Anatomy of an eBay scam... dodged!

After a number of years on eBay, you learn the danger signs, the whiff of something not quite right. I won't quote actual eBay usernames here because I'm only 99% sure and not 100%, but I thought the procedure was still well worth writing up.

The task for me: to buy an item, in this case an iPhone 5, a high value item, we looked at it, at £190 or so with a day to go, with local collection (which was OK for us, it was only 20 mins away) and put in a max bid of £290 - the idea being that eBay would auto-increase this if needed, as other people bid on the item.

In hindsight, we rather overvalued the item and should have pitched in lower, as will become apparent.

The task for the seller: the sell us the iPhone for as much money as possible while dodging both PayPal AND eBay fees. And he almost managed it.

Here's the scam:
  1. He specified cash only on collection. Uh-oh. I queried this. It was to avoid PayPal's 3.4% fee, he said. Hmm.... OK, let's press on though....
  2. With only a few hours to go and the auction still at £190, it was pretty clear that the local collection and cash demands meant that we were the only buyers on the horizon. The seller (again, I'm speculating here, but my theories fit the facts) then recruited a couple of 'Mates'.
  3. Bear in mind that the seller doesn't know what my maximum bid is. He wants to get Mate no. 1 to bid something nice and high, forcing me over it, but he doesn't want to get Mate no. 1 stuck with the item and he also doesn't want to make all this too obvious. Mate no. 1 then starts bid every few minutes, adding £10 more until he ends up the highest bidder - and he then retracts the very last bid as a 'mistake', but not before I've been forced up against my maximum bid - entirely falsely.

  4. The next bit is even more devious. a few second before the auction finishes - remember the seller has already got me winning the item at my maximum, the seller gets Mate no. 2 to come in and put in a higher bid to 'win' the item.
  5. A few hours afterwards, the seller sends me a message that there's a 'problem' with Mate no. 2 and that I can still get the item at my maximum bid, but only by contacting him by text. The idea then being, presumably, to meet and pay cash and hand over the item, while the seller doesn't use the eBay 'second chance system' but instead reports to eBay that the transaction never went through and that there are therefore no seller fees to pay.
All very clever, if a little tortuous. We had seen too much and ducked out before completing our side of all this - thankfully. If the seller had got his way, we might indeed have got the item OK, if for a slightly inflated price. But the seller would have got the sale without paying eBay or PayPal a penny.

You may ask if I have evidence for all of this. The warning signs, other than the obvious, were in digging down into the activity of the two 'Mates'. Their activity for the last month consisted solely of bidding on one item - this seller's! Quite clearly, each had been recruited for the specific task in hand.

And, clearly, the seller thought he had stage-managed the accounts and bidding/selling process well in order to game the system. And me.

Happily, we dodged this at stage 5, having lost all confidence in the seller. But I wanted to write up how all this works in case other buyers start getting sucked in using the same scam.

PS. Again, I'm keeping all this anonymous, since I don't have 100% proof. It's possible that the other two accounts weren't friends of the seller. Possible. Just not at all likely!


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