Hey, Let's Finish This Outside eBay. I've Got Cash...

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Trading Outside eBay

When the business I used to work for closed down recently they decided to sell off some of their assets through eBay. As the person in charge of their computer system it fell upon me to catalogue all the items, take photographs, list them on eBay and manage the auctions.

Although the business had an eBay account it was mainly used for buying goods and supplies and as Linux was our chosen operating system we had no eBay tools [eg: Turbo Lister et al] to assist in listing items and managing the auctions.

I am a meticulous person and spent a lot of time compiling the listings. Exceptional care was taken to ensure they were 100% accurate; all the important features were summarised, each and every fault was detailed and all facts were checked and double checked before the item was listed on eBay. The exact same care was spent overseeing the auctions, answering eBay messages and despatching the goods.

As the first few items sold we listed some more items including a large refrigerated serve over counter with a starting price of only £14.99. The starting price was set low as this was a closing down sale and if the fridges and freezers didn't sell we would be forced to pay someone to take them away for recycling - an expensive alternative.

The Hook

Out of the blue we received a message from an eBay member we had never dealt with before, let's call them WeAreCrookedConArtistsWhoWillRipYouOff {†} , offering £200 cash for this item if we ended the auction early and settled outside of eBay. I have to admit we were a little surprised as the item had no watchers, there had been no bids and, given the very low starting price, we feared it would either not sell or go for next to nothing.

I sent them an eBay message saying we would be happy to accept £200 cash for the item but we were a little concerned about completing the transaction outside of eBay. We were new to eBay selling and didn't want to do anything against the rules.

WeAreCrookedConArtistsWhoWillRipYouOff replied. They assured us there was nothing wrong with ending the auction early and paying cash outside of eBay. They said eBay had no problem with that sort of thing. They [ WeAreCrookedConArtistsWhoWillRipYouOff] did it all the time. And, by the way, could they collect the item tomorrow as they already had a van on hire and would be in the area anyway?

We sent WeAreCrookedConArtistsWhoWillRipYouOff an eBay message agreeing to their terms, we ended the listing early and moved the item to the front of shop ready for collection.

The Pickup

WeAreCrookedConArtistsWhoWillRipYouOff turned up the next day, mob handed and totally unprepared. I don't normally judge a book by its cover but they certainly looked an unsavoury bunch...

We had deliberately left the unit fully assembled and next to a power point so it could be shown working but they weren't the slightest bit interested in that, they just wanted to grab it and go. When I offered to show them how the unit could be disassembled and reassembled for shipping [or cleaning] they just grunted so I started taking it apart for them. This was a pretty big unit and there was a lot of glass [and I mean a lot of glass]. When they tried to wrap a 1200mm by 1000mm curved section of glass with a tatty old cardigan the boss and I exchanged glances, I managed to supress my sniggers but she had to go out the back. Later she told me she laughed so much she almost wet herself!

It was so pitiful I felt obliged to help. I got some cardboard boxes, broke them down, covered the edges of the glass and taped it all in place as best as I could. Even so, it was obvious the safety of the goods was not their number one priority. The glass was just dumped in the back of a large van quickly followed by the unit itself. None of the contents were tied down and they drove off like lunatics with everything sliding about all over the place.
Looking back with hindsight it is interesting to note there were already a number of similar items in the back of their van.

We both breathed a sigh of relief, pleased to see the back of them. They were definitely dodgy characters and they made us feel uncomfortable. That said, we were pretty pleased, we ended up getting a reasonable price for the unit. WeAreCrookedConArtistsWhoWillRipYouOff should have been pretty happy because, even at £200, they had got themselves a serious bargain. So, all in all, everybody should have been happy. Really, Really Happy.

The Sting

Two days later we received another message from WeAreCrookedConArtistsWhoWillRipYouOff. But this time they said we were filthy lying cheats. They claimed the eBay listing was full of lies. That the unit did not work. That the compressor was dead and it would cost them over £300 to fix it. Furthermore, they wouldn't return the unit to us. Oh No. If we wanted it back we would have to travel up and collect it from them. More disturbingly, if we didn't send them a cheque for £200 [the price they paid for the item] plus £50 for their fuel / van hire / wasted time / etc. IMMEDIATELY they would come to our premises during business hours, with the unit(sic!), dump it on the pavement outside the shop and kick up an almighty stink until we gave them the money. They also threatened to make a formal complaint and get us kicked off eBay! Serious Stuff.

The Game So Far

  • We listed an item on eBay.
  • They contacted us by e-mail (not eBay message).
  • They made an unconditional cash offer, sight unseen, but only if we completed outside eBay.
  • They didn't inspect the unit on arrival and didn't want to see it operating.
  • Next day they claimed the unit - which we knew was working perfectly - wasn't working.
  • They demanded their money back - and more - but insisted on keeping the unit.
  • They threatened serious hassle and implied a lot worse if we didn't comply immediately.
I looked at the boss, the boss looked at me and we both said " Shake Down!". WeAreCrookedConArtistsWhoWillRipYouOff were trying to pull a fast one. If the sale had gone through on eBay both WeAreCrookedConArtistsWhoWillRipYouOff and us would have been protected. But as this was a cash transaction outside of eBay we were on our own.

I sent eBay a message explaining what had happened, apologised for any offence we may have inadvertantly committed, offered to pay any fees that would have been due had we completed through eBay and asked for their advice and assistance.

eBay replied pretty quickly and, given the circumstances, their position was understandable " Nothing to do with us. Don't want to know. Goodbye." so that was that.

We were both certain that WeAreCrookedConArtistsWhoWillRipYouOff were con men, shake down artists, grifters, hustlers, common criminals, crooks. In short, they were trying to pull a fast one, rip us off, they wanted to have their cake and eat it too.

Our Next Move

Although we knew we had done nothing wrong, a complaint is a complaint [no smoke without fire, blah, blah, blah] and we didn't want our hard won eBay reputation unjustifiably harmed by a bunch of criminals. That said, our knowing that eBay weren't interested actually helped. So we decided the best course of action was to call their bluff. Ignore them. We had done nothing wrong so why not see just how far they were prepared to push their little game...

We did, however, think it wise to have a backup plan;
  • If they sent another threatening message we would reply telling them we had already told eBay everything.
  • If they made any more threats we would report them to the Police for extortion / blackmail / demanding money with menaces / threatening behaviour / whatever else we could think of.

Game Over

Thankfully, our suspicions proved correct and we heard nothing more from WeAreCrookedConArtistsWhoWillRipYouOff and their merry band of crooks. They obviously realised we were onto their little game and wouldn't be giving in to their attempts at extortion so they simply moved on to an easier target.

An Overview Of The Scam

This was clearly a scam and, by the feel of it, a well practised one. It might even have worked if we hadn't been honest people who were sure of our position.
Consequently we were left wondering exactly how many times they had pulled this little scam:
  • Browse eBay for large, high value items which are too big to post and located far enough away to be inconvenient for the seller to retrieve.
    Look for several items in the same geographical location.
  • Message the sellers offering a good price but only if they complete outside eBay.
  • Collect the items.
    Pay cash.
    Don't examine the goods.
  • Message the sellers.
    Threaten them.
    Say the goods are faulty.
    Demand a full refund.
    Tell them "if you want them back you'll have to collect" knowing full well they won't (see below).
The scammer is relying on one simple fact; the vast majority of ebay sellers are honest.

If the honest eBay seller believes the scammer when they claim the item is faulty it is logical to assume they will refund some, if not all, of the scammer's money. Furthermore, as the item is faulty it is simply not worth their while to either; travel a long distance to collect the item or, pay for the scammer to have it shipped.
Lets say the scammer were to do this once or twice a month, with maybe five or six items a time. If each item netted them between two or three hundred pounds they could easily clear a couple of grand a month. Oh yes, and don't forget all the additional cash they will be getting when the perfectly functional items [which they claimed were faulty] are sold on. That money, well, that's just the icing on an already lucrative cake.

It's what Arthur Daley might call " A nice little earner!".


Now, to the Guide part...

The Pros and Cons of eBay Trading

eBay is an online community and, as with all communities, there are rules and regulations. Sometimes you may think the rules are a pain. Sometimes you may think they are stupid. Sometimes you might think they are just plain wrong. But, whatever you may think, those rules are the rules and as a member of the eBay community you should abide by them because, as we found to our cost, they are there to protect you.

Some Of The Benefits Of Trading Through eBay:

  • Comprehensive Complaints Procedures With Sanctions for;
    Buyers Who Don't Pay
    Sellers Who Don't Ship
    Sellers Who Fraudulently Misdescribe Items
  • eBay Purchase Protection Programme;
    You Can Get Your Money Back When Things Go Wrong
  • Trade With Confidence;
    eBay Can Confirm The Other Party's Identity
    eBay Can Provide Confirmed Contact Details
  • Safe and Secure Payment Methods;
    PayPal
  • eBay Messaging System;
    Maintains an Audit Trail of Communication In The Event Of A Complaint
  • Community Feedback Mechanism;
    Allows You To Build A Reputation
    Helps Keep People Honest
    Protects You From Bad Traders

Some Of The Dangers Of Trading Outside eBay:

  • No Complaints Procedures
  • No Secure Payment Methods
  • Greater Exposure To Fraud
  • No Comeback In The Event Of Problems
Generally speaking eBay is a safe place to trade and most people are honest and truthful but, as with all markets, the occasional dodgy character wanders in and sets up a stall with the intention of ripping off the unwary, the gullible or just plain greedy who wander by.

Guidelines

So, to finish up, a few simple points to remember if we are to keep things safe for everyone:
  • When Leaving Feedback Be Honest.
    If you have had a good experience leave positive feedback.
    Conversely, you should always leave negative feedback when you have a bad experience. Sometimes the other person will leave 'tit for tat' negative feedback for you but you should never let that influence you.
    Leaving positive feedback out of fear is dishonest and, ultimately, harms everyone.
  • Never Accept Offers To Trade Outside eBay.
    You will be giving up all your rights as a member of eBay
    If things go wrong it will be much more difficult, if not impossible, to sort things out and get your money back.
    Above all, you won't be able to warn others about an unscrupulous or crooked person by leaving negative feedback.
    If you receive an offer to trade outside eBay report the member using the appropriate page [type Transactions Outside eBay into the eBay Help system and follow the links]
  • Above All Else...
    If It Seems Too Good To Be True It Probably Is!
When it comes down to it, no matter how good it may seem, accepting an offer to end an auction early and complete the transaction outside of eBay could cost you a hell of a lot; money, unpleasantness, peace of mind or a lot worse, We were lucky. We called their bluff and they backed off but it is not unknown for dodgy characters to turn violent when they don't get their way, you could end up in hospital, making statements to the Police, losing time off work etc.

Regards
tbod
{†} Please Note: This is not their real eBay ID!
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