Stamp Collectors Against Dodgy Sellers
August 19, 2002:
The petition circulated by respected postal historian Richard Frajola, calling for policy changes to unmuzzle discussions of fraud and to obtain expertise in dealing with fraud in the stamp category, was e-mailed today to Rob Chesnut, eBay VP for Trust and Safety.
The petition calls for making fraudulent description a reportable offense, allowing discussion of specific lots on boards, and hiring someone who can act when fraud is reported to him/her by a philatelic advisor.
At this writing the petition has 202 signers from 14 countries (or 15, if Texas is counted as a separate country per wrd3's wishes), with 152,844 total feedbacks, only 118 of which are negative.
Frajola's accompanying e-mail read,Dear Mr. Chesnut,
I want to thank you for your email response and posting on the Trust and Safety board. There is deep concern in the stamp collecting community about the level of description fraud in the stamp category as evidenced by the petition requesting changes. This petition has 200 signers now. Issues of trust are of primary importance in all of the collectible categories. Ebay and stamp collecting are at a crossroads right now that will determine the future of ebay’s position in the stamp market.
Linn’s Stamp News estimated the total market for stamps in the year 2001 was $930m a year with only $53m attributed to internet auctions (see April, 2002 article). I expect internet auction sales to dramatically increase in the next ten years. If ebay wants to capture some of that increase, they should start deploying resources now.
The best resource available is the existing base of loyal, knowledgeable and passionate collectors who already use eBay. In the past year eBay policies have increasingly hindered and frustrated attempts by this community to police the area.
The stamp chat board provided by eBay can be very useful if the community is able to post questionable items and practices. The community there can often ease a bidder’s doubts about authenticity of an item or confirm justified suspicions. It provides a classroom for collectors who feel that the board is their personal mentor to the challenging field of stamp collecting.
To be effective, there has to be freedom to mention specific items and sellers. Also, when there is a consensus that fraud is occurring, there has to be a contact person at eBay who can confirm the validity of the complaint and act on the information in a timely fashion.
The members of the ebay stamp collecting community can be the most cost effective tool available to growing ebay or they can become a very public albatross around the neck of ebay.
(August 19 update: Chesnut, who has been out of the country for a week, has acknowledged receipt of the petition, and has promised to meet with the head of the Collectibles Category about fraud issues.)
Earlier, writing on the Trust and Safety board in a thread entitled "I Just Read the Rob C. Transcript", Chesnut had seemed to dismiss the idea that real action could be taken even against outright fraud of the magbsl variety. Chesnut wrote,
The challenge is with the area that 1covers [Frajola] is concerned with...items that may appear, only to a knowledgeable collector, to be fraudulent. eBay can't be a subject matter expert, and accuse people of fraud based on photos of items, particularly when we can't be experts in everything. And it would be quite dangerous to start taking the word of particular users and ending auctions on their say-so...imagine the problems that we'd encounter in trying to figure out who was right and who was wrong. But 1covers, I got your petition and the category folks are looking at it -- we'll get back to you, and if there's a problem we'll see what can be done to address it.
Stamp board regulars were quick to respond, challenging the notion that you need to be a trained philatelist to see that one scan is a copy of another, and not a different stamp.
A survey of eBay stamp lots, posted here, estimates that 10% of them, or up to 13,000, are "fraudulent". Richard examined the first 10 lots on each of 10 pages in the 10 main stamp subcategories, for a total of 1000 lots.
August 11, 2002:
In three days of online organizing, nearly 150 (at this writing) eBayers signed on to a three-point petition launched on Aug. 8 by Richard Frajola.
This petition was conveyed to eBay's VP for Trust and Safety, Richard Chesnut, on Friday, August 9, when it had 74 signatures. At 14:24, Richard shared this reply with the chat board:
"I wasn't aware that there was a problem in the stamp category. As you know, we're not in a very good position to determine when a stamp may be fraudulent...we don't possess the stamp and we're not stamp experts, and we don't like to believe that our sellers are dishonest or accuse someone based on the word of a third party. But we took some steps to affirmatively clean up a couple of our other categories, and we'll look at this to see what we can do for stamps. I'll talk to the category manager for stamps and to the person in my department who handles these issues, and get back with you. Appreciate your note and the concern of all the folks on the petition."
August 9, 2002:
Last night, eBay VP for Trust and Safety conducted what was supposed to be a 'chat' about issues of fraud and so on. About 15 eBay stamp people attended, out of a total of 100, while others couldn't get in because of Java issues. We will present a fuller and more detailed report, but, as a brief and sketchy update: eBay user/collectors' reviews were universally negative. It was not really a chat. Nobody could see anyone else's comments or questions. If you asked a question, you got an automated note saying it had been received. But in fact the only questions that were answered in the one-hour session were questions that had been hand-selected from those submitted in advance. The only positive note is that eBay is apparently considering allowing users to view negative feedback separately. As for the rest: not new.