It’s almost Halloween and time to do something scary. What shall we do…haunted house? Scary carved pumpkins? Norlin Gibsons? How about a post on how to adjust a sideways trem? That’s plenty scary. But, no, let’s talk about Ebay scams. The potential loss of around $13000 ought to get your attention. Recently, I was the high bidder on a 1959 ES-345 on Ebay. There were red flags from the get go but I consider myself to be be relatively savvy when it comes to spotting a scam. The seller had a zero feedback rating. That, in and of itself, does not scare me at all. I’ve bought at least 3 or 4 guitars from zero feedback sellers without issue. I’ve also bid on a few that turned out to be scams but I only lost money once and learned a valuable lesson from that experience. The guitar appeared to be a “first rack” 345 which are very desirable among 345 aficionados and players alike. They usually have huge necks and often have double white or zebra PAF’s. The photos looked good and the description was credible so I saw no reason not to bid on it. Here’s a link. Ebay has made it a lot less scary by doing something they should have done from day one: Guarantee the sale to be legit. Now, if you pay using Paypal, they do just that and they should. After all, they collect almost 3% on every transaction. They make a boatload of money and the least they can do is offer some protection and they do. Good for them. That makes it a little less scary.
So, I win the auction and set up to pay using Paypal. I had sent the seller an message on Ebay asking if we could ship it using my Fedex account and included my email address so we could correspond outside of Ebay. Then it started. Cue the scary music. “Can you pay me by bank wire? I don’t take Paypal.” The email even included links to sites like Paypalsucks and IhatePaypal or some such silliness. I pay by wire all the time but I also knew that Ebay won’t protect me if I do that. So, I emailed back and said I needed more proof that the seller has the guitar in hand before I send a wire. I got a few more photos but they were clearly from the same batch of photos that appeared on Ebay. I wanted some new ones and maybe a “hostage” photo (A photo with today’s newspaper). “Sorry, I’m traveling in the UK and I don’t have access to the guitar right now…” More scary music goes here. Then I get another email that looks just like an Ebay invoice with the bank wire information on it. There were two problems with that email. One, Ebay doesn’t send invoices with bank wire information on them and two, the headers showed that the email came from somewhere other than Ebay. What? More scary music? I explained to the seller that I’d usually be happy to send a wire but that the zero feedback and lack of new photos was causing me some concern. So, what does the seller do? He (or she) mocks up a new feedback page showing 1300 positives. All the sales were for video game supplies and none were guitar related. That’s another red flag. Seller had also changed the user name slightly which I probably wasn’t supposed to notice. It’s kind of funny how the once very polite seller starts getting indignant at this point. How dare I impugn his honesty (gasp). So, I got on the phone to Ebay customer service (8 minutes on hold-not that scary) and explained the situation to someone-probably in Bangalore but at least it was a human being. Don’t get me started on outsourcing American jobs. Ebay said “Why don’t you just pay using Paypal?” When I fully explained the email trail, they transferred me to another department and they were very helpful-explaining that Ebay doesn’t send invoices outside of Ebay messages and that they would never include bank wire information.
So, the lesson here is simple. If something seems too good to be true, don’t immediately assume it is not true. But make damn sure it is true before you send any money no matter what the feedback. Google the seller. Make sure he exists in the location he says the item is located. Call the bank and explain the situation to them if you still aren’t sure. Use Paypal when you can-you aren’t paying the fees, the seller is and their protection program actually works. There’s some red tape but at least you have some recourse. Send a wire and you are out of luck if the item never shows up. And don’t expect much out of the local police if it ever comes to that. I have a long ugly story I can tell about that.