I’ve been a computer and internet fan for most of my life. My very first email address was through Compuserve (remember them?), and it was something like 241587459. There wasn’t any @ at that time, because I could only send email to other Compuserve subscribers. When the internet became popular, I was there, on my 14.4 modem, watching pages load.
My Dad is the person that introduced me to eBay. He told me it was an online auction site, and it was cool because you could buy just about anything imaginable from regular people. I opened my eBay account in April of 1998, and started buying things right away. And its been shopping nirvana ever since. I’ve purchased just about anything you can imagine on eBay. Guitars, bicycles, stereo equipment, computers, school supplies, web hosting, software, and more. And it has been easy and trouble free.
I was shopping for an iPod as a Christmas gift for my brother. I had a solid tip that I was getting something really cool from him, so I wanted to step up my gift giving as well. I got him an 80gb video iPod. I did some shopping, and found them on eBay for a few dollars less than they were going for on Apple’s own website, which is fairly common for tech products on eBay. Cell phones and accessories, computers, iPods, PDA’s, etc. All of these are typically 5-10% less expensive on eBay than they are in retail stores.
After finding my product, I did some research on 2 or 3 different sellers. I won’t buy from anyone that hasn’t been online for at least 2 years, they have to have sold a few products in the same price range as the one I’m considering, and they have to have a 98% or higher feedback rating. It takes no credentials at all to start an eBay account and start selling, so the seller’s history is the only indicator that you have of how the transaction will play out.
I found a seller that met all of this criteria. He had been a member since 2001 and had 100% feedback. I made the purchase and paid via Paypal, because that’s the fastest way of getting the funds to the seller. Plus, if anything goes wrong on the back-end of the deal, Paypal offers some buyer protection (or so I thought).
A week went by with no contact from the seller. No tracking information, not even a note acknowledging the order. I’ve been doing this for 8 years now, so I just figured the seller was wound up with holiday stuff like everyone else, so I sent a follow up email, and also sent it through eBay’s message service.
Another week went by with no contact, so I sent another email and note. This is when I became concerned and looked into Paypal’s protection policy. They only covered $175 of my purchase price, which was alarming.
Three days later I logged in, and his feedback rating had dropped to 4%. 45 different people had left negative feedback for this seller within a period of 3 days. I filed a claim with Paypal immediately and sent emails to the user, eBay and Paypal.
A day later (now 2 and a half weeks after my initial purchase), the seller’s account was closed, so no one could leave feedback for the user.
Paypal never heard anything from the seller, so the claim was decided in my favor, and I received $175 from them. This was significantly less than I paid for the iPod, so this was a net loss for me. Its the equivalent of throwing money away.
Since then I’ve done some research on this, and its a growing trend. What happened, most likely, is that the seller’s account was hacked, and the person that hacked his account listed a bunch of expensive items with no intent of fulfilling the orders. They’re gaining access to an account and trading the good history of the original account holder for cash.
When you know what to look for, its actually pretty easy to spot this. I can spot hacked accounts pretty handily now. If the person has a relatively low number of positive feedbacks, or has sold only a few items, and all of a sudden lists 30 individual auctions for the same product, its most likely a hacked account.
Here’s what really torques me about this. Unfortunately this behavior has become common enough that there are groups of people trying to find them and point them out before someone gets suckered. If individual users can spot these fraudulent sales, then so can eBay. Up to this point eBay’s official response to this has been almost nill, which is very weak. If they want to maintain their good name in the marketplace, then eBay needs to get in front of this and proactively address thie issue.
Second, Paypal, which is also owned by eBay, gives seductively misleading information about buyer protection. The language that appears on most auctions is technically accurate but the truth is that there is a limit on what is covered. This makes it easy for regular folks to get duped into completing a bogus sale. Once the money is deposited into someone else’s account, they can immediately withdraw it, and then its gone forever. This is a pretty painful reminder that Paypal is not a bank, and in my opinion Paypal is a silent accomplice in the matter because they aren’t helping to prevent this.
I say protect yourself. Pay for your auction with a true credit card (not a debit card) so that if you get duped at least the credit card company will refund your money. And if you have accounts with both eBay and Paypal, you would do well to select a different password for each account. If someone hacks your eBay account, at least they won’t get access to your money as well.
And never, under any circumstances log into anything from a link sent in email. No matter how good it looks or how sure you are. The hackers are a shifty lot, and if you mistakenly log into one of their accounts, you can kiss your eBay account goodbye. If you get a note through eBay, you should absolutely not click on that link. Open up a browser yourself and navigate to the site yourself.
Finally, buyer beware. I got harranged for over $100 because I wasn’t careful enough, and I’m an experienced eBay fanatic. I’ll be steering clear of eBay for the next couple of months to see if they straighten this out. If you have to buy something on eBay, be extra careful, and only pay with a credit card.
As much as I hate to say it, eBay is not the same blissful marketplace that it once was.