The majority of sellers on eBay are trustworthy but like anywhere else there are a few tricksters out there. During my time buying and selling stamps on eBay I have come across a few of these tricky sellers to my cost. Through this short guide I hope to share my experiences with you and with any luck help protect you from those same pitfalls. Although my experiences came from buying stamps the comments are pretty general and can apply to just about anything being sold on eBay especially in the Collectibles categories.
One of the common ways that Sellers cheat is through creative photography. I once bought a "Powerful........Stamp Collection" from a well established Power Seller. I studied his 120 pictures carefully and saw many stamps that I knew to have considerable value. There were several of the same stamp but I could see that they were all on different pages and next to different other stamps so there must be quite a few of these in the collection. I won the bid and on studying the pages when I received them I discovered that there was actually only one of these particular stamps and that it had been moved around the pages to appear several times in different places.
Another more common trick is to substitute the stamps in the description pictures with other similar but with faults. Often these sellers remove the pictures from the listing quickly after the sale with the hope that you will not be able to do a comparison check. Whenever I make a purchase now I always make a copy of the original listing and pictures on my own hard drive for checking purposes.
More creative photography has caught me out on items with pictures containing multiple stamps. It is very easy for the seller to carefully place the stamps so that any tiny faults are hidden behind other stamps. You don't notice the corner perforations missing or the tiny crease until you get the stamps.
Beware listings in which the seller has used generic pictures. He says that you will receive similar, but often the best have been chosen for his picture which is repeated over and over again on different listings. What you get is just pot luck. This also applies to listings where the seller says that "not all stamps are shown", or the box of stamps is "unchecked" . Usually this is done so that you the buyer will conjure up a treasure trove in your mind and bid high to get this 'must have' item. You will surely be disappointed when it comes. Check to see if the stamps you will get are the actual ones from the listing pictures.
Having said that, there are some treasures to be had on eBay, but they are far and few between. About a year ago I purchased a lot that had come from an estate sale. The stamp collection was not very well described with very few pictures and so I won it at a very low price. When the package arrived I was delighted to find a huge box with several albums full of stamps and under them the remainder of the box was full of loose old stamps, numbering 20 -50,000. There was little there less than 60 years old and in every handful I found some great high catalogue value finds. There were far too many stamps to sort through them so I took out a few really nice ones that I spotted on the top and then decided to sell the rest as they were, unchecked in bunches of 200 or 1000. These have been selling as "Stamp Bonanza" lots in my store now for a year and the box is still half full.
If you want to find a treasure like this one here are a few tips that may help. Firstly you will seldom get a lot like this from an established stamp seller or a Power Seller. You need to look out for lots being sold directly from the collector or from his heirs. You can tell from the sellers profile what the situation is. Use search words like "Father's Estate", or "Found in Attic" Even then you should take the sellers story with a certain amount of scepticism. Read between the lines and research what other items the seller has sold. If they sell or have been involved in selling stamps then your chance of winning a treasure trove are slim. Don't despair. You will get cheated from time to time but less and less as you gain experience. The Treasure Hunt is worth the pain. Good luck and good hunting.