This is a guide to some of the strategies and techniques employed by dishonest eBayers, both buyers and sellers. One of a series of no-nonsense, advert-free "coffee-break" guides I have written for new UK based eBayers, it's not too short, not too long, and I promise not to try to sell you anything. You can see my other guides by following the links at the bottom of this page but please let me know what you think, by voting for each one you read. Many thanks.
SHILL BIDDINGIn eBay's own words, "Shill bidding is bidding that artificially increases an item's price or apparent desirability", and it's just as common on eBay as it is in any auction room up and down the country. But just because that dodgy geezer in the sheepskin coat, upping the interest on his old Mondeo, is all part of the "charm", it doesn't mean it's OK on eBay. In fact, it's a criminal offence and there have been several prosecutions, here in the UK. Not only that, but eBay's rules prevent you bidding on items being sold by your friends, family and (take note) your work colleagues! The only exceptions are purchases made using the "Buy it Now" option or fixed price listings. So how can you recognise the danger signs? Well, as from 31-03-08, bidders' IDs are hidden to all but the seller, so it is almost impossible to work out who you are bidding against, but you can still keep a look out for sellers who immediately relist an item - wouldn't you try to communicate with a non-paying bidder first, instead of arbitrarily relisting straight away? You can also use use the information provided in the drop down menu, to assess the amount of activity between the seller and each bidder. For some time, bidders' identities have been hidden once the bidding exceeds 100 GBP, but this new change hides all bidders' identities, regardless of the amount involved. Clearly, eBay are well aware of the possible increase in shill bidding, and they have introduced some extra security measures to help control the situation.
POSTAGE INFLATIONEver bid for an item and discovered an inflated postage charge? Well, so have I, even as a seasoned eBayer who should have checked first. If the seller is simply trying to avoid eBay fees, rather than trying to pull a fast one, then that's something between you (and your ability to assess the total cost of the item including shipping), the seller (and their ability to to assess how close they can push it before someone reports them) and eBay (and their ability to assess what they need to do to avoid any more adverse publicity)! If the seller is trying to con you then you may find something extremely mild (like headlining their 2nd class postal rate, for instance) or something very naughty (like a total absence of their delivery charge in the actual listing). If you haven't done it already, change your customised settings so that a postage column appears in all your searches, and allow yourself some investigative time for those impulse buys. One of my guides shows you how to adjust your customised settings to show not just a postage column, but other useful data too. Clearly, careful packing costs more than just the value of the stamps, but there are limits and eBay are actively pursuing sellers who are charging you too much. With eBay's new "Feedback 2" feature, you can help the eBay community by marking down sellers who overcharge and by marking up sellers who don't.
FAKESHave you read official eBay press releases about how fraudulent sellers represent just a tiny fraction of all transactions? Have you also read comments to the effect that it's impossible to know just how many sellers on eBay are chomping at the bit to take you to the cleaners? Well, consider this. A recent report by the research group, IDC, showed that (at the time of the survey) more than 50% of all Microsoft software sold on eBay globally was fake, and it had become such a problem that Microsoft have launched a global campaign to track down the culprits. That's right, more than 50%! Well, in my humble opinion, 50% is rather bigger than "a tiny fraction". Everything from razor blades to archaeological artefacts are faked and offered to gullible buyers Some fakes are almost comical in their attempts to deceive, but others are much harder to spot. The other day, an eBayer posted a message on the chat boards, asking if it was OK to list "replica" **** trainers. Unbelievable! But it's a measure of the fact that some casual sellers do not realise that selling counterfeit items on eBay is naughty. At the other end of the scale, there are sellers whose activities are funding major organised crime. We are truly in a global market, where sellers' perceptions of legitimacy vary from country to country, and it's a shame we have to treat our on-line experiences with some circumspection. I won't insult your intelligence, you already know what to do, but remember that sellers can use special software that can create multiple eBay accounts, and the consequent interlinked positive feedbacks, faster than you could possibly imagine, so don't rely on sellers' feedback history. Have a look at my guide to feedback scamming, and how to avoid becoming a victim. And if you get the chance, have a look at my guide on how to roughly assess the level of fraud going on in the category of your choice, simply by using eBay's own search tools. Now I'd like to temper my comments at this point by saying that although eBay are bound to be a target, the trade in fakes is only there to start with because faked stuff often sells. So let's all be careful out there.
THE SECOND CHANCE OFFERA bidder just gets pipped at the post, and ends up as the second highest bidder when the auction ends. A few days later the second highest bidder receives an email, ostensibly from the seller, saying that the original highest bidder has declined to pay and that the item is available if payment is sent. The email looks genuine and the buyer may not know much about how second chance offers work. With the increased awareness of other scams on eBay, the success rate for pulling off this type of fraud is much higher than it used to be. It has become such a problem that many experienced sellers take control of the situation by highlighting in their listings the fact that no second chance offers are made, and that the bidder should report any offer received to eBay. Always ascertain whether the second chance offer you have received is genuine, by contacting the buyer first, before parting with your hard earned cash. Ebay know this is a problem, and have introduced a policy whereby bidders' IDs are hidden on all items selling for over £100. However, you should still be careful, and never ever respond to emails unless you're absolutely certain of their origin.
"ADVERTISED ELSEWHERE"Have you seen those listings, where the seller says, "this item is advertised elsewhere, so I reserve the right to withdraw this auction at any time"? Well, this may be a genuine account of the situation, but what if the seller plans to withdraw it if the bidding has stopped far short of expectations? Exactly, and it could well be a con. If you really want the item then ask the seller to substantiate the claim, or move on. Nothing is more frustrating than finding the item you have been bidding on removed, because the seller is "advertising elsewhere", and you will be potentially tied in to the bidding on a bogus auction when you could be bidding elsewhere. This has become such a problem that many sellers are highlighting the fact that their item is "NOT advertised elsewhere" as a selling feature in it's own right.
"NOT AS DESCRIBED"How many times have you seen the phrase, "I'm not an expert" in sellers' descriptions. Perhaps I'm being harsh here, but if you follow the feedback trails to these sellers you will often find comments to the effect that the item was not without fault. Sellers will feign ignorance to avoid declaring faults, and it's yet another con. Be prepared to ask questions if you anticipate that the seller's perception of an item's condition will differ from your own. Try and get the seller to be more specific, if they are using vague terms such as "great", "lovely" or "fine", and remember that many buyers have inadvertently "won" an empty box and had no redress, simply because the seller has been clever with the wording of their listing. Know your rights, and remember that if the seller is selling for the purpose of making a profit then they are running a business in the eyes of the law. Buyers should be aware that items bought from eBay traders are covered by the Distance Selling Regulations, so seek further advice if you feel that your item was not as described.
"LOST IN THE POST"So you've won the item of your dreams with a virgin bid. Fantastic, or at least it appeared to be, until the item ends up "lost in the post". Contrary to popular opinion, Royal Mail are pretty good, and it may just be that your item wasn't sent at all. Watch out for your lost item popping up again in a future auction, but probably with a higher starting price. Naturally, there's always a possibility of a genuine delay or loss, and remember that your seller cannot make a claim against Royal Mail for 15 days after posting, so liaise with your seller in a friendly and constructive manner.
FEEDBACK SCAMSDid you know that a seller can gain ten thousand positive feedbacks in less time than it takes to get a reply from eBay customer services? If you type the words FEEDBACK and SCAM into a search engine you will see what I mean. With such a reliance on feedback, it's vital to check exactly how that feedback has been gained. Does it look as if the seller has been selling e-books prior to offering a plasma TV, for example? Is seller's feedback entirely from sellers, and this is the first item they are offering for sale? Do your homework, and read my guide to feedback scamming.
CHARGEBACKSThis is a only coffee-break guide, but a whole book could be written about this topic. Sellers can find themselves out of pocket if they're not careful. Buyers can buy items via Paypal, claim that the item was never received, and receive a Paypal refund. The seller is only protected if they have shipped to a confirmed address using a trackable service. Canny buyers will target sellers who just ship via untracked services. Ever received a parcel that you unexpectedly had to sign for? Well, it's highly likely that the seller paid the extra for recorded delivery simply because they were worried about being scammed by a buyer who claims not to have received their parcel. For those sellers who are considering selling on eBay Express, you need to be aware that eBay require you to be willing to ship to unconfirmed addresses using Paypal, leaving yourself open to potential fraud, and a lot of sellers are uneasy about it. Sellers should scrutinise the buyer's feedback carefully, to see if there is any previous evidence of chargeback activity, before shipping high value items.
THE UK BUYER WHO WANTS YOU TO SHIP TO HIS RELATIVE IN *******Count the stars and guess the country. That's right - got it in one! Such a common scam, that your auction for that mobile phone is quite likely to be targeted. The buyer claims to be in the UK, but wants the item to shipped to "you know where". Various methods are employed to try to get you to ship your item before you receive the payment. If you watch the available documentary footage you will see enforcement agencies lucky to escape with their lives when raiding internet cafes to make arrests. This form of scamming is very big business. You can protect yourself to a certain extent by setting up your preferences so that your item can only be bid on by UK based sellers, an immediate Paypal payment is required (for Buy it Now items), by selecting Paypal as the only payment method allowed and making sure you never ever ship an item before you receive payment, no matter how much money is being offered.