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Tue Mar 12 2013 22:55:52

More Transparency Needed on eBay

By: Brian Cohen

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Wednesday's "Anatomy of a Scam: Sleeper Cells on eBay" Newsflash article exposes how some sellers appearing to have a legitimate eBay reputation are lurking behind a feedback facade and after a period of time switch over to selling non-existent goods.

I call this type of seller a sleeper cell because they appear to have a legitimate business for a period of time and then crossover to selling products that do not exist - the accompanying screenshot shows one seller's "crossover" dates from January 12th/13th.

Is it possible that buyer accountability and seller transparency can be fine tuned in order to make eBay a safer venue?

First we need to expose a fundamental flaw in shipping logistics as we know it today. This is not an eBay-specific problem. Currently there is no way to ensure that an item that is shipped is in fact the item that it is claimed to be.

You might recall in Indiana Jones The Raiders of The Lost Ark that Indy pulled a switcheroo, substituting a bag of sand for a gold statue. Frankly the same thing can happen with an online purchase. Even if a seller is legitimate, the buyer can be the con and falsely claim that they have been defrauded (pulling their own switcheroo on the seller).

In what might sound like science fiction, I see a future where packages are shipped with "black box" event recorders which would be able to determine the chemical composition of the contents of a shipping container. In case of a dispute, a third party would obtain access to these records to determine the authenticity.

Did you receive tungsten instead of gold? (See "Largest Private Refinery Discovers Gold-Plated Tungsten Bar" - link.) This magic box will tell you. Perhaps, the company that figured out how to anonymize shipping (see eBay to Let Buyers Keep Their Addresses Private? - link) will be the same one to figure out how to make shipping more secure?

Anyway, coming back to reality, we have eBay Buyer Protection and its Dispute Resolution Process. If you read the fine print, Buyer Protection does not cover "excessive cases" being filed by a buyer. This language is a bit vague.

One would think that after I attempted to purchase the same item three different times and filed three claims within such a short period of time that there would be some kind of consequence or accountability for my actions.

Perhaps eBay should have sent me a more personalized notice when I logged in like "Hey Brian, we noticed you had some trouble recently and we are concerned that you are not having a fun and safe buying experience on eBay. While you were covered under our Buyer Protection for your purchases, we require that you watch this 5 minute video and answer this short questionnaire regarding safe buying practices on eBay to continue using the site." "Buyer Beware" isn't the motto on eBay... perhaps it should be "Buyer Don't Care?"

There is also a lack of transparency of the seller. A Feedback Profile based on Category (in addition to the default Feedback Profile) could have shown (warned?) potential buyers that this seller had conducted no transactions in the Consumer Electronics Category. Maybe feedback profiles should be drilled down even further. For example, someone who sells Costume Jewelry (otherwise known as "Fashion Jewelry" on eBay) should be differentiated from someone who sells the real thing.

Feedback should reflect the number of transactions by the seller. Needed is the ability to know the percentage of buyers who were compelled to leave feedback about a transaction vs. those buyers who opted not to leave feedback at all.

eBay does address feedback based on multiple purchases by an individual buyer:

"What if I buy multiple items from the same seller or sell multiple items to the same buyer?

You should leave Feedback for each sale. However, we calculate the other member's Feedback score differently depending on whether the sales occurred in the same week. For Feedback purposes, we define a week as Monday through Sunday, Pacific Time."


But these scam artists are smart. Although some potential bidders/buyers look for a history of expensive transactions by a seller or a record that the seller has sold similar items to the one desired, it is not difficult to imagine a scenario where a scam artist sells fake goods to fake buyers and pays real eBay fees in the process just to build up their feedback profile. Someone who goes through the expense and trouble to send me a marble in the mail (registered!) is willing to do this.

There are of course consequences. Fake sellers are stealing your bids. Fake sellers are cluttering the site and making it more difficult to find your product. Buyers also may also begin to make negative associations with the eBay experience. Some people don't want to think they weren't shrewd enough to differentiate between a scam and a legitimate eBay listing and as a result switch venues offering a more uniform buying experience offered through traditional/direct retail sites like Amazon.

In the meantime, if you are concerned about sleeper cells I do have some advice - watch out for lowball Buy It Now listings from China. Check their profile for red flags mentioned in the original article.

And I know some of you are wondering if I ever got my Android device. For the time being I've decided I'll just stick with just the one I already have...

Have you had experience with eBay Sleeper Cells? What do you think about Buyer Accountability and Seller Transparency? Let us know below!

About the Author
Brian Cohen has been an active member of the eBay community since May 1998. He currently trades under the member name Bidofthis.com. His first AuctionBytes article was published in May 2002. Brian can be contacted through his website at http://www.bidofthis.com where he always has a "little Bid of This and little Bid of That."




Comments (21) | Permalink

Readers Comments

More Transparency Needed on eBay   More Transparency Needed on eBay

This user has validated their user name. by: elpereles
Web Site

Wed Mar 13 09:18:23 2013

I read the article it reminds me a seller. I made 1 transaction as buyer without problem. Then the 2nd transaction next day after payment is clear. I receive an e-mail from the seller asking for the payment. I send her the proof of payment, but she wanted to get pay again. After some weeks without answer, item or money back. I went to the dispute option. I won. I received my refund.

Wait a minute. Is my imagination or eBay doesn't display anymore members old nicks? I remember to see a logo after someone decide to change nick with the dates he/she begins and ends.

More Transparency Needed on eBay   More Transparency Needed on eBay

by: Gail This user has validated their user name.

Wed Mar 13 09:41:42 2013

In the ''But, these scam artists are smart. Although some potential bidders/buyers look for a history of expensive transactions by a seller ....'' section, I would like to make another point.  Private Listings do not show a sale price.  How would I know when a seller has switched from beads to electronics?  

I do the same feedback research before I purchase, and there is no way to tell what many of these sellers have sold.  They use Private Listings to hide the price, and buyer feedback rarely specifies the item purchased.  After being scammed twice, I no longer purchase from anyone outside of the United States, regardless of the 'great price'.

As to your second question, I hold out no hope that eBay will do anything about these scam artists until it severely affects their bottom line.  Buyer Accountability?  Open the returned item package in front of a postal clerk.  I read that very recently right here on eCommerceBytes.

More Transparency Needed on eBay   More Transparency Needed on eBay

This user has validated their user name. by: Marie

Wed Mar 13 10:14:39 2013

Brian

In an effort to better understand this situation, I have a few questions if you don't mind.

In the Newsflash story you stated ''...This buyer left positive feedback for the seller in order to elude swift seller ''retaliation''...''  What kind of retaliation are you speaking of?  Sellers can only leave positive FB, so they can't hurt the buyer's FB.  

''...If the seller catches wind that people are sounding the siren to his con game he has the option to make his feedback profile private.''  Members on Ebay are not allowed to sell if they have their FB marked as private.

*******************
From Ebay's policies:

When you choose the “private” setting for your Feedback Profile:
You can’t sell items on eBay.
Only the Feedback comments are hidden from other members. Your Feedback Score - the number of positive, neutral, and negative Feedback ratings you’ve received – is still public.
***************************
''This particular seller baited 1,203 eBay buyers with a Gross Merchandise Value of $33,044.33''  Are you saying that all those buyers were scammed and that this seller was allowed to keep all their money?  None or only a few of those buyers filed claims?  One would think if they had multiple claims in a short period of time that PayPal would have stepped in and started holding money as they do on so many accounts.  I don't know, I'm just asking as it doesn't make sense to me that Ebay and/or Paypal would not knowingly allow this to happen to over 1200 members before stepping in.

''Feedback should reflect the number of transactions by the seller.''  I'm not sure how this would help you in a case like this.  To have this information would lead you to beleive that they are even better than the numbers you see on the FB page. In my experience, at least 1/3rd of buyers do not leave FB.  So while my FB may show I've had 1000 transactions, in reality I've had 1333.  Those are just numbers, not really mine.  So in the subject being discussed here, giving you access to those numbers would make you feel even more comfortable with the seller.

''If you read the fine print, Buyer Protection does not cover ''excessive cases'' being filed by a buyer. This language is a bit vague.''  This is a very important and much needed policy.  And yes as many of Ebay's policies, it is worded vaguely on purpose.  It is subjective and gives them more play in how they have to apply it.  But still, this is a very important policy to sellers or it  should be.  If a buyer high percentage of claims in any given period of time, Ebay should be taking a look at it.  There isn't some magic number that gets a buyer restricted.  But this rule can really help identify some of the cronic problem buyers.

More Transparency Needed on eBay   More Transparency Needed on eBay

by: Will This user has validated their user name.

Wed Mar 13 10:57:59 2013

Mr. Cohen asked the question about being scammed.

eBay's POV is probably, ''The buyer got their money back, we've made them whole, we're heroes''.

But the fact that this kind of scamming is going on, is not acceptable in the first place. Hurrah for eBay, getting the money back to the buyer, but their preventative measures leave a lot to be desired. It doesn't make everything A-OK.

The only thing I can think of, is something being amiss with the sign-up process.
How is a member able to sign up so quickly and easily, after becoming NARUED?

Someone that is Pro-eBay will say, ''eBay can't possibly keep track of everything''.

True, but they need to do a BETTER JOB.

More Transparency Needed on eBay   More Transparency Needed on eBay

This user has validated their user name. by: Larchlea1

Wed Mar 13 11:39:44 2013

Sellers can't have private feedback, so there's the flaw in this logic.  Makes no sense that the buyer left a positive.

More Transparency Needed on eBay   More Transparency Needed on eBay

This user has validated their user name. by: Ric

Wed Mar 13 13:26:26 2013

Several things to take away from this story.

First, never purchase from en eBay seller located in China. Shipments from legitimate sellers go missing quite regularly as the China postal system is a train wreck. Then there are the scam artists which seem to proliferate ebay China, obviously, eBay has failed to apply proper Trust and Safety protocols regarding fly-by-night sellers in China.

Second, eBay tolerates these scam artists who seemingly burn one selling ID after another and continue to perpetrate their fraud on eBay buyers. The reason these sellers are tolerated is simple... eBay is desperate to increase their Gross Merchandise Value statistics to continue impressing Wall Street.

eBay does not deduct fraudulent transactions, the same way eBay does not account for returns by deducting the value of returned merchandise from their GMV.

Every fraudulent transaction helps eBay inflate their Gross Merchandise Value as eBay counts every single sale in their reported GMV figures.

eBay is not about to sacrifice the ability to inflate their GMV by cracking down on sellers sellers in China who seemingly are able to create one new account after another and leverage eBay's apparently lax standards for seller accounts on eBay.cn.



More Transparency Needed on eBay   More Transparency Needed on eBay

by: Charlie B This user has validated their user name.

Wed Mar 13 13:42:32 2013

In the good old days, I could take a look at the feedback of a seller or buyer and see if there was a pattern of negative feedback that would raise the alarm bells. If eBay wants to be transparent, the first step would be to allow sellers to leave negs.

More Transparency Needed on eBay   More Transparency Needed on eBay

This user has validated their user name. by: Marie

Wed Mar 13 14:37:02 2013

While I have no doubt that this happens from time to time.  There are flaws in the OP's article.  Important discrepencies since he relys on incorrect information to come to some conclusions.  Therefore some of the conclusions are in question.

More Transparency Needed on eBay   More Transparency Needed on eBay

This user has validated their user name. by: Ed Gadfly

Wed Mar 13 15:59:16 2013

Seems like a lot of research that reveals deception.

I'll tell my friends not to buy on eBay.

The rest get my old copy of Uncle's book.  

More Transparency Needed on eBay   More Transparency Needed on eBay

This user has validated their user name. by: Tula

Wed Mar 13 16:21:11 2013

It's a shame that all these rotten scam sellers have to ruin ebay for the rest of us. They help bolster both ebay and buyer paranoia against sellers, making it more difficult for honest folks to do business there.

More Transparency Needed on eBay   More Transparency Needed on eBay

This user has validated their user name. by: Marie

Wed Mar 13 17:04:55 2013

There are buyers and sellers that scam on Ebay.  A seller however will typically get shut down by Ebay a whole lot quicker than a buyer.  Tula, I agree with you, but there is another factor as well.  And that is rumors.  Both good and bad ones.

The title of the OP's article alone was designed to incite and scare those that may read it.  To compare some Ebay sellers to terrorist is a bit over the edge for me.  Just my personal observation.

The OP goes on to ASSUME that because a seller changes a product line that they are somehow doing something wrong.  Not sure why one might jump to that conclusion, but he does.  

I know for me, over the years, I've changed my product line or added other products [it depends on how you look at it] many times.  I am neither a terrorist or a scamming seller.

Other observations the OP has stated have no basis in the reality of the Ebay rules.  I outlined them earlier in this thread.  While it appears the OP has gone to great lengths to gather this information, there are far to many assumptions and mis-information for any realistic conclusion to be drawn.  

More Transparency Needed on eBay   More Transparency Needed on eBay

This user has validated their user name. by: Ming the Merciless

Wed Mar 13 18:56:57 2013

It could be reasonably argued that no one red flag as described in Brian's article is a scam indicator.

But when there are several red flags as there clearly are with this probable user with multiple IDs, then IMO it's prudent to avoid buying from these sellers.

It's a shame to have to paint an entire country with a broad brush, but a disproportionately high percentage of seller fraud comes from China.

Once again ebafia has its own, profit centered reasons for encouraging and allowing all sorts of buyer and seller fraud.

Ebafia is not an ethically run corporation so what else should we expect?

While there are certainly a growing number of scam buyers filing INR and SNAD complaints, ebafia apologists prefer to blame the victim (buyer) instead of the fraud perpetrator which, in this case, is the seller.

Those who continue to use tortured logic to defend ebafia only encourage and enable more ebafia ethics free practices.

More Transparency Needed on eBay   More Transparency Needed on eBay

by: AgendaSwallowsAll This user has validated their user name.

Wed Mar 13 21:33:07 2013

ebay's policies are creating the exact intended result, why on Earth would they consider changing anything with respect to more transparency other than to go further in the direction they've taken?

AgendaSwallowsAll

More Transparency Needed on eBay   More Transparency Needed on eBay

by: Massachusets Howler This user has validated their user name.

Wed Mar 13 23:14:31 2013

If you go to the Powersellers board on ebay there is a 10K+ FB family seller- the guys poor wife has cancer- all high drs's & fb, no cases and they degraded him and are holding his funds because he PUT HIS STORE on vacation 2X to care for his wife- no bad dsr's- no negs- ebay is SUPER-PARANOID of DROP OUTS it seems- this appears to be causing a great deal of BLEED but wrong folks are getting butchered- EBAY USES ALOT MORE than DSR's to limit you.
Look at the guys FB and history and you will see what I mean- his worst dsr is a 0.31!
Dirty company that really appears to be in trouble for not cleaning up their act before all this.
Do NOT take a vacation folks as it LOOK LIKE it can COST YOU.
Reminds me of the shipping insurance story going on here- when folks USE a tool (or insurance) that is offered- should using that offered tool lead to DEMOTION.
I don't think so.
This place is THE POLAR OPPOSITE of TRANSPARENT and FORTHCOMING- it is OPAQUE!
Mass Howler

More Transparency Needed on eBay   More Transparency Needed on eBay

This user has validated their user name. by: iheartjacksparrow

Thu Mar 14 00:12:50 2013

"[I]t is not difficult to imagine a scenario where a scam artist sells fake goods to fake buyers and pays real eBay fees in the process just to build up their feedback profile."

I know for a fact this happens. There was an eBay seller who was offering three old dolls I collect, but she had them grossly misrepresented. People were sending her questions like crazy. It eventually was revealed that she had four IDs (this was confirmed twice on the phone by eBay), and was "selling" things between IDs to raise her feedback. One of her IDs was selling items such as paper bags (no joke) to another ID on a BIN for 99 cents with pick-up only, and then mere seconds later positive feedback would go up. Despite numerous phone calls and e-mails, eBay never did anything about this seller. And she was an amateur who wasn't doing much to hide what she was doing, so I can only imagine what a pro scammer could do.  

More Transparency Needed on eBay   More Transparency Needed on eBay

This user has validated their user name. by: Nolle

Thu Mar 14 12:43:55 2013

of course people can scam the system - any system - not just ebay.  i sold a $3000 item a couple years back having never sold anything above $200 and actually got a call from ebay.  they also withheld the money till it was delivered, and i'd been a seller since '98.  so ebay does make an attempt.  and it's not so simple to just get a new acct and start selling.  scamming on ebay - other than a 1 time thing - is not that easy.  it takes some real effort.

but as more buyer options appear, the less appealing ebay becomes. the price difference between ebay and amazon is now so close that amazon wins just for the sheer safety factor alone.

nope, the ebay biz model is becoming less viable each day.  no matter how hard they try to tighten standards, they still lack any real control.

More Transparency Needed on eBay   More Transparency Needed on eBay

by: Massachusets Howler This user has validated their user name.

Thu Mar 14 15:28:46 2013

Hey Jack,
Folks used to list single paper clips, recent Lincoln pennies and ALL MANNER of stuff to build up FB, then they list a few HIGH DOLLAR ITEMS and RUN.
I remember writing Ina 2-3 years ago to send her to a paperclip auction- the person buys- gets INSTANT FB and the paper clip (or penny) is not sent- folks just exchange FB.
Been happening and we have reported it for years- the new item appears to be single paper bags now- search them and see.
This is a JOKE and only HONEST SELLERS are getting clipped and the single paper bag auctions continue.
Search paper clip or paper bag and tell us what you find.
So Ridiculous.
MH
PS: There seems to be an ''understanding'' that these items are not going to be sent as I haven't seen any negatives on sellers accounts that sell them.
Just WHERE are those BRILLIANT Algorhythyms that are supposed to be keeping the site ''safe''- those highly-sophisticated fraud DETECTION & prevention systems???

More Transparency Needed on eBay   More Transparency Needed on eBay

This user has validated their user name. by: Marie

Thu Mar 14 15:52:14 2013

@mass

Can you give us some current seller's IDs that appear to be doing this.  I'm just curious and want to peek.

More Transparency Needed on eBay   More Transparency Needed on eBay

This user has validated their user name. by: Marie

Thu Mar 14 16:09:01 2013

@mass
Forgive me.  That was a silly thing to post here.  Guess i didn't have near enough coffee today.  Sorry!

More Transparency Needed on eBay   More Transparency Needed on eBay

by: Massachusets Howler This user has validated their user name.

Fri Mar 15 16:25:33 2013

forgiven.
:-)mh

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