About 5 years ago, eBay really started to take off. More people were getting connected to the Internet. eBay was a cheap way to sell your items to thousands or millions of potential customers from all over the globe. Some people said it would kill the traditional mail order or show dealers. They were wrong. Traditional dealers are still going strong.

I use eBay. I sell some things on there. I buy some things on there. When I'm buying though, I'm EXTREMELY selective about who I am buying from and what I'm buying. There are lots of pros to using eBay. There are some cons too. From someone who has been on eBay for years, let me give you a few tips on things to watch for:

Be careful of high shipping fees. I've seen some sellers charge $3.50 per stamp for shipping. Some sellers use high shipping charges to increase their profits or offset eBay selling fees. $3.50 to send a single stamp? A $1 or so sounds more reasonable.

Watch for lots described as, "I'm not a stamp expert, but " and then it goes on to say how rare and valuable the item is. If they don't know stamps, how do they know the item is rare and valuable? This is a red flag.

Does the stamp have faults? Does the seller mention any faults or mention that no faults were noticed? Some faults are obvious from the photograph liked clipped perforations or large tears. What about thins on the back? Does the seller show a photo of the back too? Be careful with vague or non-philatelic terms like "looks good". Does the seller offer a money back guarantee? Be careful of out of focus pictures too.

This is a new one I've seen recently. With all of the hype on graded stamps, I've seen one seller who shows a photo of their stamp in a clear plastic case (like those used to store baseball cards). Across the top of the case is a label, "XYZ Grading Company" (not the real name). Below it is a VF description. In many cases, the stamps shown are AVE or F at best. There are 3 main expertizing agencies in the US: PSE, PF, and APEX. PSE and PF offer graded certificates. Make sure you know who is doing the grading. The company this seller shows does not exist.

Watch for claims like, "This collection has been appraised at $10,000." Who did the appraising? Was it a reputable dealer? People make false claims on the value of a collection or they use less than honest people to inflate the appraisal. Make sure you know who did the appraising before you do the buying. Would you spend $10,000 on an "appraised" collection of 50,000 damaged Flag stamps that catalog 20 each?

Watch for difficult stamps. What are the chances that an average/novice collector has a copy of #500? Pretty slim. This is a tough stamp to correctly identify because the difference is so subtle. Does the item come with a certificate? If not, it's best to steer clear of these items, especially when offered at a fraction of its value. There is no free lunch.

There are fakes out there. Are you sure that copy of Scott #315 isn't just a trimmed down copy of its perforated cousin, Scott #302? Early coil issues are a fertile area for fakes. Do you know how to spot reperforated stamps? Can you spot a stamp that is regummed? Would you spend hundreds of dollars or more on an item from an unknown seller that doesn't come with a certificate? Will the seller let you obtain a certificate? Do they offer a money back guarantee?

When buying large lots where the items are described as having "some damage" or "some are hinged", you can almost certainly bet that it is the high catalog value ones shown which are damaged or hinged. Bid accordingly unless the seller gives specifics.

The feedback rating is not an indicator of stamp knowledge. It's hard to find someone that has a feedback rating lower than 98%. Most are 99% or above. A high feedback rating doesn't mean this seller is offering correctly described stamps. Here's a true story from my own experience. I bought a copy of Scott #259 which is the 15 unwatermarked Henry Clay issue. When I got it, it was clearly a #274. The watermark was so strong, I didn't need fluid to check it, but I did anyway. I contacted the seller for a refund since the stamp was misdescribed. This particular person sells a lot of stuff on eBay. His reply to me was, "Sorry for the error. Keep it for no charge." The impression I got was that he is too busy selling overpriced and misdescribed stamps that a refund is too much of a hassle. Or maybe I'll be pleased with his "customer service", and I'll buy other misdescribed items from him and I won't catch them. I've stopped bidding on his material. He continues to list a lot of material and thre are plenty of buyers. Or dare I say, fools?

There are many honest people on eBay, including some stamp dealers who are members of the APS and/or the ASDA. Look for their logo or membership number. There are a few crooks too. Be smart and be careful. Remember, if the offer looks too good to be true, it probably is!