Tuesday, May 30, 2006

eBaying at the moon

Well, anyone who has been cheated on eBay will relish this tale of sweet revenge.

The moral of the story is, if you’re going to cheat someone by selling them a broken laptop, make sure you’ve erased the hard-drive. Don’t leave behind your personal details, much less your personal antics or your um, personal tastes and kinky (and possibly illegal) personal fetishes.

For some strange reason, laptops seem particularly prone to eBay fraud. Some people use blogs to fight back against repeat offenders, while others even manage to get successful prosecutions.

In a way, I’m envious that I didn’t think of this jungle-justice in cyberspace myself. A few years back, I got cheated out of a minor amount – only ₤10 or ₤20, if I remember correctly – for the ‘Complete Superman’ DVD boxset. This was when I was still quite naïve about Malaysia’s place in the DVD universe – the epicentre of DVD scams and piracy. I no longer risk buying anything off-shore. But what angered me the most (apart from the feeling of being had) was eBay’s response. I did some cyber-sleuthing and discovered that the person who cheated me had registered a dozen other fake accounts and had generated his excellent rating by bogus buying and selling between his fake personas. Indeed, emailing any of the various “sellers” got form responses from the same Hotmail account. Naively (again) believing that eBay would be interested in all this, I compiled and forwarded the detailed evidence to them. They couldn’t have cared less.

I was so angry that I stopped using eBay for two years. Recently I was tempted back, but the experience hasn’t been much better. Every time you hear the clunk of a DVD through the post box, you open it with trepidation. Is it actually a Chinese knock-off or is it the genuine article as promised? Worse, on two occasions this year, I have received DVD copies burned onto Tesco-brand blank disks with home-made covers. It is pointless reporting this to eBay because they do nothing! Many of the traders selling off multiple copies of the same titles continue to trade after numerous complaints by buyers in the feedback section.

And here is the most infuriating thing. Scam sellers now blackmail legitimate users with bad feedback! Yes! They will give YOU bad feedback if you blow the whistle on their scams, secure in the knowledge that you have no recourse to the powers that be at eBay.

Three months back, a scam-artist called Chav7 sold me a DVD box set that he did not actually own (a clear violation of eBay T&Cs). Weeks went by and emails of complaint went ignored before promises of “sourcing it from the supplier” and similar excuses delayed the process. I eventually asked for a refund (since I’d actually paid for the item via PayPal within 24 hours of the auction closing). The refund also took weeks. All told, Chav7 sat with my money for non-existent goods for over a month. But here’s the rub: I gave him “neutral” feedback. Since I had eventually received a refund, I though “negative” was too strong. But what did the bastard do? He sent me an email demanding that I retract the feedback or he’d give me a “negative” rating. Which he did. He also reported me to eBay for “non payment”. This is bizarre. Because of a bug in eBay’s software, people who have received a refund appear not to have paid in the first place. I then had to jump through hoops for eBay to prove that I was not a non payer… plus I got a negative rating – all for a transaction in which I was a prompt payer, and THE VICTIM.

So, the net result is that I no longer give neutral or negative feedback. If the transaction has gone badly and the seller is a crook, I simply decline to give any feedback at all because I don’t want to ruin my own rating. Other people I know who use eBay have said the same thing.

Of course, this means that the whole feedback system falls to pieces. Since eBay is notoriously bad at defending the rights of buyers, the only real guide buyers have is the feedback system, but since many buyers are now bullied into self-censorship, we can’t see who the crooks are.

A cynical explanation for eBay’s inaction when it comes to helping the buyer is that – in effect – they are cut in on the deal by the scammer. For every dodgy sale that goes through, eBay still collects their fee. It is therefore in their interests to be biased towards the seller, rather than the buyer. So, you may be left fuming over your “genuine DVD” filmed over someone’s shoulder on a camcorder, but since eBay get their cut of the sale, what incentive do they have to go to bat for you?

Since PayPal has been introduced, things do seem to run more smoothly (though it is not without its problems), but it is still the aggravation factor that turns people off. Some have come up with alternative ways of using the internet to dispose of unwanted bric-a-brac, while others are still angry.

Still, there is some sensible advice on how to handle disputes from various sources, but its all for nought unless the fold at eBay start taking buyer complaints seriously – and by “seriously”, I mean cleaning up their site of clearly illegal items and banning repeat offenders. It talks tough, but as an MSNBC investigation proves, doesn’t follow through.

As the bloggers who have taken extreme steps prove, people want justice – not just their money back.


Post a Comment

<< Home