eBay has a recognition program for serious sellers—high-volume, highly rated businesspeople it calls PowerSellers. eBay has no official “PowerBuyers” program, but some shoppers deserve the name.
Power buyers are the ones who really know their way around eBay. They might be collectors snapping up treasures for their collections—coins, comics, Matchbox cars, Beanie Babies, Civil War–era autographs, you name it. Or they might be the big spenders who close big deals, buying houses, cars, and luxury items that most shoppers merely dream about. Power buyers know how to use buyers’ tools to streamline their shopping, and they can spot a scam a mile away.
Tools to help buyers research smarter.
Software to help collectors organize their collections.
Strategies for buying jewelry, cars, and real estate with confidence.
Tips for avoiding common scams.
When you’re power shopping, you want the information for good buys right there at your fingertips, right now. Is $79.99 a good price for that cell phone, or could you get it for $50 if you waited a couple of weeks? Is that PowerSeller a slow shipper, or does he get a lot of returns? Serious shoppers power up their shopping with price-analysis tools to figure out the best price, and they use feedback filters to drill down straight to the feedback they need to see. And if, like many hardcore buyers, you’re a collector who uses eBay to beef up your collection, there are tools to help you organize your collection.
On eBay, the marketplace sets the price of any given item, as bidders vie with each other until only one’s left standing at the auction’s end. But that marketplace changes daily. Supply and demand both shift as sellers try to jump on hot-item bandwagons and as shoppers spend more time at their computers (around the holidays) or less (summer weekends). A digital camera that sold for $225 one week might sell for $187 the next. To get a picture of eBay price trends, you could sift through completed auctions, record winning prices, and figure out the averages—but why go to all that effort when price-analysis tools will do it for you in a couple of seconds?
Price-analysis tools scour completed auctions and scoop up the closing prices, then use that information to help you decide how much to spend now—or whether to wait until the price goes down. Here are a couple of good price-analysis tools:
Terapeak. The market research gurus at Terapeak (www.terapeak.com) offer a free, quick price analysis. Terapeak’s search results give you the average eBay price for similar items that sold in the last week and show currently active listings. On Terapeak’s home page, head to the Shop Smarter On eBay.com text box, type in the name of the item you’re shopping for, select the appropriate eBay category, and then click the Find It button to get results like those shown in Figure 4-1. (Be patient. It can take several seconds for the results to appear.)
AuctionSmart. This price-analysis tool (download it at www.boostauction.com) works with Windows and Internet Explorer to stack the odds of winning an auction in your favor. Search for an item you want, and then click the Analysis button on AuctionSmart’s toolbar. AuctionSmart searches completed auctions and breaks them down by winning bid, presenting a chart that tells you what bid will most likely win the auction. To do AuctionSmart’s analysis on your own, you’d need a calculator, a spreadsheet, and a degree in statistics. See Figure 4-2.
Feedback paints a picture of how a seller conducts his business. In most cases, you’ll probably find the simple strategies outlined on Section 2.1 sufficient to analyze a seller’s feedback and come to a bid/don’t bid decision. But if you’re considering purchasing from a high-volume seller, you need more. You need a feedback-analysis tool.
Here’s why. High-volume sellers can accumulate a couple of pages’ worth of new comments each day, and you could waste precious time combing through pages and pages of feedback comments looking for troubling patterns in a seller’s feedback history, like multiple complaints about slow shipping or lousy packing. Feedback-analysis tools save you time by filtering out the positive comments so you can take a hard look at the problems.
GutCheck (www.teamredline.com) is a free tool that works with Internet Explorer and Windows 95 or higher. After you’ve installed GutCheck and you’re looking at an eBay auction page, right-click a seller’s ID or feedback score and you can choose from these options:
See the percentages of positive, negative, and neutral comments for all feedback received. eBay displays only the percentage that’s positive, but GutCheck breaks it all down.
Filter out the newbies and see what seasoned pros have had to say. You can ignore feedback left by eBayers with a feedback score lower than five (or any number you specify).
Filter out all positive comments to see only the dirt.
Another feedback checker that lets you filter out positive comments is BayCheck Pro, available at www.hammertap.com. BayCheck Pro has more than a feedback filter; it also gives you one-click access to a seller’s history, so you can check current and completed auctions at a glance. Save a list of frequently checked sellers to keep an eye on their auctions.
For a quick check of all the negative and neutral feedback an eBayer has given or received, you don’t need to install any software. Just go to www.toolhaus.org/cgi-bin/negs and type in the eBay ID you want to check.
Collecting is big business on eBay. According to a 2004 Nielsen survey, about a third of all Americans collect something—and one out of five of those collectors buys, sells, or browses on eBay. Most eBay collectors agree that the site has made collecting more fun and given them access to items they’d never have found otherwise.
If you’re serious about collecting, you need to get organized. Not only will collectors’ software keep you from going crazy trying to remember what you have and where you put it—and whether you should bid on that Niagara Falls souvenir spoon to round out your collection—but if your stuff is valuable, this software can help you create detailed records for your insurance company.
There are several specialized programs out there to organize your collection, creating records of what you own, how much it’s worth, and where you’ve stashed it. You can even include one or more photos for each record. The bigger your collection (and it can grow very quickly once you get going on eBay), the more helpful you’ll find these tools. Each has a different look and feel—take a look at several and see which works best for you.
Here’s a selection of what’s available.
Mac fans can use Complete Collector to keep tabs on any kind of collection. Complete Collector, available from www.colourfull.com, lets you drag and drop photos into your records and has a built-in search feature, so you can look up exactly when you bought that 1939 Lincoln wheat penny and how much you paid for it.
For Mac fans who collect CDs, DVDs, or books, Bruji offers specialized software for these types of collections: CDpedia, DVDpedia, and Bookpedia. If you type in a title, the software connects to an online database to fill in the rest of the information. You can organize your collection in any way you like. For example, Bookpedia lets you organize your book collection by topic, favorite author, genre, and so on, and you can set up your categories to update automatically whenever you add a book that matches a particular category’s criteria. You can also make wish lists for items you want to add to your collectionand keep track of what people have borrowed from you. Download the software at www.bruji.com, shown in Figure 4-3.
Collectibles Database, for collectors of 14 popular kinds of collectibles (including figures, coins, bears, ornaments, and baskets), works on Windows 95 or higher, or on Macs that have SoftWindows or Virtual PC. This software comes preloaded with information about collectibles, including photos. So you don’t have to type in the details of each and every Precious Moments figure you own, because the program already has ‘em—for more than 2,500 Precious Moments items. You can print reports and graph prices and other trends, as well as buy annual updates to keep your information current. This software is available at www.collectiblesdatabase.com.
Primasoft’s Organizer Deluxe series (www.primasoft.com) offers Windows-based software for specialized collections—books, coins, wine, music, movies, stamps, sports cards, and more. If your collection doesn’t fit one of these specialized categories, Collectibles Organizer Deluxe is a more general program useful for a wide range of collectibles. As you create your collection database, you type in the item name, its condition, how much it cost, when you bought it, what it’s worth, and any notes. When you search your collection, you can sort the results by title, country, order of entry, category, and more, and you can filter searches to find, for example, which sports cards you bought between December 28, 2004 and February 18, 2005 (and how much you spent on them).
Vendi (www.vendisoftware.com) comes with specialized data-entry screens tailored to more than 30 popular categories—breweriana, arrowheads, war memorabilia, dolls, jewelry, and many more—or you can create your own. It offers a 30-day free trial, so you can see whether you like it before you buy. Vendi’s coolest feature is that it integrates with eBay. You can import information about an auction you won with a couple of mouse clicks. And if your house gets so full that you have to start auctioning off some of your collection, Vendi helps you keep track of your eBay sales and saves you some eBay fees by storing auction photos on its Web site (see Section 220.127.116.11 for more about using Web sites other than eBay to host your auction photos).
Visual PackRat Plus is currently for Windows only (but the company is considering including a Mac version in the next release). Visual PackRat Plus has 36 different editions, each tailored to a popular kind of collectible: Barbies, advertising memorabilia, paperweights, Disney figures, Swarovski, NASCAR, collectible plates, Star Wars stuff, and more. You can store up to seven images for each item in your collection, email those images, and organize up to five collections at once (there’s an additional charge for each edition you install). Visual PackRat Plus also lets you hook up with eBay to import items you’ve bought and help you if you decide to sell. It’s available at www.vpackrat.com.
The best way to begin buying on eBay is to purchase some low-priced items to build up positive feedback and learn how auctions work. After a while, though, you might be tempted by luxe-level offerings. Before you bid on big-ticket items, there are a few things you should know, like when to use escrow (Section 18.104.22.168) and how far eBay and PayPal’s buyer protection programs will (or won’t) cover you (Section 2.4.4). But there’s more. This section shows you what you need to do before you bid, and it offers specialized strategies for the pricey stuff, like jewelry, cars, and real estate.
If you plan to bid $15,000 or more, you need to contact eBay in advance; eBay requires big-ticket bidders to have a valid credit card number on file or separate confirmation of your identity (explained below). If you haven’t registered a credit card number with eBay, you can do so from your My eBay page. (Head to the navigation bar and click My eBay to pull up your My eBay page.) Click the Personal Information link, scroll down to Financial Information, and then click Change. After you’ve confirmed your password, you can type in information about your credit card.
If you submitted your credit card info a while ago, make sure the card hasn’t expired since then. If it has, update your information.
If you’d rather not give eBay your credit card number, you can have your personal information verified for a $5 fee. When you do so, you get a nifty icon next to your eBay ID to show that you’ve been verified. From the navigation bar, select Services → ID Verify → Sign Up Now. Be prepared to give your date of birth, Social Security Number, and driver’s license number (if you have one; if not, select No Driver’s License from the drop-down list). When you click the Continue button, you authorize eBay to check your personal credit profile.
When eBay verifies your identity, you can’t change your contact information (address and phone number) for 30 days. After 30 days, you can change this info—but if you do, you lose your verified status. You’ll have to go through the verification process all over again if you want it back.
No matter what big-ticket item you buy—from an antique armoire to a brand-new luxury car to a warehouse for stashing all your purchases—follow these guidelines to make sure you’re going to get what you pay for:
Always check the seller’s feedback (Section 2.1) and read the item description carefully.
Check out the seller’s return policy (on the auction page). If you’re spending big bucks, you should have time to inspect and authenticate the item before the transaction becomes final. Watch out for no-return policies and restocking fees; sellers sometimes charge a fee for taking a return (usually a percentage of the purchase price).
Check the auction page to see whether escrow payments are available. If not, and you want to use an escrow service, use the “Ask seller a question” link to make sure that the seller will go with Escrow.com. Ask this before you bid. Be sure to mention Escrow.com by name to assure the seller that you’re not trying to set up a fake transaction.
If you’re planning to bid more than $15,000, register your credit card with eBay (Section 4.2). If you neglect this step, eBay won’t accept your bid.
Check out the seller’s contact information before you pay. Use the “Ask seller a question” link from the auction page (which sends an email) or, if you’re in an active transaction, use Advanced Search → Find Contact Information (which gets you a phone number). If the phone is disconnected or the email you send bounces back, report the contact information as invalid (Help → Contact Us) and don’t send any money.
Shell out for insurance (Section 22.214.171.124). It’s worth it to make sure you’ll get your money back if the item arrives damaged or doesn’t arrive at all.
Never agree to any off-eBay transactions, and never agree to wire transfer as the form of payment. Wire transfers are untraceable and unrecoverable (see the box on Section 4.3.6). If the seller asks you to wire money or tries to close the deal off eBay, report them. (Choose Help → Contact Us → “Report problems with other eBay members” → “Problems with sellers,” and then select the specific problem. Click the Continue button, and then the Email link. Type your report and click Send Email.)
Be ready to authenticate the item—take it to a jeweler, mechanic, rare-book expert, or whoever is qualified to judge what you’re buying. It’s ideal, of course, if you can do this before the auction ends, but if you use an escrowservice, you can keep your payment in limbo until you’ve got an expert’s thumbs up (or thumbs down).
When you go into a jewelry store, you have a chance to inspect the merchandise (check for flaws or loose settings, try on a piece to see how it looks) before you decide whether to buy. And most stores make it easy for you to return your purchase if you change your mind later on.
Things are a little different on eBay. If you’re interested in buying expensive jewelry or watches on eBay, know that many reputable jewelers sell on the site. But problems do exist, including inflated weight estimates, suggestions that the item’s quality is better than it actually is, and overblown or phony appraisals. Because many online jewelry sellers aren’t certified gemologists, sellers may not realize that their descriptions are misleading. (Or sellers may be shady characters who know darn well what they’re doing.)
Either way, the following strategies can help you sift the gems from the dirt:
Be familiar with eBay’s listing policies. eBay has established listing policies to make it easier for buyers to know what they’re getting. For example, only natural (mined) diamonds meeting industry definitions can be listed in a diamond category. Man-made stones must have the word simulated or lab-created in front of the gem’s name; titles must contain phrases like simulated diamond or lab-created sapphire. Cubic zirconia has its own category and must contain cubic zirconia or CZ in the title. Similarly, if an item is not solid gold, sellers must state this fact in the auction’s title: gold filled, gold plated, gold electroplate, and so on. Sellers who fail to meet these guidelines risk seeing their auctions canceled.
Even with these guidelines in place, you should read the auction description thoroughly. Sometimes a seller will “forget” to state in the auction’s title that a gem is lab-created but mention this fact in small print somewhere on the auction page itself.
If you got taken in an auction that advertised a diamond but sold you a CZ, report it to eBay. Go to Help → Security Center and report the seller for misrepresenting the item.
Ask to use an escrow service. If your seller will accept payment through Escrow.com—ask before you bid—the site will hold your payment until you’ve had the item appraised and accepted it.
Insist on a fair return policy. Although using an escrow service affords the best protection, many sellers don’t like using them because they feel it protects the buyer but leaves them open to risk: some unscrupulous buyer might replace their genuine piece of jewelry with a fake, returning the fake and keeping both the real item and the payment. If that’s the case, make sure that the seller has a return policy you can live with. Look for policies that allow enough time for you to get the item appraised after you’ve received it, and watch out for restocking fees.
Since its beginnings in April 2000, eBay Motors (Figure 4-4) has been the venue for more than one million car sales and is now the fastest-growing part of the entire eBay site. The Motors division is a nationwide car lot, with everything from collectible muscle cars to basic transportation to brand-new luxury vehicles. Most of the vehicles are sold by dealers, and the average price is just shy of $10,000. To check it out, head to the eBay home page and click the link for eBay Motors, or type www.motors.ebay.com into your Web browser.
You might be nervous about buying a car sight unseen over the Internet. And you’d be right. If you can’t kick the tires and look under the hood yourself, how do you know what you’re getting?
The first thing to do when you’re considering buying a car on eBay is to learn as much as you can about the vehicle. Besides reading the description carefully, something you’d do for any auction, you can check the vehicle’s history (Section 126.96.36.199) and order a professional inspection (Section 188.8.131.52). These options cost money, but if you’re seriously thinking about buying a car from a stranger in another state, spending a little money before you buy can save you lots of money later.
To find car auctions close enough to home that you can look at the car before you bid, click Advanced Search on eBay’s home page (not the eBay Motors home page, which has a minimum range of 500 miles). Type in the model you want, select eBay Motors as the category, and then scroll down the page to the “Show only” section. Check the box next to “Items within,” then select the number of miles you want and type in your Zip code. The results are within the distance you specified.
A vehicle history report lets you know whether there are any known problems with the car’s title, odometer, service record, and more. For example, if the car has been reported stolen or an insurer has declared it a write-off after an accident, a vehicle history will reveal those things.
To run a vehicle history report, head to the auction page of the car you’re looking at, and then click the VIN (vehicle identification number). Doing so takes you to AutoCheck (owned by Experian, the credit-reporting company), where you can buy a vehicle history report. (Sellers who offer cars built after 1981 must include the car’s unique VIN in the item description; cars built before 1981 don’t have a VIN.)
A physical inspection of the car you’re considering can go a long way toward making you feel comfortable that a seller’s description is, in fact, accurate.
At your request, SGS Automotive Services (recommended by eBay) will send a technician to do a 150-item check, including interior and exterior photos, of a car you’re thinking about buying. Most inspections cost just under $100, and SGS also inspects motorcycles.
An alternative inspection service, CarChex (www.carchex.com), offers a 55-point inspection for $79.95.
If you were considering buying a car from Ed’s Used Cars down the street, you’d look up the going rate in Kelley’s Blue Book (www.kbb.com). Do the same when you’re buying through eBay Motors.
Other industry-standard resources include NADA guides (www.nadaguides.com) and Edmunds (www.edmunds.com). These sites let you customize your search beyond year, make, and model: you can include factors like mileage, optional equipment, condition, and even the vehicle’s Zip code to fine-tune the price you should be paying.
In your rush to get a good deal on a hot car, don’t forget the costs that go beyond the purchase price. After you buy a car, you still have to deal with your state’s tax, title, and registration costs. Also, check to see whether the seller charges any additional fees beyond the purchase price. If the vehicle is in another state, for example, you’ll need to factor in the cost of getting it to you (or you to it).
If you want the car delivered to you, www.movecars.com is an Internet directory of auto transport companies that can help you find the best rate.
It’s fun to bid on cars, but after you’ve played, you’ve got to pay. If you need financing, you can get it through eBay’s financing center (http://financing-center.ebay.com) before or after you commit to buy. Rates and lenders vary. In most cases, you can get your application reviewed in less than a minute.
(Of course, you can also arrange financing with your local bank or credit union—if you can do it fast. Most sellers want full payment within a week of the auction’s close.)
Because car sales typically involve thousands of dollars per transaction, eBay Motors attracts scammers like swarms of geeks to a Star Wars premiere. Section 4.3 reveals a number of general scams, but there are a couple you should be aware of that are common on eBay Motors.
If you bid on a car, motorcycle, ATV, boat, or other vehicle, be particularly careful about Second Chance Offers. A Second Chance Offer (SCO) sometimes happens when a buyer backs out of a sale, or when a reserve auction (Section 1.4.2) ends without meeting its reserve. In those cases, the seller can either relist the item or offer it to another bidder for the highest price that person bid. (Usually Second Chance Offers go to the second-highest bidder, but they can go to anyone who participated.) Read more about fake SCOs, how to spot them, and how to detect them on Section 4.3.6.
Never accept a Second Chance Offer that comes in an email with “Question from eBay Member” as its subject line. How do scammers get your email address? Sometimes they just guess. If your eBay ID is joesmith989, they’ll try firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, and so on. But if you’re selling something on eBay, the scammer will use the “Ask seller a question” link in one of your auctions to send you the bogus offer.
Another common scam abuses preapproved bidder lists. The scammer sets up a legitimate-looking auction for, say, a brand-new Mini Cooper, but only preapproved bidders can participate. You email the seller to see if you can get on the list, and the seller comes back with an offer to sell you the Mini for a few thousand bucks. All you have to do is wire the money…. Huh? Doesn’t the seller want to see how high the bidding will get? Don’t be fooled. Every would-be buyer who asks to be on the list gets the same offer you did—because there is no Mini. (And after reading the box on Section 4.3.6, you’ll know it’s always a bad idea to pay for an auction with a wire transfer.)
Listing real estate on eBay lets sellers reach an international audience of over 50 million potential buyers, and more than 2,000 properties sell via eBay every month. But real estate transactions are complex, and before you bid you should make sure you know what you’re getting into.
Although eBay says that its real estate auctions are divided into “binding” and “nonbinding” auctions, no real estate auction conducted on eBay is in fact legally binding, thanks to a plethora of state laws and the complexity of real estate transactions. Here’s what the terms actually mean:
Nonbinding. A nonbinding real estate auction is basically an ad. The price listed is the seller’s asking price, and there’s no Place Bid button or bid history. Instead, there’s a form at the bottom of the auction page, shown in Figure 4-5, where you can type in your contact info and any questions you might have. Contacting the seller is not the same as making a bid; potential buyers who fill out the contact form don’t have any obligation to follow through. It’s like calling a realtor about an ad in the paper.
Binding. A so-called binding auction for real estate looks just like a regular eBay auction. In these auctions, you’re not supposed to bid unless you intend to follow through with the transaction. But because there’s so much involved in completing a real estate sale (everything from a property inspection to a title search to obtaining a mortgage) and because laws governing real estate sales vary widely from one state to another, there’s no legal obligation to complete the sale. What “following through” means is continuing in good faith. In other words, if you win a real estate auction, you’re promising to take the next steps in the transaction. But if the house doesn’t measure up to its description or if your mortgage application doesn’t come through, you’re not obliged to buy.
Buyers and sellers can leave feedback on a binding real estate auction, just like on any other eBay auction. There’s no feedback involved in the nonbinding real estate listings advertised on eBay.
Before you place a bid in a real estate auction, take all the steps you would in any other auction. Check out the seller’s feedback (given as well as received). Read the auction description carefully, watching for hidden costs. For example, some auctions include a processing fee or closing costs beyond those you pay the bank. In other auctions, you’re bidding not on the actual sale price, but a down payment on a much higher price.
In the Item Specifics section of the item description, look for a Neighborhood Profile. Click the link to get statistics and demographics about the property’s neighborhood, based on Zip code. You can learn about average income, population, and crime rates for the area. All sellers have an opportunity to include a Neighborhood Profile when creating a real estate auction, so if there’s not a Neighborhood Profile, you should wonder what the seller is trying to hide—a high crime rate? A depressed area where you’re unlikely to find tenants? Know what you’re getting into before you bid.
Other issues to investigate when buying real estate through eBay include the following:
Is the title clear? Can you buy title insurance?
Are taxes up to date?
Is the property inhabitable as is, or does it need significant renovation?
Are there any easements or restrictions on the property?
What type of deed comes with the property? Make sure you’re getting a warranty deed, which guarantees the title comes to you free and clear.
What are prices of comparable properties in the same area? (You can look up current listings on www.realtor.com to get an idea of prices.)
Will you have time to apply for a mortgage after the auction ends, or should you arrange financing immediately? Will the seller consider owner financing, which means that the seller carries all or part of the mortgage?
Can you have the property inspected before the auction ends? Even if you can’t travel to inspect the property in person, you can pay a professional inspector to look at a property you’re seriously interested in. Find a licensed home inspector anywhere in the U.S. at www.inspectorsguide.com, or call a local real estate agent for recommendations.
Internet fraud is all over the news. And more than 60 percent of online fraud complaints are about online auctions. On the other hand, according to eBay, less than 1 percent of its auctions involve fraud.
Most eBay buyers and sellers are honest; the feedback system soon reveals those who aren’t. But the scammers are there. eBay’s size makes it easy to hide one fake auction, and the large number of newbies attracted to the site, eager to bid before learning their way around, means a constant supply of new people to con. This section shows you how to avoid becoming one of them.
eBay works hard to shut down scammers on the site. According to Matt Halprin of eBay’s Trust & Safety Group, eBay NARU’d over a million accounts in 2004. Not all of those million accounts were scammers, of course; other violations (like moving and forgetting to change your contact info) can result in suspension from the site. And when you consider eBay’s gargantuan size, it means more than 99 percent of eBayers do play fair.
eBay finds scammers when other eBayers report them. So if you see anything fishy going on, like one of the scams described in this section, go to Help → Security Center and let eBay know.
After five months of buying and examining products sold through eBay, Tiffany & Co. estimated that nearly three-quarters of all Tiffany items sold on eBay are fakes. Burberry contends that the number of sham Burberry items is closer to 90 percent. Whether you’re looking for jewelry, handbags, watches, designer jeans, sunglasses—anything where the brand matters—be warned in advance that many of the “deals” you’ll find on eBay really are too good to be true.
Cheap knockoffs of exclusive, high-priced designer goods have flooded the market worldwide in recent years. It’s become such a problem that eBay has set up a special program for designers to report (and remove) auctions for fake goods; see the box on Section 4.3.2 for more about this program, called VeRO.
When you can examine the merchandise in person, you can check for clumsy stitching, misspelled labels, cheap zippers or other hardware, smudged or uneven lettering in authenticity stamps, and other giveaway signs. With an online auction, though, you can’t give the goods that kind of inspection until after you’ve paid. Other than avoiding designer auctions altogether, what can you do?
You can follow these smart fake-busting strategies:
First, research the product. Go to the designer’s Web page or an approved online merchant like eLUXURY (www.eluxury.com; Figure 4-6) and study the details. Then compare the real thing to the auction you’re considering. Are the colors the same? Does the online auction photo hide details that should verify authenticity? Is the stitching even, or does it call attention to itself? A handcrafted wallet should not look like a mass-produced item.
Pass on any auction that fails to include a photo of the item. If the seller included a photo and it looks good, double-check to make sure it’s not merely a copy snagged from the manufacturer’s Web site. You want to be as sure as you can that the photo on the auction page is the actual item up for bid. In fact, one photo doesn’t tell you all that much. Click the “Ask seller a question” link to request more pictures.
Keep an eye out for these telltale clues. Would you sell a $25,000 Rolex for $19.99? A ridiculously low starting price with no reserve is a clue that the seller doesn’t have much to lose, because the item isn’t genuine. For another clue, click the “View seller’s other items” link. Does the seller have dozens and dozens of listings for brand-new, high-end merchandise? Companies like Louis Vuitton, Chanel, and so on do not wholesale to independent eBay sellers. So where’s the seller getting all this stuff?
To boost your chances of finding an authentic designer item (say, a Gucci handbag), look for a gently used bag offered by someone who’s not selling a boatload of Gucci stuff. And odds are that someone selling a real, live, second-hand Gucci bag has started the bidding at a price high enough to recoup some of its original purchase price.
Check the seller’s member profile and feedback. If other buyers of similar items complain they’ve received fakes, it clues you in to what that seller is really offering. A relatively new seller who has tons of cheaply priced luxury goods probably isn’t selling the real thing. Even a seller with 100 percent positive feedback can be suspect; did most of it come from members who are no longer registered? Was the positive feedback from buying or selling? What kinds of items? You might want to think twice before bidding on a Louis Vuitton clutch offered by someone whose entire trading history so far consists of buying and selling one-cent recipes.
Trust your gut. Use some common sense. If someone is selling a Coach bag, claiming to have original tags and a receipt from Bergdorf’s, why didn’t the person just return the bag to Bergdorf’s for a store credit? Why would the seller put it on eBay and lose so much original purchase price? The old “I waited too long to take it back” excuse is baloney. If you had $1,200 on the line, you’d make it a priority to return the item and get your money back, wouldn’t you?
When it comes to designer auctions, know that there are a lot of fakes out there—some would say that most of the designer products up for auction on eBay are fake—and proceed with caution. If you have any doubts, don’t bid.
Shill bidding is the practice of placing false bids to drive up the price of an item artificially. Sometimes a seller will bid on his or her own items from a second account; other times friends or family members will bid on items they have no intention of buying, just to get the seller a better price. Shill bidders often try to start a bidding war, getting other bidders caught up emotionally until they’ve bid beyond their better judgment. When the bidding stops, the shill bidder retracts his high bid, leaving another bidder holding the bag.
Besides all that, shill bidding is illegal.
But what about an auction that already has some bids? Can you determine whether the bidding is legitimate, showing real demand for the item, or artificially inflated? The first place to look is the item’s bid history; on the auction page, click the History link (Figure 4-7). Shill bidders tend to put in really high bids (then retract them) or nibble (Section 184.108.40.206) at an item until they’ve revealed another bidder’s maximum. These strategies aren’t proof of shill bidding, but they’re a place to start investigating.
Looking at the bid history doesn’t tell you the whole story, though. Some nibblers put in lots of small bids because they don’t understand how proxy bidding (Section 2.2) works and they’re trying to get a deal. But those nibblers are legitimate bidders who pay for the items they win.
One way to tell the nibblers from the shill bidders is that shill bidders tend to keep putting in small bids until they’ve made it to high bidder—then retract their most recent bid, leaving another bidder on top of the pile. They do this to make sure that the price gets as high as it possibly can.
If you think a Bid History reveals a possible shill bidder, the next step is to hunt down other auctions the suspect’s bid on: hit Advanced Search → Items by Bidder. Type the suspected shill bidder’s eBay ID in the text box and check “Include completed listings” and “Even if not high bidder.” Maximize the number of results displayed per page, and then click Search; the results may be enlightening. Shill bidders tend to bid only on the auctions of one particular seller; another clue is that a bidder has been on eBay for a long time but never won an auction. See Figure 4-8.
Shill bidders often have a lot of retractions in their Member Profile. If the shiller becomes the high bidder, she retracts the bid and drops out of the auction, leaving the next highest bidder the winner.
If you find someone you think is shill bidding, report it to eBay using the Help → Contact Us link. eBay will investigate and, if they agree that the bidder is a shill, will NARU the person. Keep in mind, though, that not all unusual bidding patterns show shill bidding. Newbies are often nibblers. Or a buyer might have a particular seller listed as a favorite, returning frequently to that seller’s auctions. And a buyer determined to get a particular item, especially below a certain price, is likely to keep bidding on similar items until he or she wins. If you think someone’s been trying to push up bids, let eBay check it out.
You might have received emails purporting to be from eBay before you ever even registered with the site. These spoof emails, fake emails sent by scammers trying to steal personal information, usually report an urgent problem with your account (or sometimes merely request routine maintenance). The emails urge you to verify your account details by clicking a link and typing in your ID, password, and sometimes other information—like your Social Security number, credit card number, date of birth, and so on. Many people are so used to sending personal information over the Internet that they click the link and type in the required info without giving it a second thought. Later, they’ll find themselves locked out of their own eBay or PayPal account as the scammer uses it for fraud or for running up credit card charges.
eBay has taken action to combat spoof emails by enhancing the My Messages section of My eBay. Any official eBay communications about your account will appear there; go to My eBay → My Messages to check your Inbox. If the email isn’t in there, it’s a spoof.
Spoof emails like the one shown in Figure 4-9 can look highly authentic, using the eBay or PayPal logo and valid links to the real sites. But several telltale clues, including a generic greeting, grammatical mistakes, incorrect terminology, and a request to hand over account information—all items eBay would never include in a legitimate email—clue you in that the email is bogus. Check out Figure 4-10 to see an example of another dead giveaway common to spoof emails: a non-eBay link.
When you receive an email that you suspect is spoofed, forward it to email@example.com (or firstname.lastname@example.org if it refers to your PayPal account). eBay will get back to you and let you know for sure whether the email is genuine or a fake. The vast majority are fakes. Don’t click that link!
If you ever suspect that you’ve already given your eBay ID and password to a bogus site, you need to do several things immediately:
Make sure your computer is clean. When you followed the link in the spoof email, your computer might have been infected with a virus or spyware (an unwanted, hidden program that monitors and reports your computer activity to people you haven’t authorized). If your computer has picked up a keystroke logger, for example—spyware that records everything you type and sends that information to a third party—the scammer will know when you change your password and what you change it to. So before you do anything else, fire up your computer’s virus-protection software (like Norton AntiVirus or McAfee Virus-Scan) to scan for and remove any viruses. Lavasoft’s Ad-Aware (www.lavasoftusa.com) can root out and destroy any spyware hiding on your computer.
Sign in to eBay and change your password. You sign in to eBay by typing www.ebay.com into your Web browser’s address box and clicking the Sign In/Out link that appears on the eBay home page. If you can’t sign in to your account, contact eBay immediately; go to eBay’s home page and click Live Help.
Report the bogus site to eBay. To do so, go to the navigation bar and click Help → Contact Us.
Contact PayPal, your credit card company, and your bank. If you gave any information to the bogus site relating to your PayPal account, credit card, or bank account, contact those companies and let them know what happened.
Contact the credit bureaus and Social Security. If you revealed financial information or your Social Security number, notify the three major credit bureaus and the Social Security Administration to put a fraud alert on your information by calling these fraud lines:
|Experian (TRW): 1-888-EXPERIAN|
|Trans Union: 1-800-680-7289|
|Social Security Administration: 1-800-269-0271|
eBay has teamed up with Equifax to fight identity theft. eBayers can order discounted credit reports from Equifax to see whether anything odd is up with your credit. Moreover, you can subscribe to Credit Watch for eBay, which alerts you by email when there are changes to your credit report, like new credit cards or bank accounts opened in your name. Check it out at http://creditzone.ebay.com.
Behind all the spoof emails going around are scammers looking for accounts to hijack. Account hijacking is a form of identity theft. When scammers harvest someone’s eBay ID and password from a response to a spoof email, they steal that person’s eBay account. The scammer might sign in and change the account’s password and contact information, locking out the rightful owner of the account. Or, to avoid detection (because eBay sends you an email when you change your password), the scammer might simply use the hijacked account to create phony auctions, with a note in the item description that says something like,"The Ask Seller a Question link isn’t working. If you have any questions, email me at email@example.com.” If the rightful owner doesn’t check his eBay account for a few weeks, he never knows what’s going on.
Because scammers use hijacked accounts to run fake auctions for items they don’t have, they look for established accounts with a decent feedback score. Smart eBayers are unlikely to buy big-ticket items from a new seller with little or no feedback, so the scammers want to get their hands on the accounts of legitimate eBayers who’ve earned a good reputation.
Don’t be fooled by a scam auction from a hijacked account. Here are some signs that an auction isn’t legit:
The seller offers free shipping on an item that would normally cost hundreds of dollars to ship, such as shipping a car from Europe to the U.S.
The seller promises that the item is being inspected in “the eBay warehouse.” (There is no eBay warehouse, and eBay doesn’t inspect items sold on its site.)
The seller has a lot of auctions running simultaneously for identical high-end items. Such auctions could be legitimate, but check for other warning signs, like payment by wire transfer.
The seller offers to end the auction early, just for you. Think about it a minute. Why would the seller want to end the auction early when the bidding might go higher?
The seller’s feedback shows a sudden change in direction, as shown in Figure 4-11. If someone who’s specialized in Beanie Babies since 2001 is suddenly selling speedboats, or if someone who hasn’t done a thing on eBay for months or years buys a couple of cheap items and then lists a dozen brand-new laptops, avoid their auctions.
On the auction page, click “View seller’s other items” to check the seller’s other auctions. If the item description says, “I have to sell this plasma TV because my wife didn’t like the way it took over our living room,” how come the same seller has half a dozen other, identical plasma TVs for sale?
An escrow service is a third party that people often use in transactions for expensive items. The service holds the buyer’s payment (assuring the seller that payment has been made) until the buyer has received, inspected, and accepted the item. Escrow services, described in detail on Section 220.127.116.11, allow total strangers to conduct big-ticket transactions with confidence.
For scammers, bogus escrow sites are a synonym for “easy money.” As a buyer, you send in your money, trusting that you can get it back if the item doesn’t arrive or isn’t of the quality you expected. But the item never arrives, the escrow company doesn’t answer your emails, and there’s no other way to contact the company. Your money is gone.
Fake escrow services have mushroomed all over the Internet. Often they look professional at first glance, as in Figure 4-12. How can you tell whether a particular escrow service is the real thing?
The short answer is to insist on Escrow.com for all escrow transactions, because it’s the only U.S. escrow service approved by eBay. If your trading partner tells you they can’t or won’t use Escrow.com—no matter how good the excuse may sound—don’t continue with the transaction.
If you’re trading outside the United States, eBay recommends a few international escrow services. To find them, go to the navigation bar and click Help → A–Z Index → E → “Escrow for Buyers.” Scroll to the bottom of the page to see the list of recommended escrow services.
Some scammers will try to convince you that Square Trade is an escrow service. It’s not. Square Trade (www.squaretrade.com) is an independent company that does three things related to eBay: it verifies sellers, it mediates disputes, and it sells warranty plans. Square Trade never takes part in ongoing auctions.
Sometimes the high bidder who wins an auction can’t (or won’t) complete the transaction. Stuff happens: illness, loss of financing, a stubborn case of cold feet. In these cases, eBay lets the seller send out a Second Chance Offer (SCO) to any of the nonwinning bidders. A Second Chance Offer means that even though you didn’t win the auction, you can (if you want) buy the item. Sellers can also send Second Chance Offers if they have two or more identical items for sale or if more than one bidder participated in a reserve auction (Section 1.4.2) that failed to meet the reserve price.
If you receive a Second Chance Offer, it will be for the amount of your highest bid, even though that bid didn’t win the auction. The item will have a new number, and you can sign in to eBay and use Buy It Now to purchase the item for the amount you bid. There’s no obligation to accept a Second Chance Offer, but these offers can be a great way to win an auction you thought you’d lost.
The trouble is that scammers manipulate Second Chance Offers to sell items they don’t have. In this type of scam, the scammer looks over the bid history and contacts the nonwinning bidders, offering to sell the item at the bid price. But the scammer isn’t the original seller and has no intention of selling anything, just grabbing your money.
How can you tell the difference between a legitimate Second Chance Offer and a scam? Here’s a checklist:
Real Second Chance Offers come from eBay and have a link to a Buy It Now page. Also, legitimate Second Chance Offers never have “Question from eBay Member” as their subject lines. Bogus ones come from the scammer’s email account or ask you to contact the scammer via email to complete the transaction.
Real Second Chance items have a reassigned item number. To check out an item number, log in to eBay (by typing www.ebay.com into your browser’s address box), click Advanced Search, and search for the item number that was in the SCO email. If it brings up the item as a BIN auction with your price as the BIN price, it’s legitimate. If it doesn’t, it’s a scam.
Real Second Chance Offers appear on your My eBay page. You can check whether a Second Chance Offer is legitimate by heading to the navigation bar and clicking My eBay, then checking out the My Summary view. If you don’t see a Second Chance Offer listed there, the offer you received is bogus.
Real Second Chance Offers show the original seller. Look up the original auction on eBay. Check to make sure that the seller’s ID in the original auction matches exactly the ID of the seller in the Second Chance Offer. Scammers often count on the fact that the bidder is unlikely to remember the original seller’s ID.
Real Second Chance Offers link to the relisted item. The link in the SCO should go to the relisted item with a BIN price, not to the original auction.
Real Second Chance Offers never involve wire transfers. The payment options should be the same as those listed in the original auction. Scammers rarely accept PayPal and are likely to insist on instant wire transfer (such as Western Union or MoneyGram). The box on Section 4.3.6 explains why you should never pay via instant wire transfer.
Fake Second Chance Offers often include a list of “five easy steps.” The first step is that the seller notifies eBay about the transaction. In a real SCO, eBay already knows about the transaction; the seller has to set things up through eBay before you can receive the offer.
Fake Second Chance Offers often try to reassure the would-be buyer that the auction is legitimate. Common scams include claims that Safe Harbor or Square Trade has approved the seller or that the seller has deposited a large amount of money in an “eBay managed purchase protection account.” Neither Safe Harbor nor Square Trade “approves” sellers, and—you guessed it—there’s no such thing as a managed purchase protection account. eBay doesn’t hold money for its sellers.
You can help eBay track down the bad guys by reporting any fake SCO you receive. Go to Help → Security Center to file a report.
If Second Chance Offers make you nervous, you can just tell eBay you don’t ever want to receive them. On any eBay page, go to the navigation bar and then click My. On your My eBay page, click eBay Preferences, then, next to Notification Preferences, click View/Change. Scroll down the page to “Second chance offer notice,” and make sure the checkbox is turned off. After you’ve clicked Save Changes to save this preference, eBay won’t send you Second Chance Offers, so you’ll know that any you receive are scams.