Stamp Collectors Against Dodgy Sellers
October 26, 2004:
"Caveat emptor" or "buyer beware" is still the best advice when buying on eBay. It is ultimately up to you not to get taken in by the tactics of dodgy sellers, by being alert for telltale signs and by using your commonsense. Here are a few tips:
1) Improve your knowledge. Learn all you can about your specific collecting interest. A wealth of information exists in books, journals and Internet sites. Money spent on literature will be money spent wisely. You will have a better chance of being able to detect altered items, fakes and forgeries.
2) Check the feedback of the seller. Don't be lulled into a false sense of security by a high feedback rating. Make sure to read all negative and neutral comments. They tell something about what service you will receive if something goes wrong. For stamps, anything under 99% positive feedback is a bad sign. Also, check the feedback of those leaving negative and neutral comments. Sometimes it's not the seller's fault.
3) Check the scan very carefully for signs of damage, alteration, reperfing, erased cancels, etc. Has the seller mentioned any visible faults in the description? If you're not sure of the stamp, ask someone with knowledge of the area to look at the scan. Never buy an item if no image is available. Nor from sellers who do not put up images until near auction end, as this is just a ploy to prevent questionable items from being reported earlier.
4) Check the description of the item. Is it over-described or over-graded for the quality of the item shown? Check out the seller's other lots to get a feel for the descriptions and general quality of items offered.
5) Ask any questions you may have about the item before you bid.
If the scan is unclear, ask for a better scan, especially if the stamp
being offered has a high catalogue value or is commonly forged, reperfed,
or otherwise altered. You may want to ask for a scan of the reverse
6) Read shipping and payment terms carefully. Are shipping costs unreasonable high? If the seller does not clearly list shipping and payment terms, ask via e-mail before bidding.
7) Check the seller's returns policy carefully. Is the length of time permitted long enough? Will the seller offer a refund of the full purchase price including all shipping charges paid for items incorrectly described or identified? Will the seller allow for an extension if you want to have the item expertised, and absorb costs of the certificate and postage should it be deemed not "as described"? If you are buying a stamp that is frequently faked or misidentified, insist on your right to get a certificate.
8) Look for signs of shill bidding. If some of the users you bid against have very low feedback, if they bid only on the same seller's items, and if there is a great variety of items they bid on from the same seller, retract your bids and report the shill bidding to eBay.
9) Never bid on an "as is" auction. If the seller cannot guarantee the stamp, the chances are that it is not what it is claimed to be.
10) Never bid in a private auction or from sellers with private feedback. Private auctions can be used to conceal shill bidding (which artificially inflates the final sale price) and to prevent buyers of misrepresented items from being notified of such. Private feedback can be used to hide buyer dissatisfaction with misdescribed items, a poor returns policy or scam auction tactics.
11) Be wary of auctions of short duration. Ask yourself why a seller would list items for only 3 days, or even one day. These auctions are most often used to avoid scrutiny, with reported items often sold before eBay has a chance to act.
12) Learn about the seller. Good feedback is no guarantee for an honest seller. Some buyers were willing victims, knowing that they bought junk, and others might not know they were defrauded. Check if the seller is indeed a member of any respected philatelic organisations mentioned in the listing. Use Internet search engines and ask on off-eBay message boards if you are unsure about a seller.
13) Observe the seller's reactions to being informed of misdescribed lots. A good indicator of the ethics of a seller is the response given to a polite email supported by references to literature, etc that the item offered is a fake or forgery. If the seller decides to change or make additions to the description, or ends the auction early after writing to any bidders, and re-lists with the new description and possibly an altered price, then you may feel more confident in any future dealings.
14) If the dealer is bad, the deal is bad. If the seller appears or is demonstrably questionable, no deal you can make is worth the hassle. Put the seller on your "don't buy" list. It isn't even worth looking at the lots of such a seller.
15) Leave honest feedback. Many buyers always leave positive feedback, even when they know they were scammed. Doing so is a disservice to the community, and undermines the credibility of the feedback system.