eBay buying tips

eBay buying tips - I'm not getting burned again!

Ashleigh Islington

Released  25 June, 2002        Last updated:   27 October, 2004

Ashleigh Islington (eBay id "as_is") has learned a few things since she was an eBay newbie. Check out her list of eBay buying tips, and maybe you won't get burned on your next eBay purchase.

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Article subsections


eBay's policy on "as is"

Tips for buyers

a) Improve your knowledge

b) Do your homework on the item and the seller

c) Observe the seller's reactions to showing misdescribed material


I put these buying tips together because I was sick of getting ripped off by dodgy sellers out to make a quick buck by misusing my eBay user ID ("as_is"), or otherwise vaguely hinting (by statements such as "what you see is what you get") that items might be genuine when there were only two chances of that - Buckley's and none!

And maybe they will help all you collectors out there. Collectors who, like me, have been searching the collections, "estate" lots and other listings looking for that nugget of gold amongst the pile of dross.

So many of you are like I was - not cautious or alert to the possibilities of fraudulent items or knowledgeable enough to easily spot them. But I am fixing that. I finally got around to buying a few decent books on US classics. Knowledge is power!

eBay's policy on "as is"

In the last year or so eBay got its act together a bit and introduced a Code of Conduct for selling stamps. According to it:

"I agree that the term "As Is" or similar language may be used only to describe condition. It can never be used to comment on authenticity or to excuse a misdescribed item. Furthermore, I agree to use the term "As Is" or similar language only after having described all known faults including those not evident in the picture of my items."

How about that, eh? So if you see an auction using an "as is" disclaimer to cover the seller if the item isn't what s/he described it as, then you can report it using the Report link at the bottom of the Selling Stamps page for violating the Code of Conduct.

Tips for buyers

Whatever eBay does to help make it "a safe and fun place to trade", it is ultimately up to you not to get taken in by the tactics of unethical sellers by being alert for telltale signs and by using your commonsense.

a) 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.

  • Read the eBay Stamps chat board and the StampChat+ board to keep up with current issues and problems.

  • Check out any recent updates to the other articles on this website, the SCADS (Stamp Collectors Against Dodgy Sellers) website, and Richard "Nerdman" Doporto, F.P.I.'s Fakes and forgeries purchased on eBay website.

  • Read the SCADS Guidelines for buying stamps on eBay to learn about even more things to watch out for!

b) Do your homework on the item and the seller

  • Ask the seller specific questions about the item before you bid. Request a larger scan, and even a decent-sized scan of the reverse as well, if you can't see the item clearly enough to make out all the details. An honest seller will usually respond to your questions within 24 hours.

  • Check the seller's bona fides. Is s/he a member of any respected philatelic organisations? If s/he says so, check them out.

  • Check the seller's returns policy. Does s/he offer a refund of the full purchase price including all shipping charges paid for items incorrectly described or identified? Does s/he allow for extensions, should a buyer want to have an item expertised, and absorb costs of the certificate and postage should the item be deemed not "as described"?

  • Check the description of the material. Is it overdescribed or overgraded 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.

  • Don't be lulled into a false sense of security by a high feedback rating. Make sure you check out the seller's feedback, in particular any neutrals or negatives. These tell you the stories of the problems faced by bidders who have learned that their items are not as described or have faults, and have had problems returning them.

  • Avoid sellers with these warning signs - private auctions, private feedback and auctions of short duration (3 days or less). Any one of these suggests that the seller has something to hide.
    • Private auctions could mean that the seller is raising the price of his or her own auctions by bidding on them with another ID (this is known as shill-bidding), or wants to hide bidders' IDs so they can't be warned about questionable items.
    • Private feedback usually hides a lot of negatives, indicating the seller is hard to deal with when there are problems.
    • Short auctions usually mean that the seller is trying to sell something fraudulent quickly, before it gets noticed and reported to eBay.

c) Observe the seller's reactions to showing misdescribed material

A good indicator of the ethics of a seller is his or her response to being informed that the item s/he is offering is a fake or forgery, by a polite email supported by references to literature, etc. If the seller decides to change or make additions to the description, or ends the auction early after writing to any bidders, and relists with the new description and possibly an altered price, then you can feel more confident in your possible dealings with him or her.

Caveat emptor and happy collecting!

See ya!

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