Online Shopping. Whatever It Is You Can Get It On eBAY, Including Taken. Devices Meant to Reassure Online Buyers Are Often Used to Swindle Them. Second City Style Blog

March 16, 2007 • Shopping



As an avid eBayer (buyer and sometimes seller) I found this article by Alan Sipress for the Washington Post rather troubling. Especially since I was recently taken by a buyer for something I had sold. Now this? A few bad apples have to ruin it for the bunch?

The eBay vendor had a glowing record — more than 900 successful
sales, with only a single complaint amid a long series of positive
testimonials from customers. So when a Georgia bidder won the seller’s
auction for an Olympus digital camera in January, there seemed little
reason to worry about dispatching almost $700 into cyberspace.

But the camera never arrived.

"I don’t think I will ever
buy anything over the Internet again," the conned bidder lamented in a
posting on an eBay discussion board. "I am not a wealthy person, had
saved long and hard for this camera for my business, and don’t know
when, or IF EVER I will see my $700 again."

Ever since the early
days of the Internet, Web sites have struggled to find ways of
reassuring users that a stranger could be as honest as a well-known
local merchant, as knowledgeable as a respected teacher or as
insightful as a wise grandparent. With Internet commerce now estimated
to exceed $100 billion a year and greater numbers of people turning to
the Internet for products, advice and love, Web sites are crafting more
elaborate rating and feedback systems — reputation monitors of sorts
— to help people evaluate whom they can trust. But the cheats have
also noticed the unprecedented chance for ill-gotten gains. This has
set off a high-stakes game of cat and mouse as Web sites spend more
time and money to secure their systems against those trying to game

One of the best-known reputation systems is the one used by,
which provides user-written reviews of the books and it sells and then
allows other users to rate the reviewers. Slashdot, a popular
technology and current affairs Web site, developed what it calls a
"karma" system for evaluating contributors. One of Yahoo’s fast-growing
features, Yahoo Answers, now boasts 75 million users who ask and answer
each other’s online questions about nearly any subject, with greater
weight accorded to those who earn expert ratings from other users.

"Reputation is key to it all," said Bradley Horowitz, Yahoo’s vice president of product strategy.

established its position as the Web’s premier auctioneer in part by
pioneering a system to allow buyers and sellers to rate each other and
comment on the quality of their transactions.

"It has been
essential for eBay’s success. It increased trust in the marketplace and
created a community," eBay chief executive Meg Whitman said in an

But users have repeatedly found ways to inflate or
wholly fabricate their reputations. The online encyclopedia, Wikipedia,
was thrown into turmoil late last month after users learned that one of
the site’s major editors was not a tenured university religion
professor as he claimed in his online profile but a 24-year-old college
dropout. At Amazon, a computer glitch three years ago inadvertently
exposed the real names of reviewers writing under pseudonyms. Some
turned out not to be disinterested literary judges but authors giving
their own books glowing reviews to boost sales.

The scams take
countless and ever more ingenious forms. These include intimidating
other users who give negative ratings by threatening to retaliate with
negative feedback of their own. Some con artists also create false
secondary accounts, known as "sock puppets," that a cheat can use to
give himself fake positive feedback. It also includes piling up
legitimate positive reviews and then closing in for the kill as an eBay
seller from New Jersey called "malkilots" did to nearly three dozen
would-be camera buyers, including the bidder from Georgia.

scheme — according to feedback, discussion boards and auction
descriptions on the eBay site — went down like this: Malkilots built a
sterling track record by selling memory cards for digital cameras for
as little as $20 each. The vender sold them by the hundreds, delivering
them as promised and accumulating page after page of positive feedback
from satisfied customers.

Then, in late January, malkilots switched to offering the cameras
themselves, which regularly fetched more than $650. In one auction, the
Georgia bidder — who communicated and did business only under a user
name and did not respond to e-mails — put in the highest of 37 offers
for an Olympus SLR professional camera, paying for it online. Instead
of receiving the camera, the buyer got a cheap camera bag.

"I had
checked out the seller, all positive feedback going back several
years," the buyer wrote. "What I didn’t check out was WHAT kind of item
that feedback was for."

Other successful bidders
reported they also got cheap bags instead of cameras — if they got
anything at all. With losses totaling about $25,000, the bidders
complained to eBay, which shut down the vendor’s account. Negative
feedback streamed into the site calling malkilots a fraud.

EBay did not return calls requesting comment on the case.

incentive to inflate one’s reputation is powerful even for vendors who
do not plan to turn on their buyers. Academic studies have shown that
eBay vendors with good feedback ratings can sell their wares faster and
charge more for them.

Read more at The

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