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The Internet

Bad eBay Experience Spurs Internet Manhunt 264

An anonymous reader submitted an entertaining story running on the Chicago Trib that discusses a fraudulent eBay dealer, and the tale of his victims tracking him down. Nothing super technical, just amusing to read and remember that while sometimes the crooks get away, sometimes they become the hunted. My favorite part is when they call his mom. Man I'd love to do that to people who DoS us :)
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Bad eBay Experience Spurs Internet Manhunt

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  • Ebay abuse (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Burritos ( 535298 ) on Saturday January 26, 2002 @12:24PM (#2906510) Homepage
    Recently I was defrauded on Ebay myself. It was only $6.00, but I really wanted the diapers I was buying. Well, he used an Earthlink account, and I called Earthlink, and was able to get his phone number. I recieved my diapers the next day. :)
  • Finally! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by SquierStrat ( 42516 )
    These frauds ought to be hunted down! Credit cards companies don't help, police don't help, banks don't help, ebay certainly doesn't help, so these people did the right thing and took it into their own hands. Congratulations to them!
    • I agree that eBay could be a little more helpful. A friend of mine was trying to sell some peculiar professional television equipment. The fellow who won (who was from Canada) refused to understand that he lived in another country (when the auction was US-only.) Furthermore he also refused to pay on time and left lots of very nasty feedback for my friend.

      eBay wouldn't do anything for seven days after the end of the auction (during which period the other buyer changed his mind) and never addressed the offensive feedback that the buyer left. It was something of a mess.
    • One of these posses will go too far and lynch the wrong guy soon. If you were a thief and knew about the possibility of retribution from angry geeks, wouldn't you set up a patsy? I know I would.

      From the article:
      But like vigilante gangs of the American frontier, ad hoc communities seeking justice on the electronic frontier sometimes trample the very laws they seek to enforce, as their quest for justice warps into a plot for revenge.

      "You just end up with might makes right," said Jonathan Zittrain, co-director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School.
      • Considering that the police will hunt them down all the same, if they're going to look for a patsy, they're going to look for a patsy even if it's the police instead of a vigilante comittee.

        Just because it's the government doing the work, doesn't keep them from trying/punishing the wrong people. That's a myth in and of itself.
  • Of course, alot of the things that the people did were not exactly available to law enforcement.

    Which can get into ticklish legal ground. I can see the lawsuits now.

    which doesn't mean it wasn't effective. I mean calling the guy's mothers. How would you like that as a motivation to pay your bills?

    • Re:legal issues (Score:2, Insightful)

      by tiwason ( 187819 )
      Well I guess many of them felt like it was either sit back and take it up the ___ or try to do something about it.... sure seemed like nobody else was gonna help

      Fearing the worst, auction winners contacted officials at EBay, who said they would not accept complaints until 30 days after an auction's closing date. Local law enforcement officials in Arizona said they did not have the resources to handle the case. And the FBI told them to fill out a form and wait.
      • well there was also this bit:

        "Listen, I can get into his Yahoo mail account and his PayPal account (want an instant refund?) right now if I have his mother's maiden name, last 4 digits of his SSN," one man wrote on the site. "I could also get more info if someone could get the first 12 numbers of his Visa card."

        Later postings asked members if they knew anyone -- "a jeweler or a mortgage broker or real estate agent or banker" --who could run a credit report on the seller. One message suggested that they lie to obtain his birth certificate, which, they were told, only family members can request.

        They were headed into a grey area for sure.

    • Bill collectors call my mom almost daily.

      Doesn't do a thing.
  • by epsalon ( 518482 ) <> on Saturday January 26, 2002 @12:28PM (#2906528) Homepage Journal
    He should have stolen an iMac instead []. We all know these aren't that tech savvy people.

    Oh wait...
  • Wow... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MaxVlast ( 103795 ) <(maxim) (at) (> on Saturday January 26, 2002 @12:28PM (#2906529) Homepage
    One of the things I love about the Internet and almost all of the communities that arise are the "commando" types that they engender.

    Slashdot certainly has a very deoted commando group, but I'm a little surprised to see eBay having one that is so aggressive. Good for them, I guess. Typically these sorts of people are just annoying.

    This guy does seem to be pretty scummy. I've done a _lot_ of stuff on eBay and have never been burned. Is that unusual? I haven't really heard of many people getting screwed by sellers. Typically buyers not sending money, which isn't such a big deal.
    • Re:Wow... (Score:3, Interesting)

      by jlower ( 174474 )
      You should hang out in eBay's online community for a while, especially the 'Trust & Safety' group. eBay tries hard to keep these people down but they are very active hunting down shill bidders, scammers, etc.

      All their boards are here:
      • Wow -- I had no idea. I guess it's a good idea. It seems like kind of a big time-sucker. This is impressive. A list of topics in the "Town Square" board:

        Extremely serious virus warning!
        In need of HELP in naming out newest addition to the family
        I lost over 6lbs this's how.
      • This ebay forum [] seems to be about the scam in question. Many of the posts have been removed by ebay, apparently because they revealed information about the scammer.
    • Re:Wow... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Calle Ballz ( 238584 ) on Saturday January 26, 2002 @12:46PM (#2906603) Homepage
      I've been burned 3 times. but out of the hundred or so auctions I have won in the last 5 years... they don't really bother me much.

      first was a $10 win on a bootleg video for my favorite band, TOOL. I sent out $10, I got back nothing. I think the seller got busted for distributing bootleg videos. I just wish I had got mine.

      Second was for a Cisco 3101 dual ethernet router that was advertised to have 16 MB ram and 8 MB of flash. I got it, pretty quick shipping I might add. However it didn't have 16 MB of ram and 8 MB of flash, it had 4 and 2, respectively. With that little memory.. you couldn't route CRAP nowadays (it was a project router, but I still wanted to run IOS 12.0). Well, I wrote the guy, he apologized and said he'd send the replacement ram/flash. He sent me 4 sims from a compaq and 2 flash chips from godknowswhat. I wrote him back and told him that he sent me the wrong stuff, and he apologized and said he'd send me the replacement ram/flash. I got 4 sims in the mail, it was 4 1MB cisco sims. I got exactly what I already had. The guy was stupid, apparently he was the proprietor of a warehouse of similar stuff and was hawking it on ebay, but didn't know what it was that he was selling. I ended up buying my own ram, and I use TFTP to boot it so I don't need flash.

      and last was a lot of 5 used 15" monitors, I paid $120 for the lot to include shipping. A week after my money order was cashed the guy seemed to disappear. His ebay account was restricted, his phone number disconnected, and his website was gone. The guy had a LOT of positive feedback, so I thought the guy was for real. I'm thinking he got arrested or got "cleaned" by the mob or something. It sucked but I got over it.
  • by CheechBG ( 247105 ) on Saturday January 26, 2002 @12:33PM (#2906555) Homepage
    Seriously, if I just shelled out 3 grand for a notebook, I would consider it a veritable slap-in-the-face if eBay only compensates me 200 bucks (minus 25 dollar deductible, US$175 really) for a auction that they made money on, and that they insure.

    I don't see many things wrong with this situation, only the fact that this is a testament to the power of groups and anonymity. Here you have a gander of people screwed by a common guy, united at first, then when this starts rolling all the l33t hax0rs come out of the woodwork to "help", asking for the guys CC number, SSN, and a host of other info.
    • Word up. I got burned on a $450 purchase and I thought the $175 was pretty insulting. (Yeah, I know using a personal check is dumb, duh)

      If I got burned for 3G's, I would be mailing that dude a letter filled with ebola, then polish off my shotgun-pistol to messily-finish him off Bladerunner style.
    • Well - that is the risk you take when buying on ebay items that are over $200. I have to really need something to buy it on ebay and have it cost more then $200.

      Another good rule of thumb for ebay is that if they dont except paypal or even bidpoint - you dont except their auction. Period. Even if it is the super cool blow up doll you wanted -- if they don't take paypal, well - Fuck um.
      • by IntlHarvester ( 11985 ) on Saturday January 26, 2002 @02:19PM (#2907008) Journal
        I don't know why people are promting this blind faith in PayPal. Anyone can get a verfied paypal account, and lots of scammers do.

        There's this thing called an Escrow Service which removes the risk from a transaction. You should use it anytime you couldn't live without the money you are sending off. If you bought a $2000 computer without using one, you are either stupid or richer than I am. Yes, it costs the buyer money. No, PayPal is not an escrow service.

        The only thing that PayPal seems to provide is a piece of mind that you can go and post on when you get ripped off, instead of blaming the guy who ripped you off or yourself.

        The great thing about eBay is the "garage sale" aspect, not the fact that it's an ad board for real businesses. There's lots of people who have only sold a few things and haven't got around to a PayPal account, and if you are careful you shouldn't have any problem.
    • I don't think they are under any obligation to pay you for a bad sale, no more than the newspaper classifieds are. Their fraud protection program [] is clearly identified, and they are there to facilitate sales. I think buyer beware is implicit in any sort of auction site.

      I have only been burned once, for a moderately small amount, but I learned quickly to avoid money order transactions and be aware of a buyer's online rating. A buyer's feedback is the best way to protect yourself, and paying with a credit card is even better (if the buyer allows it).

      I like PayPal, but I don't think you get the credit card protection because you were not ripped off by the merchant who made the charge (PayPal), so I don't see how you could have very good cause for stopping payment. Has anyone ever gotten their money back from a bad PayPal transaction?
    • by cowsurfer ( 461893 ) on Saturday January 26, 2002 @02:55PM (#2907165)
      It might seem like a slap in the face, but there's a couple things to remember here:

      One, eBay doesn't really make money on auctions from scammers. eBay bills monthly, and I doubt the guy is really sitting around with a credit card just waiting for eBay to charge him. I work for a company that charges our members monthly, and going after people with insufficient funds in their account is sorta like asking a VC for charity. So that pretty much puts eBay out the $175, plus the costs of investigating the fraud.

      If you look at PayPal's financials [], you can see that PayPal paid out $5.5 Million out of their $31MM in revenue in 2001 for "transactional losses" i.e. Fraud claims. In 2000, before they had their shit together, they paid out $11MM, $2.5MM MORE than their revenue for that year!!! I'm sure that eBay has a similar amount of cost in terms of Fraud Liability, albeit perhaps slightly less, since their credit card division (eBay Payments) is a bit smaller than PayPal. So while $200 is a pathetic insurance amount for a $3k notebook, it's better than nothing.

      Two, my advice is that you should never buy anything on eBay over $200 using anything other than a credit card. Even if the guy has 2000 positive feedback, it's just asking for trouble. With a credit card, you can always initiate a chargeback, and 99.9% of the time, you'll get your money back.

      Caveat Emptor. It's the name of the game, if you don't know the person you're buying from.
  • Ack (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jidar ( 83795 ) on Saturday January 26, 2002 @12:34PM (#2906558)
    I don't think I like that type of behavior. Although due process doesn't always work, we have it for a reason. Sure in a few isolated and clear cut cases like this it's easy for all of us to look at it and say "Well they got the bad guy, good for them.", but at the same time the mob mentality something like this can foster isn't pretty. What if they had fingered the wrong guy, what could have been done? You can be sure you wouldn't have been able to convince them otherwise.
    • I agree, the lengths these people finally went to were OTT.
      We must either (legally) police our own internet community or we'll end up getting even more restrictive laws.

      I'd like to see ISP's and sites like eBay taking more responsiblity over their members. 30 days before taking action!
    • Interesting perspective... but, I'm thinking: so what if they fingered the wrong guy? It's not like they could have thrown him in jail, garnished his wages, or put a lean on his house, etc.

      It probably would spook the guy pretty bad, though.

      Anyway, have you seen Memento []? I think you'd like it.

    • Re:Ack (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Detritus ( 11846 )
      That is what happens when law enforcement agencies are underfunded, undertrained, or just don't give a shit. If the state is not going to fulfill its criminal justice function, the people have no other choice but to do it themselves. Doing nothing is not an acceptable option. I don't expect perfection from the police. I do expect them to make an effort. If you don't want mob justice, you better provide an alternative.
    • "I don't think I like that type of behavior. Although due process doesn't always work, we have it for a reason."

      Aren't we forgetting a little concentration camp in Cuba here? If its good enough for dubya, its good enough for people ripped off on ebay isn't it?

  • How? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Internet Stranger ( 230580 ) on Saturday January 26, 2002 @12:37PM (#2906565) Homepage
    How exactly did they get so much information about a guy just from an Ebay transaction?

    They probably knew:

    - His email address
    - First and Last Name
    - Phone Number (if legit)

    His Meatworld address was fake. But if the phone number was real, you maybe can get a real address. But even so, how did they randomly break into his email? Password spoofers? and get his SSN and credit card info?

    Was the guy sloppy maybe?
    • Re:How? (Score:2, Informative)

      by James1006 ( 544398 )
      I thought they got his cellphone number or something (My reading comprehension skills are nonexistent right now).

      Which in that case, they could call it's provider (You can easily lookup which NPA-NXXs belong to which cell provider, I do it) and see what you can get from them. If you went to the police with it, they might be able to serve a warrant and get billing info and even check records to see where he was (Most cell companies record which tower area you are dialing out of).
  • by Anonymous Coward
    As to why you shouldn't use Ebay. They don't care if
    you get ripped off. All they care is they get their
    money. Guess that's why I stopped using ebay years ago.
    • by dangermouse ( 2242 ) on Saturday January 26, 2002 @01:31PM (#2906805) Homepage
      No, the lesson here is to not be a fool with your money.

      You don't send a guy $3000 with a payment method you can't stop for a product you've never laid eyes on. If the guy won't take a check and won't take payment through an escrow service, screw it. It's not worth the risk.

      eBay didn't do anything wrong here.

      • I can't help but strongly agree with this post. As a proponent of reason and "not being stupid" this make the most sense of any post here. I've used Ebay for years, I will testify that I have never been burned. I've always used escrow, paypal, or before that COD or Check only.

        Now, as for the vigelante justice dished out by the poor saps who got screwed. If you put that time into working at your most likely professional jobs, you'd make the money back quickly, but I understand the logic behind this. So for that, I'd say hell yes, get the guy. They screwed up by paying him, but I think they acted properly to right their mistakes. This is a wrong vs wrong debate, but the people who got screwed should at least be allowed to have a little fun. Loved the calling his mommy, that must have REALLY freaked him out! (I used to call efnet kiddie's parents to stop channel take overs, it really works)

        ok.. ob story.

        me: Hi, my name is , are you currently aware of what your son is doing on tyhe Internet right now?

        mom: Uh, no, he's upstairs playing games I think.

        me: Well, you may be a bit shocked to know that he's actually trying to be a "hacker". I feel he is just misguided, but he's causing a great deal of stress for me and my collegues.

        mom: (off the phone) "!! JAMES YOU GET DOWN HERE.. NOW!!!!!" (you know those Demonic voices in that)

        Kid: Hello?

        me: ownt

        2 minutes later we have our channel back.

        ok, anyways that's my 2.9
      • I would tend to disagree, although you are absolutely right and people should be careful with their money. However, outright screwing people over cannot be justified. If I leave my door unlocked that doesn't give anybody the right to rob me.
  • I bought a 200$ item from a person in PENN. 4 other people bought similar items. I waited 30 days from auction end. Then I got their phone number through ebay, called their house, left messages daily for a week and then twice daily for the next two weeks. For the last week I to0ld them each day that on the 60th day I would be forced to file a claim with the post office for mail fraus, with ebay for fraud, and with ebay's insurer. They finally replied and sent out my item. When I got it it was damaged from shipping. Rather than go through the crap of returning it (it is still worth a little more than my $200) I cleaned it up and repaired it.

    Moral: all big ticket items should go through an escrow service. Not just person to person.
  • Slashdot DoS (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mESSDan ( 302670 ) on Saturday January 26, 2002 @12:40PM (#2906579) Homepage
    Man I'd love to do that to people who DoS us :)

    *puts on Flame Proof Suit*

    Imagine how the people who get Slashdotted feel ;)

    • by Multics ( 45254 ) on Saturday January 26, 2002 @12:54PM (#2906631) Journal
      YES, INDEED.

      Just a little warning (30min?) would make being /.ed a WHOLE LOT SAFER for the /.ed site.

      Even a piece of mail saying "you've been featured on our site -- here are some of the problems you may experience over the next YEAR." would be good.

      But nooooo...

      I am greatful for being featured in /. a couple of years ago, but it sometimes gets old when yet another round of attacks comes in on the site that was featured.

      How about /. tell us the details about the DoS attacks and perhaps the community can help out, never mind it is hopeless to get /. to recipricate. Your security through obscurity needs to end just as much as MS's does.

      -- Multics

      • Heh, most DoS attacks these days are brute-force attacks (like spamming a web server on port 80 with forged IPs, mailbombs, etc.) There's not much you can really do against these, all they do is eat up an enormous amount of bandwidth and CPU. You can't trace them because they're spoofed, you can't block them because they're usually random. Kinda sucks, but all you can do is accept that it comes with the territory and buy more bandwidth.
        • There's no reason why they should happen. Any ISP should have filtering in place to:

          1. Not allow any packet to go out with a source IP other than the one the user is using.
          2. Detect the signatures of DoS attacks outgoing on their networks and block them. They should then kick the user until he removes the Ircbot/DoS bot.

          That would end DoSing.
      • Do what I do: avoid putting up material that anyone would find interesting. Problem solved.

  • by BoarderPhreak ( 234086 ) on Saturday January 26, 2002 @12:41PM (#2906585)
    I had to "hunt" my eBay punk down, too. The guy tried to rip me off for $1800 after I purchased a Mac in an auction.

    The fool (supposedly) shipped it via plain parcel post and no small wonder, it went missing. Rather than own up to it, and realize he made a mistake he figured it'd be easier to hang me out to dry.

    Needless to say, I cancelled the credit card transaction (got my money back fine) but refused to stop there.

    I sicked Discover, USPS, eBay, Billpoint/PayPal, FBI and other agencies on him for interstate mail fraud, credit card fraud, etc.

    I also turned up some things in my own research - wife's name, address, phone number, etc. But the best part was having actual aerial photos of his HOUSE!

    Yep, gotta love the Internet. :)

    • The fool (supposedly) shipped it via plain parcel post and no small wonder, it went missing.

      What is "plain parcel post," and why is it so unreliable that it would be expected to go missing??
      • That is, he sent it through the USPS without any special treatment - no insurance, no tracking, no return receipt/delivery confirmation, etc. It's a notoriously BAD way to ship important or expensive stuff and if something were to go wrong, you have just about ZERO recourse. You either "wait until it turns up" or eat the cost and call it a day.

        Would YOU drop an $1800 computer in the mailbox?

    • I had a similar situation on a guy who tried to stiff me on a $500 video editing card. I did a search for his name (wasn't a John Smith kinda name) and came up with his personal website. Had a picture of him, his car (with license plate of state matching where I mailed his money order), and via a whois I received an alternate phone number and address.

      When I emailed him that I had this information and that I would surely USE it if he didn't come through he suddenly appeared, using an excuse about a dying father, and gave me my money back.

      Geeks can be very spiteful and bitter people.

    • You want to know what I think? I think he didn't send it at all. Maybe I'm just cynical. After all, we receive at least two or three phone calls at the ISP I work for every week from people who say they'd send us a cheque if we hook them up today. Of course, if we go and believe them (like we used to for a short tine), it never happens. And if we don't believe them and let them know they can always drop by the office in person, that never happens either.

      The difference between what people *say* and what people *do* is often quite large. Especially when we're talking about people like this.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 26, 2002 @12:42PM (#2906588) time we see auctions for 75 laptops from one seller, lets look up his info and just go steal them. Much better end result. Free Laptops.
  • Game (Score:3, Funny)

    by Sprunkys ( 237361 ) on Saturday January 26, 2002 @12:43PM (#2906593)
    Couldn't you make a game out of this??? A few try to do certain things on the internet (purchasing items, trading at E-Bay etc. etc.) and others (the whole community for all I care) have to track them down... some new form of reality tv... allow everything including hacking, cracking and lying but be aware for things such as threatening family members and friends, but I guess it could prove some great entertainment if only one could device a way to show it all... I don't think a few images of hackers on tv is that exciting...
  • Calling the bank... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by James1006 ( 544398 )
    If he had their check and hadn't cashed it yet, couldn't they have called the bank and told them that the check should be cancelled/declared void or something?

    • by _ganja_ ( 179968 )
      I guess these were cahiers checks.... From my understanding they are almost as good as cash really except made out to a person. When you get one drawn up, the money leaves your account instantly as you're tranfering one type of paper to another in effect. Safer than mailing cash as not anyone can cash them. This is my understanding of it but I'm from the UK so this is the uk version of thing, still spelt checks your way though.

      Still, you would expect the checks to be cashed before the seller shipped anyway, you aren't going to smell a rat until a week or so after its been cashed and you have no laptop. Credit cards are alway the best way to buy anything online and if the seller doesn't take CC or paypal (or something similar) when dealing through ebay, alram bells should be ringing if its for an expensive item.
  • Works in the US (Score:2, Interesting)

    by truesaer ( 135079 )
    I think it is generally possible to track down anyone you're dealing with if you put in a bit of effort. The problem is, when I had a fraud issue, I tracked the person down in Romania! Ok, so now what the hell do I do? Grumble and move on...
  • by Lethyos ( 408045 ) on Saturday January 26, 2002 @12:50PM (#2906617) Journal
    <sarcasm>Well of course it is better to contact law enforcement agencies! They really know how to get the job done!</sarcasm>

    Of course that's all bullshit. I wish the article had elaborated on legal action the AZ DA might take against the vigilantes. That will probably pan out to a prosecution. Ever notice how law enforcement will frequently go after people for criminal charges when they were victimized, but not really make an effort towards the original perpetrators?

    Look at this situation. These people were told to fill out some forms, and wait 30 days to complain to eBay and maybe get about 200$ (a fraction of what all of them were scammed). Law enforcement agents simply do not know how to handle cybercrime. They would have sat on their asses, wondering how they were going to find this guy who committed fraud... and after a short while of not making any progress, move it off to the back burner.

    Now of course, they have a big, huge, easy to nail target in the form of this group of people demanding justice. It's nonsense.

    I think it's silly that provisions aren't in place that allow people to non-violently pursue people who screw them over. This was not always something that made sense in the "real world" because people address people face to face. They make deals with handshakes, and if someone is screwed over IRL, they probably had some physical interaction.

    The Internet however, a place where a great deal of anonyminity may be gained, where law enforcement is apathetic towards real criminals, people should be allowed to take a few steps over the line. So long as there is a clear motive as to why they're digging on the wire that multiple people can attest to. Why shouldn't this group's behavior be legal?
  • by Reziac ( 43301 ) on Saturday January 26, 2002 @12:57PM (#2906646) Homepage Journal
    This is something I wrote up for someone who'd just been ripped off by an Ebay hardware seller. Feel free to reproduce it elsewhere. Yes, I do occasionally buy hardware on Ebay (albeit very carefully!) and no, I've not yet been ripped off. By following my own advice, I hope to avoid it permanently. :)

    I've spent a LOT of time digging around for hardware (and other stuff) on Ebay, and have read a lot in and asked around in many of the user forums there, and have reached several conclusions about hardware sellers:

    The ones who do so regularly are *usually* frauds to some degree, or at least rip-off artists (selling known-junk for too much $$) and are typically difficult if you get a DOA or misrepresented part. The ones who only sell the occasional one-off component are usually okay, or at least aren't selling bad stuff intentionally.

    ALWAYS read ALL of a seller's negative feedback before bidding. This means going to ( and using the "search feedback" form (which BTW is rigged so you can save it and use it locally, it still calls what it needs from the server) to inspect ALL of a seller's NEGATIVE FEEDBACK. Good vendors won't have more than 0.15% negative feedback. More than 0.3% negative feedback is a redflag; more than 1.0% is invariably a bad dealer or a con artist. Positive feedback numbers and content CAN be rigged via the "penny auctions"
    loophole, so in itself is fairly useless.

    ALWAYS read ALL of the "NEGATIVE FEEDBACK LEFT FOR OTHERS" *by* any seller you intend to deal with. How they respond to their own bad deals is a *VERY* good indicator of how they'll be to work with in the event that what they send you is defective or is not as represented.

    Sellers who use *L00K* and/or bogus phrases in their item titles (just WTF is "emulator friendly" anyway??!) are the ebay equivalent of spammers. I no longer even view items with such titles.

    ALWAYS check regular online vendor outlets, Pricewatch, etc, first. Typically, used hardware sold on Ebay winds up going for 150% of the new retail price, just because most people have no clue what components really sell for. (I've seen used HDs go for 300% of retail, and used memory going for TEN TIMES the local new price!!)

    Sellers who start every auction with "$1.00" prices are more likely to be "pros" at this auction business than those who start with something realistic. See above re those who sell hardware regularly on ebay.

    ALWAYS email the seller prior to bidding, and ask some question about the item, even if you already know the answer. The tone of the response you get can tell you plenty about how they'll be to deal with. If you get NO response, "go look it up yourself" or a CANNED response, DON'T BID.

    If they take ONLY cash, cashiers checks, or money orders for hardware, DON'T BID.

    BTW for categories other than hardware, the above all apply except that there are good sellers of other stuff who do it all the time.
    • Another tip -- If it doesn't say "Working" or "Not DOA" or "Guaranteed", then assume the item is broken. "Pulled from a working system" doesn't mean squat. If the thing says "not tested" or "no Guarantee" or "I don't know if this works", then assume the seller knows the item is broken.

      I can't count how many obviously broken things I've seen sold on eBay to buyers without basic reading comprehension skills.

      Also, assume the item has no warranty (unless it says otherwise) and bid accordingly. There's a risk that it will break in 2 weeks, and unlike retail, you don't have a recourse.

      (I've never had any particular problem with the "L@@K" people or people who take only money orders. I don't consider PayPal to be any less or more risky than a money order transaction, although I hear that Postal MOs give you some USPS backup.)
      • You're right -- "tested working and guaranteed no DOA" (with a seller feedback history to back that up) is another excellent point to look for. (Hey, I'm gonna get all sorts of good hints to add to the tips article!)

        And yes, you're also absolutely right that "pulled from a working system" only means the REST of the system powered up, not that this here piece worked. (If it worked, why was it pulled?) An individual upgrading their system has little incentive to lie about the "pulled" part, but someone who dismantles junked systems for a living is going to have a LOT of iffy parts to sell.

        And you're right on another point too -- with few exceptions, there is NO further warranty -- if it works today but dies tomorrow, tough shit. The only exception being items like Western Digital hard disks, since W.D. doesn't care if you found the drive in the trash -- so long as it's less than 3 years since mfg. date and not on the stolen-drive list, they'll replace it. With such items, you can get the serial number from the seller and check it on the mfg's site to see if it's still under warranty.

        As to cash and how items are described, I backtracked a whole bunch of bad dealers in various types of merchandise, and the single most common point was that they take ONLY some form of cash. The next most common was using "L@@K" style item names. The third most common redflag in hardware auctions was OVER-describing the item, using the mfgr's own ad or specs copy, apparently meant to snow the less-knowledgeable with how much they know about the item.
      • I don't consider PayPal to be any less or more risky than a money order transaction, although I hear that Postal MOs give you some USPS backup.)

        I believe that PayPal is a lot safer, actually... at least for buyers.

        PayPal seems to ALWAYS side with the buyer in a dispute. Even if the seller did nothing wrong, they side with the buyer. Plus, you can always dispute the charge on your credit card bill...

        -- Dr. Eldarion --
    • by Jay L ( 74152 ) <{jay+slash} {at} {}> on Saturday January 26, 2002 @02:26PM (#2907026) Homepage
      Also, only send money to someone you have called - and then only if the number is listed in their name! Don't trust Switchboard, etc.; you can modify your own listing online. Use XXX-555-1212 instead.

      Check out that phone number on and make sure it's a land line, not a cell phone.
    • by chihowa ( 366380 ) on Saturday January 26, 2002 @02:53PM (#2907154)
      Also, as a seller, make sure that you have documented (pictures on the auction page) prrof of the serial number and all angles of the product. Well, this only applies if it's expensive.

      I've been burned before when a buyer claimed that the item I had sent was broken and missing parts, and (of course!) I had no proof but my own word. The buyer was offering to return my broken item or pay me less than 5% of the auction price.

      It turned out that this buyer was a reseller of the particular item that they had won, and so they most likely had broken ones laying around.

      Pretty good scam, huh? I ended up contacting the BBB and various fraud agencies and they finally paid up, but it was a hassle, and I got negative feedback for it too.
      • Oh yes, it works both ways, exactly as you state. If you've documented the serial number (good use for a digital camera!) both seller and buyer have a way to confirm that this is indeed the original item that was auctioned, and is neither 1) a substitution by the seller, nor 2) a scam by the buyer to get a free replacement for a busted identical item.

        As a side note, I've noticed that bad sellers are more likely to be bad buyers; similarly, good sellers are usually good buyers. IOW, honest on one end of a deal, honest on the other, and v.v.
    • by fm6 ( 162816 ) on Saturday January 26, 2002 @09:03PM (#2907965) Homepage Journal
      More than 0.3% negative feedback is a redflag; more than 1.0% is invariably a bad dealer or a con artist. Positive feedback numbers and content CAN be rigged via the "penny auctions" loophole, so in itself is fairly useless.
      That makes no sense at all. By those rules, somebody with 99 satisified customers and one Troll is "obviously" dishonest.

      I sometimes deal with this ebay seller []. She's as honest as they come -- she once sent me an unrequested refund because I overpaid her for shipping. She has ten thousand positive ratings. But she has 11 negative ratings. She does a lot of repeat business, so her positive count probably won't get much higher. But there are always bad buyers who think nothing's their fault. If she attracts 90 of those before she gets 1,000 new satisified customers, she meets your definition of "bad dealer or con artists." That's totally unfair.

      And your notions of how sellers can inflate their ratings don't make any sense either. Hundreds of positive ratings from a single user would be a dead giveaway -- and wouldn't affect your rating. So you'd have to create hundreds of bogus users. I suppose that's doable with scripts. But if you're that good, you can conduct hundreds of auctions for nonexistent merchandise and sell it to yourself at inflated prices. That's not something you could detect by filtering out low bids.

      But let's just say I'm wrong, and that you can fake a lot of positives. Then it makes no sense to use percentages at all! If you can always add more positives, then you can always bring your negative percentage down.

      I don't think it makes sense to rely on statistics [] in any form. You have to get a sense of who you're dealing with. That's not something that shows up through numbers and rules-of-thumb.

      And although outright fraud gets the headlines, the big hazard of buying on ebay is not crooks but flakes. And those are pretty easy to detect.

      • Your example seller has roughly 0.001% negative feedback. If a seller like that had a run of negatives, the obvious route is to investigate the buyers who posted the negative feedback -- chances are you'll find they've got their own feedback drama going. And who knows, maybe the seller had a spasm of irresponsibility :)

        And no, you can't rely entirely on statistics, but unless you happen to know the seller from prior experience, your main indicator of their quality is others' experience. The numbers I posted aren't set in stone either (negative feedback tends to run higher with some types of items, even for very good sellers), but I've found they're pretty good breakpoints, and they DO help you get a sense of what sort of person you're dealing with.

        And yes, flaky buyers certainly do seem to plague good sellers every bit as much as crooked sellers plague good buyers!!

        As to how some sellers inflate their positives, there's a loophole involving bogus auctions which I don't entirely understand either, but you can usually find a thread about it somewhere on the ebay user forums. Apparently it's done after an ID change, producing a shitload of identical positives. Gee, I can't imagine why that would look suspicious :) But apparently it's good enough to fool newbies who only look at the total number of positives, and never at the actual comments nor at the auctions the feedback comments refer to.
  • calling mom (Score:3, Funny)

    by nycdewd ( 160297 ) on Saturday January 26, 2002 @12:59PM (#2906652)
    heh heh... some years ago i used to be an administrator at a well-known website that catered to users of a certain platform and we had a forum at that site. of course we had a few punkassbitch users who could never behave on the forum and they were invariably teeniepoopers living off the fat of the land (parent's house). i'd get their personal info and call their moms. hoooo ha, now *that's* entertainment!
  • It would be interesting to read the inner workings of the group. Is there a link? btw, perhaps the group could make some $$$ by using their messages to create a book of their adventure?
  • Economics of Ebay (Score:5, Interesting)

    by filtersweep ( 415712 ) on Saturday January 26, 2002 @01:16PM (#2906745) Homepage Journal
    I've used ebay to both buy and sell... everything I've sold has sold for much higher than I anticipated- some of it sold for more than I could be purchased NEW!

    On one hand, there is the concept of WINNING- that people lose sight of how much they are spending on an item. Next people forget about shipping- which can cost as much as the item itself.

    People are also cost conscious, and usually do not want to pay extra for escrow or shipping insurance... which makes little sense if you consider many people packing merchandise are far from shipping pros.

    Also, there is usually no return policy at ebay... one person's "like new" condition is another person's, "almost trash," and some sellers don't even know what they are selling (ie. a photo of a Slot 1 CPU listed as a socket chip), blah, blah, blah.

    Bottom line, the mantra at ebay true is "buyer beware." I think it is great these people are going after this seller, but the fact remains, if they were truly safety conscious buyers, they could have taken additional steps to protect their purchase. I wouldn't blame ebay for only reimbursing $200. If they guaranteed every purchase, it would actually encourage fraud!
    • On one hand, there is the concept of WINNING- that people lose sight of how much they are spending on an item. Next people forget about shipping- which can cost as much as the item itself.

      Here's an example... a couple of weeks ago, I bid on a 128 MB DIMM on eBay that was being sold in a dutch auction (lot of 15). The seller stated QUITE PLAINLY in the item description that anyone who wanted to buy the DIMM could just contact him and he would sell it for $19.85. Typical eBay... all of the winning bidders bid OVER $20, with the highest bid being $26. I kid you not.

      I said "Screw it," went down to Best Buy and picked one up for $14 (after a $5 mail-in rebate).
  • by Lars T. ( 470328 ) <Lars DOT Traeger AT googlemail DOT com> on Saturday January 26, 2002 @01:25PM (#2906785) Journal
    that the usual evil-government-electronic-surveilance paranoids will not care that a group of vigilantes can fuck up somebodies (real) life - guilty or not.
  • Jerkface (Score:5, Interesting)

    by oasamostexianu ( 520164 ) on Saturday January 26, 2002 @01:31PM (#2906809) Homepage
    Speaking as one of the people having been ripped off by this seller, I just want to note that this "seller" was a complete asshole. A few weeks after not sending any of us merchandise, he claimed his mother passed away, a claim later proven false when we spoke to her. What a jerk.
  • ethical issues. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Restil ( 31903 ) on Saturday January 26, 2002 @02:16PM (#2906996) Homepage
    While I'm sure the people involved were justified in their efforts, when you start playing games with credit cards, you're getting into some pretty murky legal waters yourself.

    I personally feel that ebay should be insuring for the full value of the auction, and should charge a percentage on the sale for insurance costs. Of course, seller (or buyer) could choose to not purchase insurance, but at least it would put some pressure on ebay to handle huge cases of fraud if they happened.

    Pay with credit cards if you can. Granted, there's a fee involved but the credit card companies in most cases will reimburse you if you're defrauded.

    • Re:ethical issues. (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mindstrm ( 20013 )
      Regarding insurance... I don't think ebay should be doing it at all. They are not handling money. They shouldn't even be guaranteeing a $200 refund. Ebay is there to hold the auction, not to do anything else, they make that very clear

      Secondly, regarding credit cards.

      It's not in most cases, it's in ALL cases.
      If you buy something with your credit card, and it is not delivered, you get your money back (Unless the merchant can prove they DID deliver it to you and you are lying)
  • by eggboard ( 315140 ) on Saturday January 26, 2002 @03:10PM (#2907229) Homepage
    I had a guy threaten me several months ago because I wouldn't forward a post he wrote to a mailing I moderate (on a software topic: Adobe GoLive) in part because it was belligerant. Eventually, I banned him. He then threatened that he'd "get me."

    Well, this was pre-Sept. 11, but I thought, I don't know where he lives, I don't know how crazy he is. I had his name and his email address. I sent a note to the system administrator of the address noting that threatening email had been sent from that location. (Turned out to be his work address.) I also used to get his phone number.

    I called. I got what I thought was his mom (I assumed he was about 18 up to that point), but turned out to be his wife. I said, if I received any additional communication or anything happened to me or my systems, I would be reporting him to his local police and FBI. She said she's pass the message on.

    A few days later I get email begging me to never get in touch with him again. I felt slightly bad: did I want him to lose his job? No. But I didn't want to worry about about a random crazy (who turned out to live about 1,000 miles away) who might hack my systems or my body up.
    • Slightly bad?? Hell, I would have been elated. What the guy did was not only rude and arrogant, but flat-out idiotic considering he did so using his work e-mail address. To many companies, that in itself is grounds for termination, so this guy is probably lucky that he didn't lose his job. He shouldn't have done it in the first place, and I'm guessing now he won't ever do it again--which is why I would have been elated.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I've had a lot of experience as a buyer on eBay, and I've been ripped off a lot of times. I don't use eBay now unless I have no recourse. I know legit sellers on ebay have a terrible time with deadbeat buyers, but I've not sold anything on ebay so this is in terms of being a buyer.

    eBay screams "caveat emptor", if the seller rips you off, eBay says "ebay is only a venue" and won't get inolved. If you use Paypal and get ripped off, paypal will turn around and take the money from your account due to 'investigation'.

    eBay is full of scumbags and ripoff artists because they know they have a safe haven there to operate. The very worst thing that can happen to a fradulent seller is that ebay can close their account ('not a registered user'). This will usually only happen once the users' feedback rating drops to (-4), meaning they get ample opportunity to rip people off before getting canned. Then they can just sign up again under another name and start all over.

    The real hallmark is ripoff types who become a cottage industry: start off selling something cheap and easy, and rack up a few good positive feedbacks. That gives you lots of space before that (-4) limit. Then just switch to selling bigger-ticket items (laptops, etc) and rip everyone off until ebay shuts you down. Use a hotmail address for the email, and put in phoney addresses and phone numbers in the contact info and you're untraceable.

    Great ebay scam techniques:

    • Use a phoney picture of the item (showing a premium product, or one without scratches/dents/etc) and just change it on the image host after the auction closes. Since ebay doesn't store the pictures, it'll be your word against theirs that it wasn't as advertised. Always get a hard copy of the auction when you bid, and before it closes.
    • The seller can pick "buyer pays actual shipping charges" in the auction setup, but hey they don't have to follow that when they send you the info at the end. Charge a big amount for "handling" or "paypal fees". Then send the package not by USPS priority, but by media mail or something -> instant profit. Sure ebay says you can't charge excessive handling or paypal fees, but they are "only a venue" and won't do anything if you complain.
    • Doesn't matter what they say about money orders/etc in the auction listing. After the auction closes, some sellers demand CASH ONLY in the mail. The buyer sends it, you just say you never got it. Cash is untracable.
    • The general rule is the seller makes changes or unreasonable demands, then threatens negative feedback if you don't like it. Especially if you don't buy a lot, or are just starting out, that negative looks real bad on your record, and other sellers will cancel your bids just by seeing it. "Feedback extortion" it's called. Sure you get to leave a rebuttal, but who'll believe you.
    • I've seen where the seller will get someone to shill for him on if the bidding isn't high enough for his taste. Since ebay lets you set a maximum bid amount, but the bid only goes as high as necessary to win. You bid say $5 but a max of $100. Sellers' shill comes in and runs the bidding up until they see where your max was at (leaving their shill as top bidder). Then shill cancels their bid (dropping you back to $5 and top bidder again), but brings in another shill to bring it up to close to your limit (say $99) without going over, so you end up paying near the max for something that wouldn't have gone for much to start with. Sure that's against ebay too, but you have to prove it.
  • Someone stole my credit card number awhile back and decided to purchase 3 plane tickets with it. Luckily the airline called me right away and asked if it was OK since the people went to the counter with the card number WRITTEN DOWN on paper.

    The airline was nice enough to give me their names though, and I used several sites to get their phone numbers, addresses, aerial photos of their houses, and 2 of their actual photos. I printed all of the info out and I'm planning on sending it to them with a note that says they better watch who they fuck with. I should probably make a nice death scene with photoshop and their pictures in it also.

    Or, I could just call my friend who works on a horse ranch, and have him get me a head from a dead horse, and I could send it to them. :)
    • Heh.. even better, call your credit card company and the FBI and report them for credit card fraud. Nothing says FUCK YOU PAL like having the FBI show up on someone's doorstep.
      • The FBI won't touch it unless it's over $5000. I called the police, my bank, and Visa -- and none of them cared.

        Seriously, if you steal credit card numbers and just buy little things, you'll probably get away with it for a long time.
  • kinda sounds like what the troll hunters on the anandtech forums do when someone gets ripped off.. they often hunt down people and generally make life miserable for people who don't follow through with online trade deals..

An inclined plane is a slope up. -- Willard Espy, "An Almanac of Words at Play"