eBay, The World’s Online Marketplace®, and without doubt a great place to buy signed items, but only if you know what you are doing, as buying on eBay without the right knowledge could end up being a very costly exercise.
I have been dealing full time in autographs for over 20 years, achieving over 25,000 transactions on eBay alone, given talks on eBay, attended eBay University and even broadcast a live workshop on fake autographs from eBay head office in London, but I can still sometimes get fooled into buying worthless rubbish via the site, so if I can be fooled, think how easy it must be to fool a newcomer to the wonderful world of eBay!
Trying to buy anything signed on eBay can be something of a nightmare, at best you might just get something that’s genuine and has only cost you a few pounds, but at worst, you can be ripped off for many hundreds of £’s for something that does not even arrive on your doorstep! On the other hand, by following a few simple rules, you can consistently find some real gems, and bag yourself more than a few bargains.
Over the past 10 years I have learned a lot of things to help anyone buy safely on eBay, and here I hope to show you a few tricks and some rules that will help you sort the wheat from the chaff.
Because it is the world’s largest online marketplace, it has become the world’s largest market for forgers and dodgy dealers! Do a search any day of the week for signed items on eBay and you will find that hundreds of fake items in amongst the many good items offered by respectable dealers worldwide.
Learning to spot a fake autograph requires many years experience and a trained eye, so here we will concentrate on showing you the things to look for that will allow you to spot the fraudulent seller rather then the fraudulent item, as this is a little easier.
Let us assume you have been searching for a Frank Sinatra autograph, and have finally found what you think to be a good one on eBay. You should of course do some basic checks on the signature itself, as only by making these checks and comparisons will you learn how to spot the real from the fake. There have been some articles published on Sinatra’s autograph, so with a few clicks on Google you should be able to find some help. If you are a keen collector, then you should have already invested and read some reference books such as the Ray Rawlins books, or at least a copy of the Sanders Price Guide. Again Google or Amazon can be useful here, and doing your homework is all part of the process of buying autographs.
Remember that I am only concentrating here on bad sellers, and not bad autographs, but there are may articles that can help with the autograph side, so search them out and read them.
Always check everything you can about the seller via eBay, and there are lots of ways you can do this. Always read the full page at least twice, making sure you check all the sellers details etc. Assume him to be a fraudster and find reasons to trust him, rather than the other way around.
1/ Check their feedback for the same or similar items. If the item you are after is rare (as is Sinatra) then have they sold or do they have any others? Use Goofbay (Google it) to check what they have sold in the past 90 days as eBay only allow you to check the last 30 days. This alone can sometimes tell you all you need to know.
2/ Do they have many other rare and hard to find signed items? Have they sold the same ones over and over again over the last few weeks? Are these items repeatedly sodl at a lower price that other well know dealers are offering them at?
3/ Are they using ‘Private auctions’ look out for that little bit that says, ‘this is a Private listing, your details will not be disclosed to anyone’ What does that mean? Well it really means the seller is hiding something, and despite what they may state in their auctions, it’s not because they are protecting you from spam emails or sellers with similar items. Their probable real reason is to prevent you from finding out the truth, because by using Private Auctions or Private Bidding, they are trying to stop you from finding out what they have sold in the previous weeks, and are preventing other eBay users from warning you about the possible fake item you are bidding on.
4/ Where are they located? In the location spot they may say they are ‘The best on eBay’ and try and hide their real location from you. Some of these so called ‘dealers’ are running their scams from another country, Spain, France, Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Singapore and Australia all have forgers who have targeted the UK, because they simply can’t get caught by UK Police or Trading Standards. Don’t just accept what the item location says. If they are a registered on eBay as a business seller, then they will have their full business address at the bottom of the page. In addition, click on the sellers ID top right next to their feedback and that will also tell you which county they are in.
5/ Read their feedback, see what other people say about them. But surely I here you say, all these fakes and scams will all show up in the feedback, but why should they? The seller has sent out the goods on time, which the buyer believes are authentic (otherwise they would not have purchased in the first place) and so the buyer leaves feedback accordingly. It could well years before the buyer finds out the truth, and then it’s too late. Feedback should always be checked, but don’t rely on it, it can be faked (shill bidding) boosted (by buying cheap items) and does not always tell the truth about the seller. Use it as a guide only, and look deeper to find out the truth. You may be able to find out where the seller buys from by checking the Feedback from sellers tab (click on the number in brackets next to the seller ID, and then ‘From Sellers’ tab), this will show you the items that the seller has purchased on eBay, and can be very enlightening! This feedback page can tell you more about the seller than they want you to know, so take a good look! I have seen many sellers on eBay that have 100% perfect feedback, but have never sold a genuine signature in their life!
Those 5 pointers should help you to make create a much better picture of the seller, but there are still other things to look for.
One scam that is sometimes employed is for the seller to show the real thing, but send you a fake. I have been caught with this one more than once, and there is no real way to be sure any seller is doing this, but if you check their past sales you can sometimes spot the exact same image more than once.
The really clever ones only start relisting the same items after 30 days, which is why you should use Goofbay to check every seller before bidding, as this allows a 90 day search.
Some sellers will have more than one account, but alternate between them. This allows them to sell on one account for say 7 days, and then move to another account selling similar items for another 7 days and so on. If they get caught out on one account, they simply switch to another. You will find that sellers who do this often offer different items on each account, and change the location to try and put you off the scent, but will still make the same spelling mistakes, use the same terms or description etc, so a little detective work here can really pay off.
Always remember that you will not be the only person to have found that Frank Sinatra signature starting at 99p that is guaranteed to be genuine! Hundreds of other very experienced collectors and dealers will also have searched for the same thing, and if they believe it to be genuine, then they will be biding as well. So if at the final curtain the item only fetches 50% or less of what you would expect it to go for, then the chances are that the dealers and collectors have stayed away because they did not like it.
In my experience, a genuine item listed to start at a low price, will normally finish at around 75% or higher of what a dealer would offer the same item at with a fixed price. And if you have been doing your homework, you will already have a good idea of what that Sinatra signature is worth won’t you?
There was once a seller in Italy who offered World Cup 1966 and other football signed covers on a weekly basis. He would show the real thing, but then send out his own a fakes. He would also make a second chance offer to the under bidders, thereby selling several of the same fake item at the same time, and would also accept offers from buyers before the item ended. These he would ask to be paid direct via PayPal, but of course they would also get a fake one. It was a clever con, and does still happen, but if all his buyers had read this guide, very few would have been fooled!
If a seller will not accept PayPal, then I would be very careful about buying from them. PayPal does have its pitfalls, but from a buyer’s point of view it offers you enormous protection. If a seller wants to use some form of payment other than Paypal or will only accept cash, then just walk away, as this is not only risky, but is also breaking eBay rules regarding payment, and the seller should be reported to eBay. If you should get ripped off using this payment method, then eBay will not help you.
What about those wonderful COA’s? Any good dealer will tell you the same, that they are not worth the paper they are printed on. Sure, a good seller will provide one, and it should always have their full contact details etc printed on it too, but always remember that a COA proves nothing, other than possibly where you bought it. An item is either genuine or not, and no COA, even one with triple holograms, DNA, matching numbers, or a fancy ribbon will ever make a sows ear into a silk purse! And those sellers that suggest their items can be proven authentic by some third party authenticator or forensic examiner? Forget it, even one of the ones used by eBay has been proven to authenticate both printed signatures and autopens as genuine, and indeed a number have recently lost the ability to have their COA’s even mentioned on eBay!
What if the seller is a member of XYZ Association? So they might be, but does that Association actually exist? Does it really mean anything or could anyone join? I have seen a number of sellers who have simply made up the name of an association and in two cases even created a website to go with it. In every case, always check that the Association exists, and that the seller is a member and that they also have other members as well! The only Associations for any dealer that are worth being a member of are the PADA, AFTAL or the UACC (but only as a Registered Dealer, not just a member).
Always avoid one-day auctions, only a fool or a fraudster uses these! One-day auctions are used to try and make a quick kill, and are the favourites of the eBay ID hijackers, those people that send you those Phishing emails! Once they have your ID and password, they hijack your ID and then upload auctions for anything that will sell quickly (they don’t have the goods, so it really can be anything). They only use 1-day auctions, because it normally takes eBay at least 24 hours to react to someone reporting a hijacked ID, so giving the scammers a full 24 hours to upload the auctions and make the sales. The money of course goes into a hijacked PayPal account and then to a foreign bank somewhere. Tip! Never use the same password for your eBay account as for your PayPal account.
By getting to know a few of the good dealers, you can build up a rapport with them and be able to ask them advice about other items. I speak with other dealers on a daily basis, and this enables us to learn form one another and pass on valuable information. I and almost every other dealer I know are always happy to help with any aspect of collecting autographs get to know a few real live dealers, rather than just those ‘virtual’ dealers on eBay, and you may be surprised at what you might learn!
There are many other things to be wary about when buying autographs on eBay, I have covered the important things here, but you still need to be careful, so keep your eyes open, check every detail, and if it seems too good to be true, well, it probably is!