eBay Wholesale List Scams: Buyer Beware
By Mark Lewis
I'm talking with a man named Gary, who is part of a group of people he calls "ambushers." He and other ambushers search auctions by the term "wholesale list," monitor eBay auctions, and then warn prospective and recent buyers that they are buying lists, usually called "wholesale lists," and not the actual items pictured in the auctions.
Though this "interference" may be seen as violating eBay rules, Gary, who chose to keep his identity secret, and other ambushers keep on warning buyers, and Gary keeps the thank you notes he receives from many of the people he has warned.
A wholesale list is a compilation of contacts, often email links and phone numbers used to buy inexpensive merchandise, usually in large quantities. Wholesale lists are perfectly legal and they can be quite useful to PowerSellers on eBay though that use to small buyers is likely to be limited.
Gary describes his own first encounter with a wholesale list scam. He had already purchased a number of items but this time he was in a hurry. He admits that he did not carefully read the whole listing, saying that the photo in the listing, a picture of a monitor, led him to assume that he was buying a monitor and not a list. He suspects that people in a hurry, as well as people who don't speak or read English well, get taken in by this type of scam a lot.
"It's deceptive and I think (sellers) know it's deceptive. To me," he says of putting up a picture of one thing and then selling something else: "that's the bait and switch."
The top line of a typical wholesale list ad reads like this one, found on eBay: "NEW 15" FLAT SCREEN MONITOR FREE SHIP! wholesale list" with a photo of a television. The description includes monitor specifics and another larger photograph of the monitor with the title "wholesale flat screens." It is below this, about three screens down, that I come upon a description in smaller print: "You are bidding on an exclusive, insiders list of the same wholesalers and suppliers that power sellers on eBay use to purchase digital cameras and turn around and resell them for PROFITS OF 200% OR MORE!"
"Some of (the listings) are very clear," says Joyce, another ambusher, but "some you have to read everything." She notes that typical list scams are for monitors, laptops, camcorders, DVD players, flat screen televisions and mp3 players; cutting-edge electronic devices.
"People have sent me heartbreaking letters," say Joyce. "They couldn't get their money back and now they definitely can't buy anything; it's horrible."
And because eBay limits the number of messages sent through its network each day, Joyce says, "I can't warn everybody." She waits until the last buyer gets the product then contacts them. She is frustrated by what she calls eBay's inaction. Joyce admits that the onus is on the buyer to read the listing but feels that eBay shares the responsibility to protect the customer.
"I've tried emailing (eBay). I don't feel like I am dealing with people." On eBay's response, she says, "I feel like they're just against us on this," and notes that eBay seems to have more to gain by doing nothing.
eBay spokesperson Hani Durzy agrees that there is a problem with disingenuous listings but notes that, "4,000,000 listings a day go on eBay so it's a constant battle. We do our own proactive searches. We also rely heavily on reports (of scams) from the community, and that works extremely well."
On complaint response he says, "We don't necessarily get back to everyone right away because we have limited resources and we have to put those resources towards actually reading the listings."
"Part of the responsibility," Durzy stresses, "lies with the buyer… to actually read the listing before they bid on it. We don't think that is too much to ask for."
Durzy equates the system with a neighborhood watch, saying that that the community of buyers and sellers have a vested interest in "making sure that every else is playing by the same rules."
The Federal Trade Commission's Debbie Matties warns that sellers should make sure their advertisements or product listings are not misleading. (For guidelines, see http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs/buspubs/dotcom/index.html#III.) Ms. Matties also urges anyone with a complaint to file that complaint with the FTC (http://www.ftc.gov/index.html.) While she could not comment on any specific action the FTC is currently taking against online scams, investigation and enforcement is ongoing (see http://www.auctionbytes.com/cab/abn/y03/m05/i01/s03).
One of the latest developments is that likely scammers are showing a preference for "Buy it now" options and private auctions (http://auctionbytes.com/cab/abu/y205/m02/abu0137/s04).
For more information on deceptive advertising see: http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs/buspubs/ad-faqs.htm
About the author:
Mark Lewis is a teacher and freelance writer.
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