BY SHIRL A. STEWARD
(from her SFNM blog 2003-8)
Slight of 'mouse' ľ Fraudsters on
eBay and beyond
Shirl A. Steward
It's true. There is a lot of criticism and controversy about
eBay. However, despite it all, Ebay, founded in 1995 by Pierre
Omidyar, is thriving with millions of auctions starting and
ending every day. My guess is the company is not going away or
folding any time soon.
The above book "Dawn of the eBay
deadbeats" contains, according to
"stories told by those who have been suckered, snookered,
pinched, and robbed while buying and selling on eBay." None of
these stories is unique. Might you be one of them?
How is this possible? How does
eBay stay afloat with so much fraud and criticism shot at them?
What of the various class action suits that claim eBay isn't all
it says? One article I saw mentioned a suit seeking $9.3 million
in damages. And, there've been others.
For one thing, it meant
immediately making arrangements to close my VISA and my bank
account to protect what I had on deposit.
What of the claims, that eBay itself and not just sellers, are
bidding near auction end times to boast winning prices? Is there
any truth to this claim? And, back to the eBay auctioneers
themselves . . . exactly how much fraud is going on behind the
screens of auctioneers? Will we ever know?
I wish I could answer these questions but I can't. What I can do
is share what I have been witness to . . . the experiences that
a couple of friends and I have had with eBay.
I first got interested in writing about eBay over a year ago.
It just so happened that a friend was one of many 'victims'
testifying in the latest eBay class action suit. She wanted me
to tell her story. My friend, an artist, had a storefront on
eBay in which she displayed and sold her art. She still sells on
eBay but only with a carefully executed regiment. She has a much
more discerning attitude these days.
There is a reason behind that change of heart. In fact, when
someone told her about the suit going on, her frustrations
regarding losses and experiences lead her to join the ranks of
those victimized already committed to testifying about their
Each incident in itself could have been a mistake and easily
corrected by eBay, my friend reasoned, but that's not quite the
way it went down. First, she was billed numerous times for the
same auctions or the auction fees were miscalculated and she was
overcharged. When she complained, instead of crediting her, they
billed her again. She had also taken advantage of a special eBay
had for a very basic storefront. It was only $10 a month or so
she thought. Instead of receiving what she had signed up for,
without permission or request of confirmation, she was upgraded
to a full-blown storefront with all the trimmings. She
complained again . . . but many months later, she was still
fighting eBay to credit her and remove options on her account
she hadn't requested.
She found then that many others in New Mexico , her state of
residence, had similar complains that continued to go without
resolution. Contacting eBay by phone wasn't an easy option. At
least, it was for my friend. With no tech support hotline, all
correspondence and complaints had to be done by email and
through the eBay website interface. It is my experience, by the
way, that this interface, with all its lackings, is probably one
of the most frustrating of communicating tools in existence on
the worldwide web today.
These eBay users were all getting the identical feeling. They
felt that eBay was looking the other way on all these 'mistakes'
. . . Although, all tiny in comparison to the huge revenues
being generated at eBay daily, they knew the total damages could
amount to many tens, or even, hundreds of thousands of dollars
if it is assumed that such random errors are but a mere sampling
of the multitude of similar occurrences in the greater eBay mix.
The initiators of the Class Action Suit obviously thought so.
The case finally settled out of court. The official word is that
eBay won. There was a settlement but the amount was immaterial,
according to my friend. The lawyers donated all of it to
Nope, the money didn't matter. It was a small figure in
comparison to what they had originally asked for. No, it was
point of it all. To take on a giant like eBay and make them
accountable for the many problems and inefficiencies in their
systems was well worth the satisfaction gained.
Then there is my experience . . .
Not long ago I was on eBay looking for a professional camera. I
was eager to see what I would find both new and used. However,
it had been quite a while since I'd last taken any time to even
browse on eBay. In fact, I had to look up my username and
password. I had forgotten it.
One thing I noticed right away was that usernames were not given
in the auctions 'listings' generated from a simple search
anymore. I found this quite annoying. It made it a bit harder to
shop from a general list if you wanted to avoid certain
auctioneers. Anyway . . . I made due.
Pretty soon I happened upon an auction that sounded a bit too
good to be true. It intrigued me. I guess it was because I like
solving puzzles. The auction was very unclear as to what
actually was being offered for sale. Many items were mentioned
in the ad but not specifically 'as' included in the sale
offerings. So, I emailed the seller. This person had listed an
email in the body of the text. It said I should email first
before making any bids. I went in pretty na´ve I guess. I didn't
suspect foul play. I didn't think anything of these facts until
I widen my search and started making comparisons.
Moments later, I found several other auctions with exactly the
same photos, description and format as the previous one but the
seller was different. Again, I didn't think that so strange. I
figured it could be the same person double-listing under two
names to increase their chances for finding buyers. I hadn't yet
heard from the first email so I wrote the second seller then
with the same enquiry made to the first and also mentioned this
similarity and doubling of listings. That was my second mistake.
My first mistake was sending an email at all to either party.
A few hours passed and I got a reply back from the first guy. He
said that the Canon camera I enquired about was 100% brand new,
in 'the' box, with the full TWO-year standard manufacturer's
warranty. Big red flag went up. I spent a number of years
working as a manufacturer's rep for Canon so I knew for a fact
that they offered only a one-year warranty. Any legitimate
seller would have known this. In fact, anyone, who's bought
electronics in the last 10 years, would know.
I went back and looked for his original auction listing then. I
just wanted to refresh my memory of what was said so I could
better respond. The auction did not exist anymore! Someone had
I did not write back. Nor did I get a response from the second
auctioneer I emailed.
Now rather suspicious and also very curious, I began searching,
outside the camera category, for some of the 'suspect' phrases
within these two sets of previously found auctions. I started
finding patterns in the way phrases were used. They always had
an email listed in the text body with wording to the effect that
the bidder should email them before making any bids. The word
answer was often spelled answear. Is there such a spelling
somewhere in the world? There must be. I found it by itself many
times in other auctions without the other phrase patterns'
accompanying. Either, it's a real word or these guys are pretty
stupid or, even a worse case scenario would be that they did the
misspellings and these similar phrases as a 'red herring' on
purpose. This means that they might actually WANT their errors
in the auctions to be detected. Now, why would they want to do
that? Think about the possibilities there one for a moment . . .
Yes, all these auctions were fraudulent. Big surprise, huh? I
could not believe I had come face-to-face with a fraud ring.
But, it gets more interesting . . .
So, what do I do? Simple. I reported all the auctions I found to
eBay as suspicious and as possibly fraudulent. Of course, it
wasn't that easy finding a suitable method to do the reporting.
But that's another story.
Then, a funny thing happened just moments after making my
report. Well, not such a funny thing really.
When I checked my email, there were several pages of emails from
eBay saying I had placed auctions. There were 79 of them to be
exact! I was in shock. I was horrified. What was going on? I was
I looked at the auctions that had been placed on my account in
my name. They all had the same sort of patterns I had detected
in the auctions I had reported.
I was now the one being victimized. Panic ran through me . . . I
thought of all the charges that might soon be charged to my
account and how much just the listings fees alone would be. I
knew I had to act fact to avoid financial disaster.
I took a deep breath and tried to remain calm.
I searched for a way to contact eBay. There was no phone number
and no readily visible button anywhere that said 'click here if
your eBay ID has been compromised'. Fortunately, in my case,
there was a lucky 'accident' though. Someone had sent me a
question on one of the 79 fraudulent listings. I clicked on the
button to respond so I could explain that it wasn't my auction.
Maybe, I thought, it would help prove to eBay I tried to do
I wrote a message but, when I tried to send it, I was instantly
taken to a live chat screen where an operator was waiting to
clarify the situation.
That's when I actually got to talk to one of the eBay
representatives and on the phone, no less! The individual had to
confirm I was the 'real' owner of the ID in question so he
called me at home and we talked. After he verified I was the
true ID owner, he reassumed me that all trace of the 79 listings
had been successfully removed from my account and that my status
as an eBay consumer has not been tarnished by the incident. He
could not speak freely on the general issue or prevalence of
eBay fraud but his manner, though compassionate, was quite
mechanical. That said to me that such explanations, made to
victims of account compromise, were all just a matter of daily
Jeez, a part of daily routine? "Could it be that bad?", I
I have since reported thousands of fraudulent listings I've seen
on other users' accounts. It became a daily part of 'the
research' for this article. I wanted to know how much and how it
My theory is this . . . The fraudsters, as I call them, hack
into probably a hundred or more accounts a day. I assume they
choose inactive accounts or those of low activity level because
it limits immediate detection. They chose me simply because I
got wind of their scheme and told them so. They got pissed. A
friend of mine had his account compromised just two days later.
I'm not sure if they made the connection between us (we bid on
Anyway, back to my theory . . . I'd say, the fraudsters have a
huge bank of auctions somewhere ready to be uploaded. Before
upload, minor changes are made in the listings then, so the
listings have some uniqueness as to identity . . . a new email,
a slight change in wording, a new photo . . . but the items
remain much the same . . . mostly big tickets items . . .
nothing is sacred though. You might see anything that has the
potential to bring in a few hundred dollars or more. I've seen
mobile homes, campers, trucks, animal transport vehicles,
cameras, computers and big screen hi-def TVs. Apparently, in a
split second, they are all posted simultaneously to the stolen
account. (see mention of this below on how to detect a fraud)
The concern I have with all this is the 'unknown territory' . .
. all the things that we don't know might be happening behind
the scenes disguised by this endless fašade of 'red herrings.'
Thousands of them appear daily. As soon as they are spotted by
users, they are taken down by eBay.
Here are my concerns:
(1) These fraud listings are just TOO easy to spot. They always
have the same wording. They always have an email and the
phrasing similar to 'email me before you bid'. They are always
placed on stolen accounts. Are they truly 'red herrings' planted
to take every one off the trail of an even bigger plot to
defraud eBay buyers?
(2) There is quite obviously a very distinct pattern to these
fraudulent listings. Why hasn't eBay devised a system for
filtering them out BEFORE they wind up as actual auctions?
Certain combinations of words could send up an alert to eBay and
that auction could be put on hold for approval before being made
active. It seems simple enough. We do it at the newspaper with
reader comments. Yes, simple enough but why hasn't eBay taken
action on this?
(3) EBay automatically detects these fraud auctions when they
are detected. They ONLY notify people who have bid on those
specific auctions that they are dealing with fraud perpetrators.
Why of those who actually take the bait and they (1) email
the fraudster and (2) are drawn into sending Western Union
payments. When these people
find out they have been defrauded and try to go back to eBay,
they WILL have problems. First, the auction has been deleted.
That means that there is NO trace of the auction on eBay
anymore. Second, if they try to use the standard system of
reporting and input the auction number, their attempt at
communication will be rejected! This is because the system
will not recognize correspondence on an auction without an
current ID number! Rather convenient for eBay, I'd say.
Maybe a bit too convenient. The system does not encourage
victims to seek retribution or reimbursement. It challenges
them, instead, to just grin and bear their losses. One can
certainly send an email using another valid auction number and
explain the situation from there but then things will get
confusing. In the end, the person is not only defrauded but
driven to humiliation by a very user-unfriendly eBay system.
Reporting Frauds and how to spot them . . .
How do you report that someone has compromised your account or
someone else's? I'm not sure if there is an established
procedure but the following is what I did and it continues to
work for me.
I went to the help page to the link called Security Center. I
clicked on that link and the following links in this order:
'report another problem', 'listing violations', 'fraudulent
items' and finally 'you suspect that a listing is fraudulent you
didn't bid'. That gave me an email body in which to place my
report. When you come to the email body put in some of the
auction ID numbers, then in the body give your eBay ID and that
your account has been used without permission for fraudulent
auctions. Ebay will get back to you. They will send you
confirmation that the emails have been cancelled and removed
from your account without consequence. Your account will be
temporarily suspended until they have identified you are the
rightful party of the eBay account.
If this same thing happens to you, do not panic. Just follow the
above instructions. From my experience, I would estimate there
are thousands of these 'bad' listings on eBay every day.
I found more than a 1000 auctions that first night. They were
all fraudulent. They all had the same patterns of words and the
emails used were used in a 'run' . . . meaning that they all had
the same emails or phrases listed. In addition, it appears that
these auctions are slightly altered each time and added in a
batch clump at the exact same moment. If you see 7-100 auctions
all with the same ending time, it's a dead giveaway that's it's
a fraudster's work. What I mean is that they picked various
usernames and 'attached' auctions to them. It could be anyone's
ID and yours in non exception!
EBAY KNOWS all about these
people so contact them immediately and don't panic!
As a last word, I will mention
here that one can still enjoy buying and selling on eBay. As
long as you look for the "clues" that will alert you to bad or
fraudulent auctions, question everything you find the least bite
suspicious and exercise extreme caution, you should not have a
problem. Since my experience, I have purchases 15 items on
eBay. All of them shipped fast and gave me exactly what I was
expecting. Also remember the old standby: If it's sounds too
good to be true, it probably is.
There are a lot of great deals
on eBay. Enjoy but be ever cautious!
If you have an eBay complaint, you might
first share your experience with others at
Beware of eBay deadbeats, author warns -
Book review of eBay deadbeats
of eBay deadbeats, author warns
Imagine buying vintage Spiderman comics for $16,000 and
receiving instead, a box of printer paper or losing a whopping
$27,000 in purchasing a big rig that didn't exist in the first
place. These are just many of the online auction fraud horror
stories that brothers Edward and Steve Klink compiled from their
eBay watchdog Web site eBayersThatSuck.com (E.T.S.). [...]
Coss, 'The City
Different' and its merchants conflicted
attended the recent Coffee with Mayor Coss last Tuesday. It was
the second of many meetings Coss plans to hold with local
business owners and various other interest groups. I'd estimate
about 60 or so business people showed up. Several friends who
are merchants were also in attendance.
a handout. It contained an update on events since the first
meeting and listed all the many unresolved issues to be
discussed as an ongoing attempt to find solutions amidst a
seemingly impossible maze of conflicting merchant viewpoints and
there wondered to myself, 'How will Coss ever find a set of
workable solutions for all these demands for change?' All are
equally valid but all conflicting and all from individuals with
widely varying interests. To please one, another's needs must
be sacrificed or . . . is it possible there is a solution that
will please all?
before Coss, have tried and failed over the past 26 years. It
seems as much a can of worms as it ever was. Now, Coss must
take this albatross in hand and bring all into balance as best
he can. A daunting task at best.
at Coss' face. It was full of a determination I had to admire.
Oddly, he seemed a bit older than the excited newly elected
mayor I had greeted on the street just a few months earlier.
Will his excitement as a new mayor fuel him enough to make
things happen? Will he . . . can he be the miracle worker that
Santa Fe needs and all those before him couldn't be?
For a few
moments, the suggestion of a council of merchants from several
in the audience and city staff seemed like a godsend pressure
release valve. That, and the mention of new procedural
guidelines in the works, that would be easily enforced and
understood, noticeably relaxed some and incited others.
look at the situation . . .
one hand, we have the established business owners near the
Plaza. These people pay high rents for the privilege of
carrying on business in the downtown area. They want and need
more parking . . . not just available and reasonably priced
parking but a viable means of access to that parking. This
parking issue alone, which has never been adequately addressed,
is becoming a problem of daunting portion.
that's only one issue. Tourism is at an all-time low.
Something needs to be done to draw the masses back to Santa Fe,
not just to a certain street or block of stores. All businesses
are suffering due to the downward trend in tourist trade.
Indeed, we must ask what has driven them away and what must we
do to bring them back?
owner of Wadle Galleries, had one answer to that question. All
agreed with him that Santa Fe 's image isn't what it was some 25
years ago. Santa Fe was once a quaint town that had the very
best of Southwestern arts which attracted a very select
well-to-do clientele. Santa Fe was a thriving community. It
was the goose that laid the golden egg . . . but we are killing
that goose, he said, by allowing nonjuried shows and non-New
Mexican merchandise being sold at street and random unchecked
vendors in every hotel? Due to all this and other factors that
come into play, Santa Fe has lost its 'uniqueness'.
say they are drowning because of the high rents and lack of foot
traffic. They also say they suffer because both Plaza vendors
and shows that carry non-New Mexican 'i.e. nonauthentic'
products, block streets and steal foot traffic have been
permitted to continue doing business. Signs that promise huge
discounts from fake closeouts also persist and harm the
majority. Then, there's the new convention center and other
downtown renovations. These new expansions trouble them. They
fear that more businesses will come with which they must share
the dwindling influx of tourists . . . cause congested traffic
and even fewer places to park.
issue of lack of adequate parking, Coss said that, although
there is much development going on that might bring more
merchants into the competitive marketplace picture, the city has
also planned to expand bus routes and add more shuttles to
Unfortunately, that wasn't exactly the answer that any in the
audience wanted to hear. Most tourists have their own cars
and, being unfamiliar with a city, usually prefer to drive. I
ride the bus to work myself. Often I am the sole passenger or
see only a handful of others. The tourists are obviously not
taking the buses. But, with gas so costly, why aren't the buses
more full? I'd heard some say it's because they're too few and
go to all the wrong places. Why, indeed, are Santa Fe residents
avoiding the buses?
tourists for the moment. Is there anything the city can do to
make taking a bus more attractive to just the residents of Santa
Fe? Perhaps, if we could analyze and solve that problem, we'd
learn how to attract tourists to take the buses also.
Attracting more people, both tourists AND residents, to the
downtown shopping district would mean more business for all.
there are the street and show vendors. Both defend their low
fees to operate on the fact they must deal with the uncertainty
of facing a sunny warm day or the stormy cold . . . success or
bust is totally dependent on the turns of weather. A rained out
show bring no monetary returns. They must pay fees be it rain
or shine. Downtown merchants see them as a threat. Vendors see
merchants as a threat. They both see shows as a threat. The
reasons are obvious. Is there any winning by compromise here?
Mills of Blue Door Studios, a vendor of blended art and
historical photography, expressed his concerns about
authenticity and the prevalence of fake goods, including fake
certificates of authenticity, in shops, among Plaza artisans and
show vendors' booths. He insists that authenticity must be
defined and it must be defined in writing as being purely "New
it all boils down to the question of whether we can do something
to stop Santa Fe from becoming just another of the "tourist
traps" that large cities such as San Francisco and New York have
become. All the major cities are packed with merchants hawking
all sorts of cheap and 'poorly constructed' mass produced
merchandise. It cheapens Santa Fe and contributes to the loss of
our image as 'The City Different' Al Wadle mentioned.
it is costing the city much in lost revenues. Look at places
like Sedona. It's a tourist Mecca (mostly because of the artists
and the energy centers). But, they don't have bunches of people
selling everything. Another good example is Jackson Hole, WY.
Maguire, Interim Director of the Convention and Visitors Bureau,
mentioned the possibility of creating guidelines for an
authenticity branding whereby products could receive an official
stamp 'made in Santa Fe' or 'made in New Mexico'. In theory,
it seems like a great idea but I wonder how much such a system
would cost to administer so that it would actually be an
effective deterrent against fake brandings. Also, how hard
would it be to enforce such a system?
would the elimination of all 'fakes' and non-New Mexican items
from Santa Fe shelves truly be the solution to regaining "our
share" of the tourist trade we think belongs to our community?
Or, is this simply another pipedream? I doubt if the answer is
quite so simple.
merely touched on a few issues here. Please see Bob Quick's
article on the event. It does a great job of summarizing all
the issues. I'd highly recommend you read it if you'd like to
wrote these articles on her blog while a member of the SFNM
newsroom staff as a web producer/editor and can be reached via
email@example.com. She is a
photographer, journalist and writer of fiction and children's
books as well.