Stamp Collectors Against Dodgy Sellers
September 11, 2002:
A full month after our first article exposing mabgsl's con appeared on this page - over a month after alert collectors warned eBay of his con - two weeks after an article in Linn's on his fraud - long after hundreds of dollars of his victims' money was sent to Cyprus - eBay has finally concluded that something is not completely on the up and up with mabgsl, and has NARUed him.
For a long time to come, the name of mabgsl will stand for the efforts of eBay users to police their own community on the one hand, and the determined inertia of the eBay corporation on the other hand.
Too late for mabgsl's victims, eBay has introduced a fast-track mechanism for reporting fraudulent auctions. Perhaps the frustrating tale of mabgsl will not be repeated. Perhaps.
August 31, 2002:
Three weeks after mabgsl's stolen-scan auctions came to an end, his feedback is beginning to reflect who was warned and who was not; who sent their money to Cyprus and who did not; and who was lucky enough to be bidding on an item that mabgsl happened to own.
His 24 negatives so far - 7 from unique users - tell the story.
"Seller received cash. Never delivered item. Never answered repeated e-mail," writes one user who bid $535 for a "powerful Egypt mint collection."
"Ein Glück für mich, daß ich nicht bezahlt hatte" [Lucky for me I didn't send any money], writes another.
All of this would have been unnecessary if eBay had acted promptly on the proof that eBay was stealing his stamp scans, which was put in eBay's hands before many of his auctions closed. But they did not.
Some buyers may be lucky, though. Some positives have come through on comparatively inexpensive items of the kind that mabgsl was selling before he escalated to the 'big con' stage. It seems that some of the coins and other items that were scanned on a bright red background may actually be in mabgsl's possession, and might be delivered.
This is something to bear in mind for when mabgsl begins selling again. Which he might do. After all, he is still a registered user.
August 16, 2002:
Almost one week after clear proof of mabgsl's crimes was provided to eBay, he remains a member of the eBay community with full rights.
In answer to criticisms on the eBay Trust and Safety board, eBay Vice President Rob Chesnut, a former federal prosecutor, wrote in part: "eBay ... can't accuse people of fraud based on photos of items, particularly when we can't be experts in everything."
In fact, the only hard evidence against mabgsl consists of his stolen scans. But does it really require a philatelic expert to assess it? JUDGE FOR YOURSELF:
August 15, 2002:
High bidders on mabgsl's lots who have been contacted by scads.org confirm that nobody from eBay has contacted them yet to deal with their growing concerns.
scads.org received a group of 16 bidder e-mails from a self-styled "vigilante" who had apparently warned as many bidders as he or she could, using a newly created handle.
Bidders who were aware of the fraud and filed negative feedbacks received vulgar e-mails from mabgsl. We have an unconfirmed report that he offered to let another man cancel the sale if he would leave positive feedback, which he has declined to do.
Other bidders have tried to report the fraud to eBay but have not figured out how to do it or have received no response.
At least one person, after receiving no communication from eBay, mailed a money order for a large sum to mabgsl on Wednesday, August 14 - 4 days after eBay was given conclusive proof that mabgsl was committing fraud.
Disturbingly, it appears that the only thing that saved some bidders from losing hundreds or thousands of dollars was the action of some users who violated eBay's rules against 'auction interference' to warn high bidders of the fraud. In some cases, these "Paul Reveres of eBay" were apparently aware of the discussion on the philatelic boards, and provided a link to the scads.org website.
While eBay rules strictly prohibit any user communicating with any other user, during or after an auction, to warn them of fraud, the bidders we spoke with expressed only gratitude for this "interference". One bidder who received such a warning was able to retrieve a payment which had already been sent by registered mail.
One stamp collector familiar with the case commented, "If eBay won't act on a case like this with the evidence that was given to them, it means you can never count on them for anything. We have to protect ourselves, like settlers in the lawless West."
August 14, 2002:
Despite eBay Trust and Safety VP Rob Chesnut's boast in his "Live Chat" ( posted online today ) that "eBay employees are at work around the clock for improper items," we are now in the fifth day of inaction by eBay on mabsl's scan piracy con.
mabgsl posted 147 auctions ending between August 8 and 13, offering rare coins, antiques, stamps, digital cameras, binoculars, jewelry, and an 18th century gramaphone, with total opening bids of $30,391.49. He closed the August 13 auctions early, as serious bidders apparently abandoned his lots and were replaced by zero-feedback bidding ids. Although eBay rules strictly forbid warning other users of auction fraud, some bidders report that they got e-mails from zero-feedback userids which may have been created for the purpose.
In all, the results must have been a disappointment for mabgsl. Although he racked up $29,640.97 in sales, most of this was to zero-feedback ids; and while $11,384 of his sales were to users to positive feedback, some of the big-ticket purchasers have sworn not to send any money. It is not yet known how much money has really been sent.
Alert philatelists caught on to the scheme on Saturday, August 10, when they spotted that magbsl's British stamp images were identical with those in the online catalogue of the renowned dealer Stanley Gibbons. SafeHarbor was immediately notified. At least 3 different people sent in reports on his stolen stamp and camera scans.
To date, however, magbsl remains a part of the eBay community, and the eBay personnel who have handled the reports seem blind to the seriousness of the affair. Three reports on mabgsl's phony digital camera auctions were returned with the statement that only the owner of the website from which the scans were stolen could file such a complaint. They suggested that the reporter pass on to the site owner instructions to report the scan theft using a link which, it turned out, only eBay users could use.
August 11, 2002:
Who is mabgsl? If you check his list of auctions, you see that he has a wide variety of items on sale now which are rare and expensive. Stamps, gold coins, the latest digital cameras, antique bronzework - all sorts of rare and expensive stuff. His stamps include US mint columbians, a mint UK seahorse, rare French essays from the Second Empire, a mint $5 US Banknote (Scott 278), and other desirable things, just like a great auction!
However, he probably does not really OWN any of these things.
Some research conducted by participants in an off-eBay philatelic discussion site (the posts are all accessible here) discovered that ALL of his UK rarities are scans that have been filched from the Stanley Gibbons online catalog.
The following comparison shows the first match to be discovered: mabgsl's stamp on the left, the Stanley Gibbons stamp on the right.
It was later found that the scans and text of his camera ads were also pirated from a review site.
(8/12/2002: Late news! Two of mabgsl's U.S. scans - for a $5 Columbian and a $5 Marshall banknote - were found to have been pirated from closed eBay auctions. It is entirely likely that more such cases will turn up, possibly encompassing all his Columbians and US classics.)
Mabgsl gives the address of Limassol, Cyprus. This is also the home of philatelic dealer James Bendon, but an e-mail to Bendon quickly got the response that Bendon has no idea who he is.
A study of mabgsl's auction and feedback history reveals the classic set-up for the "big con". He built up most of his feedback by BUYING small lots before April of 2002. Then he started selling some small stamp lots which never raked in more than a few dollars, working up his feedback to a "hefty" (74). Then, at the end of July, all of a sudden, he was ready to sell a staggering variety of rarities - stamps from all countries, expensive cameras, bronzework, and so on. However, where did he get the scans that we haven't tracked down yet? What are the chances that he owns any of them?
An eBay user e-mailed mabgsl about one of his lots, the $5 Marshall:
Hi! I am considering bidding on this stamp, but I would like to ask you a couple questions, because of some things that some other people have said, and also because of what I think is ordinary caution:
Is this stamp actually in your possession?
Is the scan that you posted actually a picture of that stamp? Did you scan it yourself?
If there was another scan of a very similar stamp somewhere else on the Internet, what would be the explanation for this?
Also, can you provide a scan of the reverse of the stamp?
The FULL response from mabgsl was:
Monday morning i'll inform our company director about your request to send you scan for the reverse side.
Note that the important questions, like 'do you really have the stamp', are left completely unanswered.
Late news: as magbsl's auctions wind down, word has clearly gotten around. Negative feedbacks ("FRAUD! BEWARE!") are beginning to clutter his profile. Some bidders have apparently retracted. Meanwhile, a swarm of zero-feedback bidders has appeared and are bidding high on all his lots.
eBay has been completely informed about all of the above. Meanwhile, however, mabgsl's lots are closing over the next couple days. Thousands of dollars in final values are at stake! It will be instructive to see what they do.
DO NOT PANIC. DO NOT SEND HIM ANY MONEY. The evidence against mabgsl is so damning at this point that it is very likely, according to people in a position to know, that eBay will take action against him in the near future.
Even if eBay does not NARU mabgsl, there is a long process which mabgsl would have to go through to take action against you to force you to pay. He may not do this. He may not want to answer embarrassing questions like 'who is he', 'where are the stamps, coins, and cameras that he didn't send to the bidders who paid,' and so on. Furthermore, there are possibilities for you, the other victims, SCADS, other eBay user activists, public officials, news media, and so on, to take action to prevent anyone from being penalized for not sending money to mabgsl. As long as you have the money in your own hand, you have options.
If in fact you have already sent your money to mabgsl, you are probably out of luck unless Interpol can mount an operation to freeze his bank account in Cyprus or wherever, which doesn't seem very likely.
In any case, PLEASE e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org to let us know what has happened, what you are doing, etc., and to be put in touch with other victims or other people who are following the case.