Can you trust eBay?

No, this isn’t about my long-running problems with eBay customer service, or the evils of online ticket touts, or any of the other eBay irritations. It’s about eBay users – or rather, abusers.

My locked account has caused a few problems, and while some of them are probably good – I can’t drunkenly bid on Girls Aloud goodies – they also mean I can’t sell anything. Having upgraded my phone and realised I’d made a mistake, I needed to sell the new, unwanted one – and David very generously agreed to use his, not-locked eBay account to sell it for me.

The phone was listed with a starting price of £10 and no reserve; I didn’t use the Buy It Now option. When the listing went up, other identical listings were available with buy it now prices of £250ish. Despite this, David immediately received a bunch of emails from would-be buyers offering immediate PayPal payments of “£350 or more”. Naturally those emails were from scammers: if you accept their offer you will indeed get paid, but the payment will turn out to be fraudulent not long after you’ve sent the item – and because you’re going outwith the eBay system, you’re not covered by their seller protection policies.

Scammers ignored, the auction sat alone and unloved until the day before the auction was due to end, at which point the snipers moved in. In the final moments of the auction the price shot up from £10 to £285, at which point nothing happened. David invoiced the winning bidder, but his invoice was ignored.

On checking eBay this morning, David found out why. At least one of the bidders – the winning bidder – was fraudulent, so the whole auction was removed (which is particularly annoying because re-listing it will mean starting from scratch). eBay has promised to refund the listing fees but given my own experience of late, I won’t be surprised if that doesn’t happen.

So we’re back to the drawing board. David can re-list the phone, ignore and/or report the PayPal scammers and hope that this time, the winning bidder is a real person. But there’s every chance that the second listing will be a repeat of the first.

We already know that eBay’s a minefield for buyers, but I’m starting to suspect that it’s a swamp for sellers too. I certainly work on the assumption that sellers are fraudsters unless proved otherwise, and it seems that I should take the same attitude towards buyers too.

This isn’t an “oh my god! Bad people use eBay too!” naive rant; it’s the *level* of abuse that’s worrying. In the case of David’s cancelled auction, more than half of the people who contacted him – either by bidding or by offering to buy right now and end the auction early – were fraudsters. If that’s representative of eBay in general, it means that the baddies are now in the majority.

As David said this morning, “I don’t trust eBay any more. I’ll use it to buy the odd game thing, but I don’t think I’d use it for selling anything. It’s just too risky.”

8 thoughts on “Can you trust eBay?

  1. Stephen says:

    I certainly do think that eBay is borked for selling anything small and of high value, like phones, video cameras, laptops etc. I had a happy eBay experience until I tried to sell a friend’s smartphone for him. Since then, avoiding said small/highvalue items, I’ve been OK. I sold my written-off, un-MOTable Honda Civic for a surprising amount, and have bought odd things like pins to remove car CD players with no problems.

    About all you can do with small high-values is sell them local pickup, COD only. That’s how I sold my Palm Tungsten T3.

    Link to my unhappy eBay experience:

    http://batflattery.blogspot.com/2005/01/fraudstercom.html

  2. Gary says:

    Yeah, I remember that post. I’m not sure what you can do other than specify you’ll only deliver to a paypal verified address, and then limit the buyers in various ways (no negative feedback, etc). Which is a shame, because that inevitably blocks genuine people too.

  3. Stephen says:

    As I said, if it’s a popular, high-value item, and you live in a heaving metropolis like I do, just saying COD only will probably still net you a local buyer who you can meet with the item and get your cash (with some large friends if you’re worried about being ripped off in person!)

  4. mupwangle says:

    >>(with some large friends if you’re worried about being ripped off in person!)

    That’s another issue in itself. It happened near here (In Leeds, I think) that someone arranged to meet someone to exchange and got mugged.

    I used to think ebay was great but that’s when it was genuinely still a sell the crap you don’t want type gig. Now that there are so many scalpers and professional ebayers its become so much less. Look at concert tickets, the whole game console scalping debacle and the huge number of scammers. It’s quite depressing.

  5. Gary says:

    It’s interesting how the eBay economy is driving changes in the real world. I think the game retailers’ bundling bonanza is driven largely by the sight of ebay console auctions, and there’s no doubt in my mind that the soaring cost of concert tickets is a reaction to the scalpers. In the long term I think that’ll lead to very expensive, non-transferable tickets for everything, and very expensive bundles (for future consoles or whatever) priced at a point where not even ebayers would be able to sell them for any more cash. So everyone loses.

  6. 0ctavia says:

    Sadly it’s a reflection of the ills of eBay that there are so many scammers now on the site. They could have done something about this, user verification is virtually non-existent on the site whereas other auction sites manage to say – hey you’re in Spain, no you can’t join as a UK member – or similar.

    The mechanisms for safety are already there but eBay just won’t use them. Then there’s the question … if the Russian hacker Vladuz can get into eBay.de and take over a Pink’s account, using it to post in the forums, is anyone’s account safe?

    Report on the ‘Legendary Vladuz’ and his activities on eBay.de here http://www.pheebay.com/blog/2007/02/scams-scammers-and-legendary-vladuz-on.html

  7. Gary says:

    Hey Octavia, thanks for the link. Fascinating.

    I think you’re right about eBay’s approach: it’s a rather hands-off attitude that helps scammers thrive, I reckon.

  8. Brian Snale says:

    I have to agree, security at eBay is a joke, they have allowed the site to degenerate into a den of theives. The 1p eBook feedback game is an example, they don’t even do the simplest of things to prevent fraud. As long as they get their fees they don’t care.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *