How to avoid two common eBay scams
When collecting valuable items, there are always dodgy sellers you need to avoid. Some eBay sellers use tricks like shill-bidding and short-selling to make bigger profits, and this is no less prevalent in vintage toys and vintage R/C, than any other area of collectible.
Here are some very simple tips to help you avoid these two dimwitted eBay scams, which are common among vintage R/C items, and probably common among a lot of other vintage toys as well.
In the world of collecting vintage R/C, as with any vintage toy category, there are a variety of scams to watch out for. But here’s a quick breakdown of two common eBay ones: shill-bidding and short-selling.
This article is intended as a quick guide to help you avoid buying vintage R/C items from people who engage in these dodgy practices, and to help ensure that the vintage R/C cars you spend your hard-earned dollars on are legitimate, fairly priced, and in good working order.
Scam #1 – Short-selling
Short-selling is the scam whereby an eBay seller buys goods, then relists those goods on eBay, yet never physically receives or personally checks the item before selling it. Usually this is done online with the seller buying goods in a foreign country, then shipping them directly to other buyers via a proxy shipping service or mail forwarder, without ever physically handling the goods themselves.
Why is this bad? Technically it may not be bad if we were talking about recently-manufactured retail items which were brand new/sealed and still functional, and you did not expect any seller to personally check them anyway.
But 30+ year old vintage items are very different. All vintage items need to be checked and tested. And every true collector of vintage pieces knows this.
Vintage R/C cars can deteriorate and develop many little problems over time – even when they are still new in the box. Over the years I have purchased hundreds of vintage R/C items and I have seen a wide variety of flaws, even in unused examples. Flaws like:
- Cars that simply do not work when you actually test them
- Cracked/broken parts
- Missing parts
- Flat-spotted tyres
- Deteriorated tyres
- Internal corrosion
- Water damage
- Decomposing decals
…and more. These flaws are generally caused by long term storage in harsh or unprotected conditions.
In my opinion, eBay sellers who sell vintage R/C items must fully check, test and describe the condition of what they are selling. If they do not, then you are taking a big risk when buying from them.
How to avoid short-sellers
1. Compare the seller’s location with the location where the item ships from.
Since short-sellers often buy and sell online, and ship goods to buyers without actually handling those goods themselves, a simple way to find out if an eBay seller of vintage goods is a “short-seller” is to compare the seller’s location with the location where the item actually ships from.
If the two locations do not match, you have some reason to be suspicious because it means the seller probably has not personally received or handled the item they are selling. Therefore, they simply cannot guarantee it’s true condition or whether it even works.
An example of a short-selling scammer on eBay is the seller “megalow09“.
This seller is located in Russia.
However, every vintage R/C item he sells on eBay, is listed as shipping from Japan.
This seller first came to my attention a while ago when I noticed him taking dozens of photos and whole articles from this website, and using them as the photos and details in his eBay listings – as though he was literally selling the cars I own (!).
As a result, eBay removed those listings. But he still often rips off content from other collectors in order to pretend he knows what he is selling. Such as the recent item below, where he inserted a video belonging to another respected collector (NostalgiaRC) and wrote “same model” in an attempt to make it seem like this might be a video of the actual car he is selling and that it is working (when it isn’t)…
But his routine scam is to buy vintage R/C items online and ship them directly to his buyers from a Japanese proxy shipping service, while sitting at home in Russia. He doesn’t personally put batteries in any car he sells, or check to see if it is deteriorated, or even working. Some of his listings say “works!” but he is simply copying whatever he was told by whoever he bought the item from online.
Naturally, this means many of his buyers end up receiving less than they paid for. Here is some of his feedback:
2. Ask the seller for more details and more photos
Another way to avoid short-sellers on eBay is to simply ask them whether they have fully tested an item, and other specific details about what they are selling. With respect to vintage R/C cars, ask them questions like:
– Have you personally confirmed that the car works?
– Can you send me a video of the car running?
– Can you send me additional photos?
– Can you guarantee the tyres are not deteriorated?
– Are the battery compartments clean?
– Is anything missing?
Someone who does not physically possess what they are offering for sale will find it very hard to answer these questions and guarantee that the item is working. They may offer weak answers or ignore your questions altogether.
This is a sign that you are dealing with someone who cannot readily access and check the vintage piece they are selling. And is therefore probably selling items in a dodgy way.
Scam #2 – Shill-bidding
The other major scam to avoid when buying R/C items on eBay, is shill-bidding.
Shill-bidding is when someone lists items on eBay as bidding auctions, then uses other eBay accounts to bid on their own items in order to drive the price up. Either they do this themselves, or they get friends to bid on their auctions.
This scam is highly illegal and well documented on the Internet. But still, it continues. In R/C circles, there are often discussions about it. In wider circles, some believe there is an epidemic of it on eBay.
eBay has tried to develop algorithms over the years to detect sellers who do it. Unfortunately, it is often apparent to regular eBay users that some sellers are engaging in shill-bidding yet are still going undetected by eBay’s systems. So if you end up in a bidding war against shill bidders, you can end up paying way more for something than you should have.
How to avoid shill-bid sellers
1. Check the recent feedback and behaviour of everyone connected to the seller
Basically, you need to look for patterns of behavior, and try to detect an unusual frequency of activity between a seller and the same bidder/buyer.
Check the feedback of the seller, the feedback of the buyers who have “won” auctions from that seller, and the feedback of any current bidders. Check to see who has been bidding on a seller’s items, then check the other bidding activity of those bidders. Even though eBay conceals many user IDs, you are still able to see activity.
If you see the same bidder or buyer engaging in a lot of activity, over and over again, across different listings from the same seller, this is pretty much a guarantee that something is wrong. In some cases, the stupidity of shill-bidders is actually pretty funny – with the same bidder often bidding dozens or hundreds of times on a particular seller’s auctions. In these instances, it is easy to detect the pattern and to know that a scam is underway.
2. Avoid bidding auctions altogether
My other piece of advice here is to simply forget bidding auctions altogether.
You may think this sounds drastic, but here’s the thing: eBay bidding auctions have been in decline for many years anyway.
Unfortunately, the only way to absolutely guarantee that you never get scammed by shill bidders is to avoid bidding auctions. And only buy items at fixed prices.
Shill bidding rarely affects me because I rarely buy items in bidding auctions anymore. Nine times out of ten, I use “buy it now”. And I never sell items in bidding auctions either. Everything I list for sale is listed at a fixed price.
In the early days of eBay, bidding auctions were the only way to buy and sell. eBay was innocent and quite good fun back then, and the auction was seen as the more pure and democratic way in which to apply the auction model to the world of the Internet. As a seller, you often got a good price for your item too, because the whole system of online auctions was fresh and new, and there were many new and unusual items coming out of the woodwork and being listed online – to be fought over by collectors.
But as the years have passed and we have all become more familiar with the common price that just about every item sells for, bidding auctions are now becoming both a risk for buyers (due to shill bidding) and a waste of time for sellers. If you know what something is worth, why leave it to chance? It is much easier to simply list it for sale at a fixed upper price you will be happy with. You can always negotiate down a little, if necessary.
As a result, many sellers now list everything at fixed prices. And frankly, except in special circumstances (such as one-off rarities) I would encourage all sellers to do this. As a buyer, you can have peace of mind knowing that there is zero risk of shill-bidding.
These tips are fairly basic. But I hope you learned something new, and that they help you avoid some common eBay problems.
There are many, many genuine sellers and collectors out there who truly love the hobby. So try to find them, and buy from them, if you can.
If you are looking at buying a vintage R/C item on eBay, and you’re unsure if the item is legitimate, feel free to drop me a line via the Contact page and I’ll be happy to give you my thoughts on it. I regularly refer buyers to other people’s items for sale.
As always, happy collecting!