eBay. Watch your wallet!

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A couple of weeks ago, I finally sold one of my Canon lenses, a high quality 85mm/1.2L lens that still looks and operates as well as the day I purchased it. This was my first eBay transaction and it was a learning experience. It took four auctions before I was able to sell the lens at a price I could be comfortable with. eBay made a lot of money out of me but at least I now have some funding to buy a lens that will be more relevant to the wildlife photos I'm taking these days.

I was lucky. The person who won the auction for my lens (a fellow Australian nonetheless) transferred the money to my PayPal account less than an hour after the conclusion of the auction. There was no doubt about getting the money. In return for their promptness, I packaged and shipped the lens the same day. The buyer was very happy.

But not everyone is lucky and there are many many shysters on eBay.

Trap #1

eBay has a rating system for buyers and sellers. Look at any seller and you'll probably see a bracketed number next to their name indicating the number of feedback messages they have. Click on the number and you can see the list. Some sellers have seemingly very high numbers of feedback messages, numbering 100 or more. The strange thing is that some of the sellers have only been registered with eBay since February of this year. 100 feedback messages in less than four months? Please! Delve deeper into the maze that is eBay and you might find that most if not all of the feedback messages were left by eBay members who themselves have only been members since; yep, you guessed it; February of this year! I'm really going to trust this fellow with my money. (Note: sarcasm implied)

So the seller ratings and feedback messages (which are too short to be meaningful in any way) are of little help.

Trap #2

Many of the sellers have messages in their product descriptions: "Email me here to bid for this item" or "Email me before bidding on this item". What they're really saying is "We're criminals and we want your money. Email me and I'll show you how to give your money away without eBay ever finding out about it".

Trap #3

I'm interested in getting a new Canon telephoto lens, at least 300mm, preferably with Image Stabilisation technology. These are not cheap. I now have a custom search registered with eBay to keep me abreast of all new auctions for items like these. Occasionally, I'll see auctions that look reasonable and believable. Remember though that we're talking about a lot of money and I don't know the people I'm dealing with. Additionally, eBay and PayPal don't protect every purchase, only those with the "Free PayPal Buyer Protection" statement in the seller's listing, and only up to USD1000. So how can I be guaranteed of getting the lens after paying my hard earned money?

Most of these eBay items are in the U.S.A. and there's a company based in the U.S.A. which serves to protect both buyer and seller called Escrow.com. Basically, the buyer pays Escrow.com, after which the seller ships the item. As soon as the buyer receives and confirms the condition of the item, Escrow.com pays the seller. Everyone is protected. There are fees attached but when you're talking about larger amounts of money, a little insurance is worth paying for.

So I see these seductive lenses on eBay and would like to bid. To safeguard myself, I ask the seller if they are willing to ship via Escrow.com with all fees paid for by myself. It is disappointing to see how many sellers refuse the offer. I can only assume that many of the people refusing to use the Escrow.com service are themselves criminals. Some probably hope to get their money asap but most are probably criminals.

Trap #4

Today, I was shown trap number 4. Last week, I bid on a Canon 500mm 4.0 lenses, knowing all too well that if it was a genuine auction, I wouldn't be able to win the item with my current financial constraints. Sure enough, the final selling price of USD3,750 far outbid my sorry attempt of just USD750. Imagine my (guarded) surprise though when I received a message (supposedly) from eBay indicating a second-chance offer for that same lens at the price I had originally bid.

I'm gullible but not that gullible. First problem with the message was the URL it included: "www.ebay.ph". "ph"? eBay's URL is "www.ebay.com". It is possible though that they use different domains for different functions so it was worth a look see. I clicked into the URL (you should never do this at home, especially if your email program displays messages in html format by default). It didn't look very authentic. In fact, the page displayed an error message. No matter. I just copied the item's ID number out of the page, navigated to the real www.ebay.com and searched for the item number. Guess what. The auction was over and I had been outbid; as if this was news to me.

OK. So I load the "My eBay" page to take a look. Sure enough, there's the 500mm lens that I had bid for, and the auction was over. And unsurprisingly, there were no second chance offers for the item. The second chance offer I had received in the 'mail' was a fraud.

Looking back at the original message, it occurred to me that other than the suspicious "www.ebay.ph" domain, one other thing stood out. Well actually, two things. First; and this is something I saw the first moment I read the message; the message directed me to contact the seller directly. eBay doesn't do that. They always advise you to reply to messages via their system so that there are full records of the transaction (and so that they can be sure that you didn't do the transaction behind their backs, thereby avoiding paying them more money). So directing me to contact the seller directly was definitely a no-no. Second thing that stood out; and this one's important; is that the seller's address was wrong. "bigbrowngrumpybear@yahoo.com" (this is the actual email address) is not the address of the seller of the 500mm lens.

Upon reflection, I realise now that there are criminals out there watching other bids. When a costly item's auction finishes, they email fake ebay messages to those people who did not win the auction, offering a second chance to buy the item. It's a fraud, an expensive one.

What scares me though is that I don't consider myself stupid, and yet even I could fall for one or two of these tricks if I was too hungry for any particular item. Actually, I did fall for one trick.

Trap #5

A few weeks ago, I received a message from a supposed eBay seller who claimed to have an item similar to one I had just bid on. If I was interested, I was to click on an included URL and contact them. I clicked the URL (bad bad bad!). The page that loaded appeared to be eBay and I had to log in to continue. Without pause (and without sanity), I logged in only to find that the next page didn't look very eBay-ish at all. Fortunately, I immediately realised that I had been duped, and that someone now had my eBay ID and password. Without a second thought, I quickly logged into the real eBay and changed my password before the scammers had any time to try my password and compromise my account.

Selling and buying on eBay has certainly been an experience. If you're buying anything expensive, eBay's definitely not the place for the uninitiated buyer. Getting defrauded of your hard earned money would be very simple indeed.

So if you plan to buy or sell on eBay, think twice; no, think thrice; about every communication and every action you take. And remember the golden rule: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is; i.e., it's probably a fraud.


Comments (Comments are closed)

19 Responses to “eBay. Watch your wallet!”
  1. sapphire says:

    Frankly, I have no confidence in selling/buying anything on eBay. This online flea market seems
    to be a breeding ground for commercial scams to me.
    Don't count on luck any more.Your first transaction was soooo lucky!!!

  2. Justin says:

    I used to be an avid eBay user back when I lived in the US, but I have never used eBay in Hong Kong. In the US, they have a much better rating system. You can post a comment and give a rating for a fellow user ONLY if you are the buyer or seller of an actual completed auction.

    I was surprised to hear you mention the guy who had 100 feedback points. In order to get 100 points, the guy must have participated in 100 auctions as the buyer or seller. Also, each point earned must be given by a different user. So if I were to purchase 50 items from you, and give you 50 good ratings, it would only count as one point in the end.

    I had my share of not so good experiences with eBay, but most of the time I felt pretty safe. In the US, you could actually trust the feedback on eBay. People even buy and sell cars and real estate on eBay in the US.

    I never bought anything on eBay in HK, but I did browse through it and was tempted to bid on a Nike heart rate monitor wrist watch. The seller also lived in Hong Kong, but he insisted on shipping the item rather than meeting in an MTR station to do an immediate exchange. Call me old fashioned, but I thought the MTR exchange was in perfect Hong Kong fashion. Sending something across the harbour just seemed absurd. I guess the seller was either a cheat, or afraid that I was one.

  3. Examfighter Ryan says:

    Well, it is surely that the online purchasing system is not mature enough to handle such a large deal and the quality of goods is not easily graduated (thinking of the power of photoshop and the ones in hkgolden forum), it is quite unsafe to buy a large amount online.

    Moreover, the price is not necessary worthed, it could be a trick by certain boys to make you feel the goods hits.

    Actually, what I wanna to say is that trying to buy it on the streets, you will have fun.

  4. Anthony Y. says:

    It's a really dangerous place out there on the eBay, always buy from reputable sellers :)

  5. Alfred Wong says:

    Once I bought a used Yashica TLR on eBay. The item was described as like new, meter working, lens look clean. Some how it cosmetically like new, while the meter is one stop fast and the lens is dusty (tho not too serious). At last I got to used a light meter with it, and luckily it took beautiful photos... but a bit not happy anyway.

    I was lucky that the camera did work well with these two little flaws afterall. Yeah - the self timer was sticky! Luckily it went smooth in an attempt or two. Watch out on eBay - my lesson is small. Right now I am waiting for my russian camera from Ukraine - bought from a reputable seller. Don't know what it would be when it arrive though!

    It is hard to get a cheap used camera with decent condition in Hong Kong, unless one knew some good ol' guy. My friend got his Rolleiflex, Rolleicord, Zeiss Ikon, Leica CL and stuff at 1k less or close from a nice buddy, amazing eh.

  6. BS-buster Mark says:

    Yup, buying on eBay or Yahoo or other sites of the like is like buying a cat in a sack. You may be lucky, you may be not! The rule of thumb is C.O.D. - you get and inspect the merchandise before you part with your money. There is nothing called 'reputable seller'. Everytime a travel agency goes bust the trade association and the Council Council warn the public to deal with 'reputable' companies only. Next time a 'reputable' company goes bust they issue the same warning, same BS!

    No matter how careful you are, the risk is always there!

  7. Medion says:

    I have never bought anything of eBay before, and someone I know from the School I use to go too, had a brother who commited phishing on eBay. His brother was sentenced in jail for 2 years, I'll guess that will teach him a lesson, but was it enough?

    It's a very interesting topic to delve in to, as to why its not safe to ever buy online, especially at such a large site as eBay. Numerous cases we see people commiting crime via online sites, yet, people still go and bid/buy an item because of its lower price tag. Some do not see that price isn't important, but its reliability that it will actually arrive.

    I don't like buying online because of the simple fact that I do not see the item, nor can I get the feel of the shape and size of it. Though simple products like CD's, or DvD's should be ok I guess, as they are all about the same.

    And for those who like to know more about phishing and the person I mention earlier, a copy of the article can be found here : http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/lancashire/4396914.stm

  8. Ronald says:

    its very useful, thx for the info!

  9. stanley says:

    I am very interested in this topic, because I sold some self-made dog clothing on eBay and all transactions I had made that were very happy with buyers and I didn't have any unhappy experience. After I have read all the comments and I was encouraged by the comments to created a poll with topic:

    Are you happy with purchasing or selling on eBay?

    The poll also has a message board for you to leave your experience or opinions. Please click on the link below to vote.


  10. Em says:

    I think you just have to be careful with any net transactions and not just ebay. There was a story in the UK last Christmas where people paid lots of money on the net for what they thought were X-boxes, but ended up getting a parcel on Christmas Eve with breeze blocks inside. They were pretty gutted!

    Ebay UK is similar to the US in that it's quite well policed. I've had some pretty good experiences so far (touch wood), but you still have to be careful.

  11. Ling says:

    It's a good thing you changed your password in time. Thanks for the warning, now I guess I got to be alert when I'm on ebay. A little off topic, but was just watching the doctor serie "Healing Hands 3" and saw you playing the guitar and singing "Carry On Til Tomorrow", I never knew you could sing that well! I hope to here more singing from you. By the way, have you sang in any other TVB series before?

  12. Elizabeth says:

    Welcome to the world of ebay! It's a very fun place and before you know it, you can spot a fraud with just the wink of an eye. Almost all e-mail that supposedly comes from ebay or paypal is a fake. You just hover over the link and see that there is some other suffix after http://www.ebay.?? or http://www.paypal.?? I always just forward it to spoof@ebay.com or spoof@paypal.com, although I know they don't really do anything about it.

    Another trapping is a buyer contacting you if you can ship to Africa or if they can pay by western union or moneygram. Usually, I only sell small little things valued less than $50, so I don't get much fraud e-mails specifically sent to me (unlike the mass mail from above paragraph). One time though, I tried to sell my used ipod and I had tons of fraudelent contacts.

    Most of the time, ebay is quite safe.

  13. Joanne says:

    I've been using eBay for a couple of years now, and I've not had any bad experiences at all. I've got about 70 transactions to my name, about 15 selling and the others buying.

    It actually is quite possible to have 100 feedback in a few months, many real-life stores like to set up a seller account and sell direct on eBay - they can sell items in double digit amounts all in one day,due to the sheer amount of things that they list.

    Those tips are definately useful though, there's a few there that I'm lucky not to have come past, and hopefully won't in the future - but if I do, I'll know that it's aa fraud =)

  14. Ray says:

    Not just eBay but "Paypal" sent me similar email telling me my credit has expired and I needed to login to renew it etc. Didn't fall for it of course but my wife almost did once. Luckily she gave me a call before logging in.

    We've been eBaying a lot because we live in Japan. It is not easy to get things we want from the States. eBay is probably one of the better channels. However, my transctions were limit to a few hundred dollars. I don't think I am couraged enough to pull the kind of money to buy a 500mm F4 lens on eBay.

  15. Kiwi says:

    very very useful tips, thanks so much. I started to bid on ebay 3-4 months ago, and luckily I haven't been ripped off.. But i can really see myself falling into one of those traps you mentioned. I usually look like the ratings but i guess some of them do turn out to be pretty fishy. Thanks again. and by the way, your acting is very good :)

  16. Julien says:

    These people are using the phishing technique. The new IE7 (if you are using windows) will include anti phishing that looks to work great. The first rule is to never open a link to ebay (or your bank account) from an email. You should always go to ebay by yourself.
    I have made a lot of buy/sell on ebay and I nerver had any problem. You just have to follow the same rules as you would do in real shop.

  17. joan wania says:

    Hi there,
    Thanks so much for the great effort in providing the useful info to those who is interested in auctioning. To be honest, I don't like e-bay and found them useless. I am now sticking tight to Yahoo and very impressive with their service.

    Oh, by the way, I like you as an actor and think TVB should give you more important roles.


  18. calvin says:

    Thank you for your sharing about ebay and lens, it is useful to me!

  19. kelvin says: