EcommerceBytes-NewsFlash, Number 366 - July 25, 2002     1 of 3

Spammers Target eBay Members in New Harvesting Scheme

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eBay sellers are being targeted by "harvesters" that are using eBay's "Ask the Seller a Question" feature to collect members' email addresses. Harvesters collect email addresses and sell the lists to senders of unsolicited "junk mail," known as Spam email.

According to threads on various online auction forums, sellers receive an inquiry about an item that they have for sale via the eBay mail system. The body of the email poses a vague question such as, "Hi, can you please send me some more information? Thanks for your help."

When a seller responds to this inquiry, their email address becomes visible to the sender, who can then add it to a marketing list. According to eBay, it appears that this is an email-harvesting scam. "We have suspended the accounts of the perpetrators," said eBay spokesperson, Kevin Pursglove. "We are still gathering as much information as possible from our users." According to users, many emails are originating from a domain based in Australia.

Early last year, eBay instituted a new email system to cut down on email-address harvesting. The new system blocks the ability of members to look up each other's email addresses on the site. Instead, members must use the "Ask the Seller a Question" feature. The change was to protect users from receiving Spam email, according to eBay. Now it appears that the system is vulnerable to email harvesting bots that essentially accomplish the same objective.

According to eBay spokesperson Kevin Pursglove, it becomes a Catch-22 for many sellers. "Many of the members who have received the correspondence are concerned they may lose a sale by not responding. Conversely, sellers believe they will be added to a Spammer's list by accepting the overture."

About the author:

David Steiner is President of Steiner Associates LLC, publisher of and the merchant directory. David, a former television producer, handles business development and advertising for EcommerceBytes. You can reach him at

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