Tuesday, February 28, 2006

A 24/7 marketplace with security that takes weekends off

The more I hear from experienced eBay users about their experiences, the more I suspect that eBay shares some responsibility for the kinds of scams Blakely Smith and others encounter while doing business on the online auction site. (Click here to read about Smith and the phantom Monique Lhuillier wedding gown.) Something about eBay's hands-off attitude smacks more of a strategy of minimizing legal liability than of doing the utmost to minimize problems.

Exhibit 1, shared by Beverly Okin-Larkin, is how hard it is to report a scam-in-progress. Okin-Larkin knows, because she recently discovered one on a weekend, and was told that she could file a complaint, but that having a "live chat" with security would have to wait till Monday morning. (Don't even think of reaching somebody by phone.)

Okin-Larkin's day job is as a human-resource trainer at a Texas state facility. By night, she runs an eBay-based business, selling stuff (OK, condoms) to buyers too embarrassed to visit their local pharmacies. EBay is proud of people like Okin-Larkin. As spokesman Hani Durzy told me last week, more than 724,000 professional sellers in the United States use eBay as a primary or secondary source of income.

Proud, but apparently not-so-interested in the security problem she unraveled. Listen to her account of what happened when she was shopping on eBay for a camera to use in her work:

I noticed a scam IN PROGRESS three weekends ago, was interested (and admittedly greedy) to see a $2,000 camera being listed for a low reserve price of 700$ (sic). Now, I am an experienced eBayer (and Internet type), so I started looking at what this person was selling. I always try to research the people before I bid.

Hmm. LOTS and LOTS of cameras and other high priced electronics - all with conveniently low reserve pricing. I look back further to see his feedbacks and look at what he was selling last month - whoa. Car parts ... and only car parts.

I go back and look at the listings and I start noticing how the syntax is weird (especially the "$" sign after the monetary amount) and that this new batch of listings is supposedly coming from someone in Boston, MA, when the car parts were sold from Santa Monica, CA.

Now I am really noticing the differences, and I realize that someone else has posted all this merchandise - well over 40 auctions, all posted in the most expensive way possible: color, photo feature, extra headlines, etc. Wow. I only thought this happened in movies - someone hacked into a guy's account and was posting a mess of auctions. [Okin-Larkin says each auction also included an outside e-mail address, and told buyers to contact him directly because of glitches in the seller's eBay e-mail.]

However, when I go to look to find assistance through the ever-unhelpful Site Map and try to report what looks like a hijacked account to eBay - well, it's Sunday, and little did I know that their Security department is closed on weekends. I even went to a Live Chat area [for 24/7 technical support], and no one helps except to tell me to "use the web-based reporting form." Some old timers in a chat room told me "no one's home at eBay on the weekends" - I bet the scammers know that, too.

Anyway, I do fill in the form, wasting 20 minutes, and noticed that people were starting to bid like crazy for all sorts of stuff. I actually started e-mailing the victim of the original eBay account AND the potential buyers trying to warn them off these bogus listings.

I even got bold enough to e-mail the "seller" - after three emails I find out that he wanted me to send "Western Union money order as my Paypal is not working," and when I asked for his address, he's located in Romania.

I sent the info to both the victim and eBay.

The victim thanked me, the potential scam victims thanked me - however the next day eBay sent me a "Why were you using our message service so much - we're suspicious" e-mail.
They never contacted me from the web-based form info I sent. Sheesh eBay, thanks a lot.

Still over three weeks later, nothing from eBay - honestly I think eBay just wants our money and doesn't truly care about security. If they did, then their security department would be open 24/7 just like eBay and the internet.

Anyway, let me tell you what I consider my "tells" for "safe" eBaying:

1) Feedback - always read it and look at the negatives
2) While at Feedback - check the previous auctions: Do they usually sell this merchandise, especially high-end items?
3) E-mail the seller - I ask questions and look for more pictures if necessary
4) Never do business outside of eBay. [PayPal is owned by eBay, Okin-Larkin points out. If someone says their PayPal account is broken, rest assured it will be fixed, because the seller will want the money and eBay will want its cut.]
5) Don't use money orders unless you can trace them

In the 5+ years I been using eBay, I've only been burned once and that was early on over a DVD. Learned my lesson, cheaply. Not for $2,400.

Anyway THANKS!

- Beverly Okin-Larkin


Post a Comment

<< Home