Sellers Who Change Their Listings AFTER You Have Bid...

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Wishful Window Shopping

With Digital Switchover happening in the next few weeks I have been indulging my fantasies and perusing eBay with a wistful (and very hopeful) eye towards large flat screen televisions.

Sadly I can't afford one and anyway I don't need one as I have had everything in place - digital TV wise - for over six months but, then again, you can't stop a lad from dreaming...

So why am I writing this Guide?

Check Out Those Terms and Conditions!

While I was drooling over - sorry, looking at - all those lovely big screen TVs something struck me as a little strange...

You see, whenever I see something I like the look of I always check out the seller's 'Terms and Conditions'  because some people on eBay have very strange ideas as to what constitutes normal or acceptable and having been caught out like that once I certainly don't intend to get caught out again!

Believe me, some of the T&Cs I have seen would turn your stomach, I wouldn't get anything from some people on eBay not even if they paid me to take their stuff off them!

Ok, so there doesn't seem to be anything dodgy with the T&Cs, surely it's alright to buy from this seller?

After all:

  • The T&Cs are part of the listing
  • They form part of the contract
  • They can't be changed once I've bid
  • The seller can't go back on their word can they?

Can they?

eBay's Safeguards

No, of course they can't! After all, eBay designed their system to prevent the seller from making changes to a listing once a bid has been made.This was intentional and designed to safeguard the buyer, to stop all those dodgy dealers from pulling a fast one and changing the T&Cs - the contract - once you, the buyer, have placed your bid and committed to buy.

That's pretty fair and obviously foolproof...

Dodgy Dealing / Sharp Practices

So we can be certain eBay have ' covered all the bases' and made sure those dodgy dealers can't change the rules, move the goal posts or otherwise cheat us. They can't edit their listing so they obviously can't change the contract and sneak in, for example:
  • hidden charges
  • unreasonable terms
  • ridiculous conditions
  • ludicrous penalty clauses

or anything else we were unaware of before we placed our bid. 

Something A Little Strange...

As I mentioned earlier "While I was drooling over - sorry, looking at - all those lovely big screen TVs something struck me as a little strange..." and this is what had my hackles up.

One particular dealer had several sections in their listings detailing their 'Terms and Conditions' and 'Service Changes' which seemed reasonable except for one thing.

None of their T&Cs etc. were text, they were images!

What this actually means is none of their listings contains any ' Terms' or ' Conditions' at all just a pointer to an image, it is the image that contains the ' Terms' or ' Conditions' and that isn't worth the paper they're (not) written on!

Because those image files are hosted on servers external to eBay they are beyond eBay's control, and completely bypass eBay's safeguards. The actual image displayed can be changed at any time and at a moment's notice to absolutely anything the seller desires. et Voila infinitely variable Terms and Conditions!

What is to stop them from changing the image (and hence the T&Cs) after you have placed your bid and, for example:

  • imposing a 'storage fee' of £50 a day (or part thereof) chargeable until the item has been paid for
  • declaring the listing to be 'aspirational only' and the seller may substuitute any other item of similar value at their discretion and without notice
  • demanding a non refundable 'security deposit' of £1,000 pending positive feedback from the buyer

Ok, these may appear to be a little excessive but what if the actual change were far less drastic but equally unacceptable? Could you prove they changed the rules without your consent? That you didn't agree to the changes? What if they get stroppy? Or file a claim in Small Claims Court?

What would you do then because (as I know to my cost) having the law on your side is no guarantee of winning the case!

That particular seller - and I am certain they are not the only one using this particular trick - has 94 active listings at this moment (which appears to be typical of their eBay activity) so many, many people could be affected by this particular dodge.

How Can I Protect Myself?

If you are unsure of a seller or just want to know if a part of their listing which appears to be text is actually text (rather than a dodgy image) you can try one of the following:
  1. Move the mouse to the suspect area and right click. If the 'text' is actually an image you will see (depending on your browser) 'image related' options such as 'View Image', 'Save Image As' etc.
  2. Move the mouse to the suspect area, left click and drag. If the text is actually text it will become highlighted as the cursor moves.

But remember, it is not just the seller's 'Terms and Conditions' which can be vunerable to this trick, literally any part of the main body of the listing could be replaced with an image containing text and if these images are hosted outside of eBay they would fall outside of eBay's safeguards.

If you discover important parts of a listing which appear to be text actually turn out to be images you need to decide whether you can actually trust that seller...

Conclusion

I cannot think of any legitimate reason to display your 'Terms and Conditions' as an image rather than text and while an eBay seller using this particular device could be legal, decent, honest and have no dodgy intentions whatsoever I, personally, wouldn't touch them with a bargepole.

I could be wrong but why would someone go to all the trouble of circumventing eBay's safeguards if they had no intention of exploiting the loophole they had created?

Regards
tbod
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