Stamp Collectors Against Dodgy Sellers
August 30, 2002:
The auctions of a con artist who had stolen the scans of two Civil War covers from an educational website were yanked from the database, and the seller was NARUed, within hours after the fraud was reported to eBay.
Around 8 AM PDT, this valuable Civil War cover was seen advertised on eBay by a user of Richard Frajola's board. The zero-feedback seller, using the userid "coverhobby", was also selling a Confederate patriotic cover.
Both covers, and all the descriptive text in the auction listings, were soon found on this educational webpage. Frajola identified the Great Sanitary Fair cover as belonging to noted Hong Kong collector Dr. Arthur Woo.
Before last week there was no easy way to report such an auction to eBay. On August 22, however, eBay made a potentially important addition to their page for reporting offenses: a menu option for asking that an auction be investigated for fraud.
On this page, the user selects 'Member problem' from the first menu, 'Law enforcement' from the second, and then, in the third, a newly provided choice: "Please investigate a current listing for possible fraudulent activity." One then hits 'continue', and then, on the next page, 'Contact Support'.
Reports using this new option can only be submitted concerning auctions that have not yet closed. Users are promised an expedited, 24-hour response. The reports are apparently going to 'fraud specialists' who will not concern themselves with other eBay rule issues but who are empowered to take fast action on fraud complaints.
This new reporting option was implemented within a week after the transmission to eBay management of a petition signed by over 200 stamp collectors and traders, demanding, among other things, that fraud be made a reportable offense.
The scam cover auctions were reported using the new webform; the owner of the website was also advised. Five hours later, users were pleased to discover that coverhobby's auctions were no longer in the eBay data base, and coverhobby himself had been NARUed!
Another user of the Trust and Safety board confirmed that "I've seen VERY fast action using the new fraud link - routinely less than 6 hours, sometimes even 1."
Last week, Frajola reported to the eBay stamp chat board, on the basis of a conversation with a representative of eBay's fraud department, that they had recognized the existence of a problem and were now in "solution-seeking mode."
eBay's fast action in this case was a striking contrast with their past practice, as typefied in the even more egregious mabgsl case earlier in the month, in which collectors tried to warn eBay for days but were unsuccessful in provoking any positive action on eBay's part.
While much remains to be done in combating varieties of fraud which are more challenging than an obvious scan theft, the new reporting mechanism has to be seen as a positive step by eBay, as well as evidence that collective action by an aroused community can actually get results.