'eBay - the good, the bad and the downright ugly' article

eBay - the good, the bad and the downright ugly

Jim Whitford-Stark and Sheryll Oswald

Released  2 August, 2001        Last updated:   11 August, 2008

An overview of the ugly side of eBay, including scam auctions and dodgy sellers of fakes and forgeries, illustrated by examples of less than ethical tactics by eBay sellers such as "riny218" (now suspended), "apostolicchurch" and "arnoldpwc".

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U.S. Classics on eBay - as is
Altered U.S. stamps on eBay - exposed!
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The Saratoga Fakes
eBay buying tips
Spotted a misdescribed fake on eBay?

Related websites

Stamp Collectors Against Dodgy Sellers (SCADS)
Alterations, Fakes and Forgeries
eBay - forgeries, fakes, dodgy sellers, scams: the tip of the iceberg (TOTI)
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Feedback comments

Article subsections

Introduction

1. Scam auctions

a) Selling "nothing"

b) Failure to deliver

2. Dodgy sellers of forgeries, forged overprints and fakes

a) Forgeries

b) Fake overprints

c) fake cancellations

3. Dodgy sellers of altered stamps or stamps with hidden faults

4. Private auctions

Conclusion

References

Index of sellers

"irhe_69"
"apostolicchurch"
"arnoldpwc"
"arthur91"
"riny218"

Introduction

As an international stamp exchange forum, eBay is unsurpassed both in terms of the number of items offered and the large, worldwide clientele for those items. However, the words "caveat emptor", meaning "buyer beware", at the end of each category search listing are far and away the most important ones that you can read.

There are good sellers who change auction descriptions or remove from sale those items that they are advised are fakes, fully and accurately describe their items, and unquestionably refund or otherwise recompense unsatisfied customers. Their rewards are satisfied customers and a positive feedback lacking in innuendo.

Then there are bad sellers who ignore emails, poorly describe or misdescribe items, and sometimes recompense buyer for unsatisfactory items after numerous rounds of emails and threats. Try reading between the lines of the feedback of these sellers and count the number of neutral and unsatisfactory feedbacks.

That brings us to the downright ugly.

How can things get any worse, you may ask. Easy to answer - you don't get what you pay for. This can arise in different ways; either you get nothing or what you do get is not as described.

1. Scam auctions

a) Selling "nothing"

Sellers whose commodity is "nothing" usually don't last long on eBay, but they are out there. They use images, and sometimes also descriptions, for material they don't possess, and which are "borrowed" from the Internet or scanned from auction catalogues. They are usually very highly priced items offered for sale at a small percentage of their real value. The seller's objective is to make a "quick buck" from dupes and run.

Such sellers present no problem to the experienced collector, since most highly priced stamps are well documented both as to total number and location. To the inexperienced collector though, the possibility of obtaining a $5,000 stamp for only $452 is often a real temptation.

Warning signs:
  • Seller has zero feedback,
  • None of the bidders has feedback in excess of five,
  • Potential buyers signed onto eBay on the same day item appeared in listings,
  • There is no mention of certification accompanying item,
  • Seller does not live in same country as prospective buyers,
  • Refusal to use escrow.

Most of these sellers can be categorised as really dumb, dumb, dumb criminals or really bored high school kids. Upon learning of such behaviour, eBay is generally quick to suspend their accounts. This is called NARU in eBay parlance, as a click on their feedback will show them listed as "Not A Registered User". One then has to watch for their new names and latest gimmicks, however, as these people will not just go away.

Examples:

For example, in 1999 "madison61" from Canada "sold" highly priced stolen images, and appeared regularly on the eBay Stamps chat board to taunt members with his exploits before being NARU'ed.

In June 2001, the seller "designersgolds", operating from Pakistan, used scans from other sellers' auctions when listing highly priced US stamps. The auctions had been bid on by "shill" bidders (i.e. the seller's other eBay-user IDs or associates of the seller pushing up the prices of the items). Two of these scans were linked directly to another dealer's website. That dealer was alerted, and successfully changed his scan to warn buyers. Needless to say, the errant seller soon cancelled his own auctions, but had the audacity to ask the legitimate dealer to put the correct scans back!!

After being NARU'ed, he tried again under the name "stamps_coins", then moved to "aonestamps" when that name was NARU'ed. Finally (?), he tried a private auction to shill bid, using a description from another legitimate auction, before being reported and NARU'ed.

In September 2001, the seller "irhe_69" listed a US 1851-61 1c blue type IV as a "used #23 in mint condition", stating in the description that "the picture here is not the real stamp". This seller had only two feedbacks, both negative, yet had attracted $56 worth of bids. The seller had received two more negatives by the time chat board members discovered that the image had been pirated from a listing of the dealer "wmlangs". This was reported to "wmlangs" and to eBay. A chat board members bid on the auction, then retracted his bid, in an attempt to warn the other bidders that something was fishy.

The following day, board members spotted a similar auction by "iluvboyz", using the same description and same image. A check of the seller's user ID history showed up "irhe1969". This too was reported to SafeHarbor, who had by that time NARU'd "ir_he69" (a feedback rating of "-4" is grounds for suspension). Chat board members had a bit of fun bidding huge amounts on the second auction. The seller tried to negotiate with underbidders (also board members) to end the auction early and sell the stamp to them. This practice is a violation of eBay policy. It took another day before eBay finally NARU'd the second ID.

b) Failure to deliver

Less readily exposed ugly sellers are those who take your money, claim the non-existent item has been sent, and refuse recompense or a substitute. Fortunately, this little subterfuge doesn't last very long. There is a limit as to how many times people will believe an item "went awry" in the postal system.

Warning signs:
  • Seller has few, if any, repeat buyers,
  • Seller will only accept cash payment even though other forms of payment are quite acceptable without excessive bank fees,
  • Seller has a large percentage of negative and neutral feedbacks,
  • Former buyers spell out the fact in feedback.
Examples:

The seller "apostolicchurch" was a reincarnation of an ugly seller whose shilling and other exploits are documented in the Linn's article Internet stamp auctions act to stop shill bidding, and who was later NARU'd by eBay.

His latest scam appears to have been non-delivery of his book " A Simple Guide to Detecting and Understanding Regummed, Reperfed, Altered and Faked Stamps", as seen in this sample listing. The seller did not respond to emails sent in March from at least two buyers, and his telephone has been "temporarily disconnected". All the toll-free phone numbers on the seller's sponsorship page have been blocked by the phone company.

Despite the seller running auctions of this book constantly for three months since mid-January 2002, his feedback shows no positive feedback received from the many purchasers. However, the increasing negative feedback tells the sorry tale of the scammed bidders' plight. eBay eventually NARU'd this seller in mid-April 2002, when his feedback reached the "-4" level, which on its own is grounds for suspension.

2. Dodgy sellers of forgeries, forged overprints and fakes

This brings us to the "grey area" where you get something, but what you get is not "as described".

a) Forgeries

The most obvious is a forgery not described as such. Such forgeries include the stamp, an overprint, or a cancellation.

Since the advent of the Penny Black, stamps have been forged. A stamp forgery is a very expensive undertaking both in terms of the equipment needed and the time required to implement the forgery. It also requires a copy of the original at hand and a very skilled artisan. The products of specific nineteenth century and early twentieth century forgers can frequently be recognised by the mistakes which they either inadvertently or consciously performed. In the same way that the forger needs a copy of the original to forge, so the collector needs a copy of the forger's work in order to be able to distinguish the two. There is, of course, the unhappy situation where a forger has had to rely on another forger's forgery to implement their "original". But that is another story.

Some stamp forgeries are highly collectible but most "aren't worth the paper they are printed on". With advances in technology, various tools to create forgeries have become more readily available. Colour laser-printed reproductions are increasingly offered on eBay, sometimes offered as proofs, sometimes as forgeries or replicas, but also sometimes as genuine, especially if the provenance of items is lost through resale.

An experienced seller should be able to distinguish between the real thing and a forgery almost immediately or, if not, at least be able to tell from the provenance of the stamp, which is the more likely.

The "clever" sellers are able to place forgeries for sale on eBay, describe them as such, but intimate that the stamp could possibly be the original.

Warning signs:
  • Stamp sold "as is" with no returns,
  • Selling price is higher than scrap paper but nowhere near the price of "the real thing",
  • Seller will not answer email questions before auction terminates,
  • Catalogue value of real stamp is given prominent position in listing,
  • Seller lists private auctions, to prevent bidders from being notified of the misdescriptions.

These sellers can best be categorised as deceitful, and two which particularly come to mind are "schuylerac" (whose activities are detailed in the "U.S. Classics on eBay - as is" article) and "riny218" (see Appendix 1 for examples of some of this seller's past listings).

One of "riny218"'s strategies was to place questionable or outright forged items in with a cheap album full of stamps and describe it as "completely unchecked by us".

Other sellers are proving unresponsive to emails by chat board members concerning misdescribed items. See the list of sellers who took no action in the "Spotted a misdescribed fake on eBay?" article.

b) Fake overprints

Overprinted stamps are a real "can of worms". Overprinting often requires very little skill and a minimum of equipment. Often it can be performed with a rubber stamp or typewriter. Overprinting of stamps which were originally overprinted does require skill, since the size and shapes of the original letterings and their colours were often carefully recorded, as were the number of stamps that were overprinted.

Overprinting stamps which were never originally overprinted requires no skill, merely a susceptible audience. New varieties frequently appear in the major catalogues, and who is to say that this overprint is a previously unrecorded example which, if real, would be worth a lot of money (yeah, right!!).

These stamps are not worth the value of the same stamp in used condition, normally about 10c.

Warning signs:

Same as stamp forgeries above plus:

  • Stamp is worth a lot more overprinted than as mint never used,
  • All overprints from the same seller are on cheap stamps,
  • Stamps from different countries have the same overprint,
  • The overprint is on a used stamp. If the overprint overlies the cancel, it is a forgery.

The most obvious purveyor of this group is "atdinvest" (see the "Hialeah/Sunshine State/Miami fake overprint sellers on eBay" article), but the seller "madloose" has listed fake Oman overprints in recent auctions, such as this sheet with fake Scout Rotary inverted grey overprint. Overprints in red, silver and green have also been listed. More information on these Oman overprints can be found at the Arab Gulf and Yemen Stamp Group (http://clubs.yahoo.com/clubs/arabgulfandyemenstampgroup) - see message 702 and associated replies.

c) Fake cancellations

Though less demanding in terms of skill than forging stamps, forging good cancellations requires significant philatelic knowledge. To be successful, the forger needs to know the style and dates that a particular cancellation was in use and have the manual dexterity to affix it to a cover such that it would appear natural. It is not uncommon for the stamp and the envelope to have significant value in and of themselves, and the cancellation serves merely to enhance that value.

Warning signs:
  • Item is sold "as is" with no returns,
  • Selling price is higher than scrap paper but nowhere near the price of "the real thing",
  • Seller will not answer email questions before auction terminates or will answer in general terms only,
  • Catalogue value or rarity of genuine item is given prominent position in listing,
  • Seller lists private auctions, to prevent bidders from being notified of the fake cancels.
Examples

In the first half of 2001, the sellers "danastamps" (now NARU'ed) listed many Peter Winter/House of Stamps replica covers (see the "Peter Winter and the modern German forgeries on eBay" article). They were not described as genuine, but as "fantasies". Some of these, including the France replicas, were sold to "riny218". When "danastamps" wound up his eBay trading at the end of June 2001, the Peter Winter stock was acquired by "stampnstuff", who listed them as "fake".

In early April 2002, the seller "arnoldpwc" (briefly NARU'ed), who has bought many fake overprints from "atdinvest" (see the "Hialeah/Sunshine State/Miami fake overprint sellers on eBay" article), listed items with fake cancellations, all having the following provenance:

"The item was hidden within very comprehensive and thorough Germany, German colonies and Austria classic collection dated back to World War I era and bought last summer at the “attic sale” in Northern NJ."

Upon receiving advice that the items were forgeries, the seller added the advice to listings, resulting in a number of bid retractions.

Far more questionable, however, was a fake Philatelic Foundation (PF) return address handstamp, complete with zipcode, to supposedly authenticate many of the lots, particularly this Vineta bisect on newspaper wrapper (which did not meet reserve as two bids were retracted), the high bidder being "arthur91" (see below for more details for this seller), at $710. The fake PF handstamp was reported to the Philatelic Foundation. This seller relisted the Vineta bisect in a private auction, and it sold for $510.

The high bidder was unable to return the item and left the following negative feedback:

"Sold me obvious forgery. Now attempting to sell as user arthur91. Watch out!"

The seller left the following response:

"items was sold with no warranty - read item description"

At the end of June 2002, the seller "arthur91" (now NARU'ed), with a feedback rating of only two, began listing similar items to those of "arnoldpwc" above, as reserve price private auctions, and using the same descriptions. Another Vineta bisect on newspaper wrapper was listed, with the same faked Philatelic Foundation (PF) return address handstamp as that in the auction described above. A response from the Philatelic Foundation, which was formed in 1945, stated that they have never stamped anything on covers.

Read more about "arnoldpwc" and "arthur91" in the "Peter Winter and the modern German forgeries on eBay" article, where these sellers' auctions (including private reserve price auctions) of Peter Winter forgeries are hinted at as genuine or listed as "Fournier" forgeries.

3. Dodgy sellers of altered stamps or stamps with hidden faults

These sellers promote altered stamps either outright as the real thing, or add an "as is" caveat so that items cannot be returned once they are found to be not as described, or as the item "suggested" by the description. Stamps with hidden faults may also be sold by such sellers, using the same "as is" escape clause.

Warning signs:
  • Stamp sold "as is" or "what you see is what you get' with no returns,
  • Selling price is higher than the low catalogue value variety but nowhere near the price of "the real thing",
  • Catalogue value of high value variety is given prominent position in listing,
  • Seller will not answer email questions before auction terminates.
  • Scans are too small to determine whether the stamp could be the purported variety.

The seller may additionally put one or more of the following in the description to entice bidders:

  • I do not know much about stamps
  • This is from my grandfather's collection
  • The collection was found in an attic
  • Estate collection

The seller may just hint at the "rare" nature of the variety, using terms such as "type IV" or "first colour", rather than attributing a catalogue number directly to the stamp. More misdirection may come from the suggestion that "no scans have been manipulated".

All of these misrepresentations add up to trying to make the bidder believe that the seller really doesn’t know which items these are, and they may just be genuine.

The area of US classics, where many of the high value stamps can be "made" by altering their cheap counterparts, is ripe for the pickings of these sellers. The high feedback received by many sellers who have listed altered or faulty stamps shows that they are able to fool gullible bidders who want only to fill holes in their album pages. The "U.S. Classics on eBay - as is" article describes these selling practices in detail, and includes an index of sellers discussed.

Make sure you also go though the seller's feedback and check the negatives and neutrals, as these will tell you the story 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.

4. Private auctions

It is a sad fact that since this article was first penned in July 2001, some dodgy sellers have taken to using the private auction format. This format was designed for items of an adult nature, where bidders may be embarrassed to have the nature of their purchases revealed. I have also heard it used legitimately for expensive items which require genuine bids (upwards of, say, $250,000), such as a charity auction where bidders are rich and/or famous.

eBay help files suggest:

"Please don't make your auction private unless you have a specific reason, such as potential embarrassment for bidders and the buyer."

The private auction format has no place in the Stamps category, and we advise you to avoid sellers who run them. Sellers run private auctions solely to prevent concerned collectors from being able to contact bidders about misdescribed or misrepresented items before the sale closes or after the sale ends. Sellers usually try this tactic after bidders who have been contacted refuse to go through with the transactions.

The following sellers regularly ran private auctions, and many of them admitted that they did so to prevent their bidders from being "interfered" with:

  • "ahneve" - listed items bought from "schuylerac" as possibly genuine, with no returns
  • "arnoldpwc" - listed forgeries as possibly genuine or misrepresents them as from a different forger, with no returns
  • "atdinvest" - listed imperforate sheets and blocks of modern "forgeries"
  • "dmlengyel1@aol.com" - listings of U.S. stamps often contain misdescriptions or misrepresentations
  • "pcheltenham" - listed early U.S. stamps which have been altered, with a "what you see is what you get" caveat
  • "32gyt78" - listed early U.S. stamps which have been altered

Conclusion

The chances are high that at some point you will fall afoul of one of the types of sellers described above. Just chalk it down to experience and move on. Hopefully, you won't get caught by the same scam twice and remember:

caveat emptor!

Appendix 1. "riny218"

This seller has bought items described as forgeries or fantasies, but later relisted them "as is" with a no return policy and a substantial price mark-up, both of which suggest that the items may actually have significant value.

i) Buying forgeries - selling "as is" with price mark-up

Riny purchased this set of Italian States forgeries, for $32.75 from a seller who described them as forgeries, and two months later has listed one stamp out of this lot, described as "Tuscany 6 Proof SoldAsIsRare" for $24. No mention of the word "forgery" here!! Though this particular auction was reported to eBay, the response was that the auction was within the bounds of eBay policy, and that eBay couldn't take the word of a third party that something is or isn't authentic.

The following Wurttemberg cover and France tęte-bęche block and single are Peter Winter forgeries. They all vary slightly in the position of the stamps and postmarks on the cover fronts and the used on piece items.

A block similar to this French tęte-bęche fantasy block of four was almost assuredly purchased by the seller from "danastamps" for $9.99. This piece of a similar block was subsequently listed and sold "as is", with no mention of the word "forgery" or "fantasy", for $199. A tidy profit you might say, and three stamps are still to be sold!

Riny purchased a cover similar to this representative scan of a Wurttemberg cover front fantasy from "danastamps" for $10.50, properly described as "an excellent forgery of both stamp and postmarks". Riny then listed and sold "as is" two single stamps on piece, which appear to be cut from the cover front, for $199 each. The profit on this so far is $387.50 with one stamp left to be sold!

ii) Changing descriptions (but not price) when informed of misdescribed items

On at least two occasions, Riny has received emails from chat board members regarding forged stamps that were not described as such, in particular, a US 6c Washington postal stationery cutout and a 1854 Spain used 2r stamp. The seller changed the title to read "Forgery", dropped the reference to a catalogue value, and removed the words "as is" from the title. The price, however, was left "as is". These items went unsold, and were relisted with the price unchanged.

iii) Accumulation lot - forgeries which look "tampered with"

These Spanish proofs or reprints, as they were described, were bought by riny218 for $14.52 in July. The exact same stamps have since been seen in a mixed lot (view if you have a sufficiently fast connection for the scans to load) offered in August for $4,444. The stamps showed value tags ranging from $2400 to $11,000. But what has happened to them? This comparison shows that though the shapes and angles of the cut margins are exactly the same, the stamps have been altered a bit to look old and slightly worn, with roughed up edges, various marks (possibly cancels) and are not the same clean looking stamps that were in the lot that was purchased.

An email to the seller inquiring as to the high value placed on the Spanish stamps considering the low purchase price, as well their altered appearance, elicited this response:

"1.)I've had this lot for months,listing it every so often, & it is my practice to add things to it that I think might be cute as I acquire them from here & there(the Spanish classics included)
2.)A lot of the material in this box would be "sold as is" if I broke it down for sale including the Spanish items, because I am not an expert,& would make an awful lot more money on it in this way.
3.)There are many things that we all have that we think are good but they are not & vice versa & because we are not experts well....
4.)Many things on ebay are listed as no good because the dealers are afraid of classics or they don't know or because there is a handstamp on the back that says fake,etc.If the dealer is not an expert he may be making a mistake,even a handstamp labeling a stamp fake may be wrong.It has happened too many times to too many good stamps already.I do not know if the Spanish classics are good or not.I just labeled them with the catalogue price that they represent & then added them to an already great lot.At present I am adding more to this lot also.
5.)Whenever an expert contacts me, & I love it when they do because I learn more & that's the real power,I immediately & correctly respond.
6.)So I'm guilty of adding more stamps to an already great lot because there are 1000's of stamps that are not scanned in this lot."

The seller also reported that the Spanish forgeries had actually been damaged by a spilt bottle of ink.

The lot was relisted with even more stamps listed (early Great Britain, including a cover), but the price has been put up to $4,999. Interestingly, the seller remarked that there were over 190 visitors to the previously listed lot. A good many of those, however, were from the public exposure of the deceit of this seller on the eBay Stamps chat board.

iv) Latest activities

Chat board members have not been actively reporting on this seller's specific lots since late 2001. However, it has been noted that "riny218" has been continuing to list fake items "as is" with no return, with a high enough starting price to inveigle bidders into thinking that, for the price, the lot might be genuine.

References

  1. Jim Whitford-Stark and Sheryll Oswald, "eBay - the good, the bad and the downright ugly", Capital Philately, Vol 19 No 4, August 2001, ACT

© 2001, Jim Whitford-Stark and Sheryll Oswald, All Rights Reserved.
Material from this article may be reproduced only with the written consent of Jim Whitford-Stark and Sheryll Oswald.

Any further comments, corrections and questions may be emailed to sheryll at sheryll dot net



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