I am being scammed right now on Ebay!
In the hopes that others will take this as a warning, I am documenting my Ebay coin scam experience. Please vote Yes below if you find this guide helpful (it won't get my $7,751 back, but it'll help other viewers see the guide and be warned).
Here's our story... [refer to the "updates" section at the bottom for the latest information on our progress].
I recently won item #160118512368 from "moviebuff321". This was a full seven day listing from an Ebay member who's had an account since 2000. The scamming seller used the name "Courtney" [last name omitted here to protect others with same name] and email address "firstname.lastname@example.org" in communications regarding payment and shipping. What follows is a list of the steps I am taking and the research I am doing as recourse. This is a " scam in progress ", so please revisit this guide for updates.
After winning the bid, "Courtney" sent me an invoice and an email containing instructions for sending payment. The invoice included a shipping charge of $25, yet the listing said shipping would be free. When questioned, "Courtney" said the price billed was the correct amount. I then sent a quote from the listing regarding free shipping, and initiated two wire transfers to an account at Regions Bank of Baton Rouge, LA to cover the full amount excluding shipping. "Courtney" then acknowledged receipt of the funds and said the item would be shipped "shortly".
Before I paid, I asked "Courtney" to send me the certification numbers of each coin so I could look them up in the NGC registry. The following numbers were sent. If any of you own or have seen these coins, please let me know... I have them registered with NGC:
1. 2006 W G$50 PF70 Ultra Cameo - 1547385-003
2. 2006 W Reverse Proof G$50 PF70 - 1547384-048
3. 2006 W G$50 MS 70 - 1547197-016
What I did wrong:
- First and foremost, I read very few of the guides out there regarding fraud, scams, stolen merchandise, phishing, coin scamming, counterfeiting, etc. Why didn't I? I wish I knew. Buyer beware ... right? beware-of-fraud is a good ebayer to start with - great info.
- I bought a high priced item from a seller with 59 feedback... is this a bad thing? Not necessarily... I myself sold a $16,500 item when I had 50 feedback. The buyer wired me the funds and I sent the item - everyone was happy. However, we all know there is risk associated with low feedback sellers. I recommend doing a significant amount of research on a particular low feedback seller if you're thinking about sending them a good bit of your hard-earned money.
- Although I did examine the seller's feedback, I didn't look deep enough... once I left negative feedback, another Ebay member sent me a message that stated the following (special thanks to that Ebayer):
- "I called ebay when he had the $3 gold and other high price coins listed. I explained that the supposed buyers of his other high price coins had few feedbacks and had only been purchasing low price items. Also, he was not leaving feedback for $5,000.00 sales. They just ignored my warning. I did not bid on any of the items. "
- Once I received the message above, I started looking at the feedback on the buyers of moviebuff321 items. Most had very low feedback ratings. Additionally, I couldn't find a single instance in which moviebuff321 left feedback of any type for transactions in which the buyer left positive feedback for them (moviebuff321). Return business was obviously not a concern here.
- I didn't speak with the seller on the phone prior to wiring the funds. In fact, I didn't even get a phone number for the seller.
What I've done so far:
- Sent the following email to three recent buyers who bought similarly high value items from this seller (I received no responses):
- "Hi, I see you had a transaction with "moviebuff321". I just made a purchase similar in size to yours, but I'm concerned they have not sent the item. Communication from this seller isn't very responsive. Could you tell me how your transaction went? Should I be concerned? Thanks. ShakeMyHand"
- Searched for the seller's name, email address, and Ebay Id on Google and Zabasearch.
- ZabaSearch yielded a number of phone numbers, which I'm in the process of calling now. So far, all listed numbers are either out of order or ringing busy.
- Google yielded several results, including a current item listing (a $10 movie) of an item on Half.com. I bought this item in the hopes that it would yield more information about the seller... I know - not very smart. What can I say, I thought it might give me something.
- Left negative feedback just in case the seller tries to sell something else with the same ID.
- Reported the item "not received" through Ebay. So far, Ebay has done the following:
- Notified me that the item is not covered under buyer protection, which I knew, since I did not use PayPal - I wired the funds.
Sent notification to the seller that the item is being disputed.
Unregistered the seller... moviebuff321 is no longer a restered Ebay user.
- Notified the two banks I transferred the money from to see what they're willing/able to do to help... see "updates" below.
- Notified the bank to which the funds were sent... Regions Bank, Baton Rouge, LA
- Researching other scam guides for help/guidance.
- Researching authority notification options.
- Filed a complaint through fraud.org. Their online report form was down for a few days, but came back up. This site claims to report your claim to the appropriate authorities.... should be helpful. Here are some interesting stats from their website that I was unaware of... fraud.org / stats / 2006 / internet.pdf. (paste to your browser window, add www and take out the spaces)
- Filed a complaint with the US Postal Service for mail fraud.
- Filed a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) - A partnership between the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center (NW3C)
- Notified Yahoo that one of their email accounts is being used to commit fraud. This step may have been premature, since the seller may still be using the account.
What I've Learned:
Thanks to several guides on scamming out there, I have learned the following:
- If the listing presents a stock picture, or in the case of certified coins, a picture with the certification numbers blocked out... request actual pictures of the items before you buy.
- Search item descriptions of past/present auctions for exact quotes from the listing you're considering bidding on. In other words, copy some of the text of the auction you're considering, and paste it into the search bar, then "wrap that copied text in quotes" like I just did. Then check the box that says search title and description. If you see a bunch of exact matches from different sellers, this could be a red flag.
- Be suspicions of Free Shipping
- Never use any service recommended by the seller (escrow services or payment agents).
- Ebay rules forbid using Western Union (800-325-6000) or Moneygram (800-535-8108) to pay for items online.
- Unless you know the seller or trust their reputation, only communicate with sellers through Ebay's webpage. Never respond to an Ebay email by using the "Respond Now" button embedded in the email. Instead, log into your Ebay account and communicate with the seller that way. Unfortunately, "Phishers" watch auctions and then create fake "Ebay" emails to lure you into their trap. If you click on the button and are brought to an Ebay login screen, this is a trap. The screen is a spoof, which only seeks to get your Ebay password. With that, the Phisher can pass your account info to a scammer, who can then sieze your account, change the password, and post listings with your id (that you no longer have access to). Too easy. If you cannot access your Ebay account, you may have fallen victim to this scam. NOTIFY EBAY IMMEDIATELY.
- Review the seller's feedback very carefully to see if there are signs that the feedback is fabricated; and look for patterns or methods scammers use to get their feedback in a position of enough credibility to elicite trust from an unsuspecting bidder. In other words, the scammer will buy and/or sell a number of small items to get their feedback high enough to make a big sting. Bear in mind with this one, however, that there are many good sellers out there who are worth taking a chance on.
- Talk to the seller on the phone PRIOR to sending any funds.
- Don't send money by wire transfer or other means that are not covered by fraud protection (Western Union, Money order, etc). It's best to use credit card or a reputable third party transfer service like PayPal that offers buyer protection. Does this help you for $7,000+ purchases like mine? Well, perhaps not. I'm still pondering that one. One thing I considered here is perhaps wiring a portion of the funds in return for a portion of the product to be delivered. This provides a mechanism for mutual trust and/or a cap on the amount you stand to lose to a scammer.
- Per Fraud.org: "Fraud victims should beware of 'recovery services' that guarantee to get their money back for a fee. No one can make that promise. Law enforcement authorities do not charge for their services, which are supported by your tax dollars."
- In order to file a complaint with the IC3, go to fbi.gov and click on "Reporting Internet Fraud" under the "Be Crime Smart" section.
- You can fill out a "Mail Fraud Complaint Form" through the U.S. Postal Service website. Just google the phrase in quotes and the form link will pop up.
- The "Consumer Sentinel" is an online database maintained by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission that is used internationally by hundreds of law enforcement agencies to gain instant access to "internet cons, telemarketing scams and other consumer fraud-related complaints". You can file a complaint directly through their website, consumer.gov/sentinel. However, a number of other agencies automatically update the Sentinel database when you file a complaint through them. Right now, I'm trying to figure out if any of the forms I already filled out have been transmitted to this database... will let you know.
- Do not bid or make email contact with anyone posting an email address on their listing. Only use the "Contact Seller" or "Ask Seller A Question" features provided by Ebay. If you do contact the private email address, your chances of being scammed will increase dramatically.
- freespaces.com/scamfinders provides a list of email addresses that are claimed to be Ebay scammers. It may be prudent to scan this list if you are thinking of bidding on an item that lists an email address.
What I think:
- Many people state that Ebay and thus Paypal do not care about you. Although I don't think that is entirely true, I would ask you to consider this: If you decide not to use Paypal in a transaction, and you are then scammed and forced to go through a very difficult process with no guarantee that your money will be returned, what corrective action do you take the next time you list an item? I believe Paypal and Ebay know that, for the majority of those scammed, the answer is that you will be more inclined to use Paypal on your next transaction... further, I believe that the more difficult the process of being scammed is for you, the more likely you will be to use Paypal on all future transactions. So, Paypal wins if you are scammed once and go through a painful ordeal as a result. Granted, there is some risk that Ebay will lose you as a client, but where will you go? ...and Paypal risks losing you as a client; but they know that the alternatives for insured transactions are very limited at present. So, in my humble opinion, as long as there remains a profit motive for Ebay/Paypal to allow you to be scammed once, they will continue to provide little protection from scammers.
- I would like to see Google or some other major player get into the online auction market. Ebay could use a little competition... especially by a company who can crack the code on truly secure transactions. The Korean online auction sites use a holding company that holds the money until the goods are delivered to the buyer. Once the buyer confirms receipt, the funds are released to the seller. The seller ships the item with return receipt, so if the buyer claims non-receipt, the seller can contest with proof of delivery. I'm not saying this is a better system... it's slow and more labor intensive for both buyer and seller... but it appears to be more secure.
Perhaps a "certified seller" system would be best - A system that requires sellers to go through a rigorous test in order to prove their reliability. Although it wouldn't work to have a certification system that excluded Joe Bagadonuts from selling his IPod from home, the certification process could be accomplisehd through a tiered approach (similar to Power seller tiers) with progressively more stringent metrics that elicite degrees of confidence from buyers (smarter folks than me will have to figure out what those metrics should be). Sellers would strive for top certification levels just like they do now for the highest power seller and feedback ratings. For example, the most stringent seller rating could be an onsite audit of facilities and records by either Ebay or some third party "Certifying Company". Power Sellers might be willing to foot the bill for such certification if there was proof that they would benefit from such an effort. If done effectively, this could even provide another revenue source for Ebay.
Amazingly, MovieBuff321 is still a valid account on Ebay. Now BOTH negative feedbacks I left are gone.
Many people have contacted me regarding this guide. I greatly appreciate all of your advice, thoughts, and kind words. I have written responses to all who contacted me, however, Ebay sometimes blocks communication between Ebay members who are not involved in a transaction together. If you did not hear from me, it's only because the email was blocked and I have no other way of contacting you. On that note, if you shoot me a note and would like to hear back from me, please include an email address that I can use to contact you through. Thanks.
Moviebuff321 is live again. The negative feedback I left for them is gone, and it also no longer shows up in my "feedback left for others" section. The revised id says it's been a member since 2000. Can anyone explain this? Would Ebay re-issue this account to another Ebayer? If so, why would the account say member since 2000? Why would another Ebayer choose the very same ID? Aren't the odds pretty slim of that?
Received a refund on my Half.com movie purchase today with the following verbiage: "Due to the nature of your claim and because the seller is no longer a registered member, this will not count toward any future claims you may file."
Filed a buyer protection claim with Half.com. It'll be interesting to see the Half.com (also owned by Ebay) approach.
Received some excellent advice today from a California police officer... hire a private investigator to find the individuals, then report the information uncovered by the investigator to a detective at the police department closest to the criminal. This officer said a detective will have access to databases that the rest of us do not; and because of this, they can yield effective results quickly and inexpensively ($80-$100 in many cases).
The dispute I opened with Ebay regarding this item finally allowed me to report the fraud to Ebay "Trust and Safety". It'll be interesting to see if Ebay is willing or able to do anything about this.
On July 9th, I'll be able to file for non-delivery of the half.com item I bought from moviebuff321. The police and federal authorities have been made aware of this seller and their bank account information, transaction details, and personal information have all been reported. Given the sloppy nature of their operation, it is unlikely they will be able to hide and maintain any kind of good life. We intend to make it very difficult for them.
The other scammed bidder and I traded information. He was dealing with a Jason [same last name]. I'm now using several people locating databases in an attempt to locate an address that has both Courtney and Jason [last name]. Was contacted by another Ebay member who says they were also scammed by moviebuff321 for over $4,500 (item #160118509570 was never shipped). Coincidentally, that auction ended the same day as mine... maybe they did go on vacation :) If you Google moviebuff321, this guide now pops up second on the list.
Moviebuff321 has a half.com account as well. There was a movie for sale for just over $7 from this seller, so I bought it last week, paying with my credit card through the half.com checkout center. I did this, knowing that the transaction is protected, in the hopes that it would give me something new or more about the seller. When I just looked at their online shop, it said, "This seller is on vacation. Please check back later to browse and shop their entire inventory." This would explain a few things, but it would be naive of me at this point to sit back and wait until they "return" and ship my coins and the movie. I also noticed the item description said the item will ship from Las Vegas...
I wired the funds from two banks. After contacting both, one told me the transaction is treated like cash and that I must take it up with Ebay and the seller. The other told me that they could initiate a "service request" on my behalf, which is a request that goes from my bank to the seller's bank asking for the money to be returned. In order for this "service request" to be honored, the seller's bank contacts the seller for approval to have the funds returned. Although I doubt this approval will happen, it was good to know this option existed. My bank has initiated the request and is awaiting response now.
I was contacted today by someone else who is in the process of trying to recover over $10,000 from this seller. He and I spoke on the phone and decided to swap information and combine our efforts to effectively resolve this situation. Because of the amount of information that we both have about this seller, and due to the atypical nature in which this "scam" was conducted, we both agree that there is a possibility - albeit a slim one - that this is a legitimate seller that something happened to very recently... maybe an unplanned trip or death. At any rate, I'll keep you posted on our progress. In addition to the steps noted above, we are also contacting "Trust and Safety" and taking action with the U.S. postal inspector.
"moviebuff321" just showed up with the words "Not a registered User" next to the ID. Either Ebay has taken action or the scammer has revoked their account.
Courtney and Jason (or whoever represented themselves as moviebuff321): If you're reading this, you will have much better luck if you return what you stole. I will ensure that you are hunted until you are caught if you do not.
Will any of this deter me from using Ebay? Not in the least. It has caused me to be more careful, of course; and more educated. Ebay is simply an enabler of commerce. I'm a big fan. But there will always be scammers to watch out for. Stay tuned... this guide will be updated until I've exhausted all means to recover my money and prosecute the seller (if warranted) - or until I get the coins, which seems pretty unlikely at this point.
Please vote yes if you find anything useful in this guide. It won't help get my money back, but it'll help get the word out and I will certainly appreciate your vote.