettered access to the site,” he said. “We would want a parent, an adult as a ride-along.”

EBay could consider taking a page out of the financial services industry’s playbook. Protections have already been established in the banking world for those under 21.  Under the Credit CARD Act, consumers under 21 can’t get credit cards unless they can prove they have steady income to pay monthly bills or have an adult co-signer on the account. And banks often require adult consent for a minor to set up a checking account.