The point of this piece is to emphasize what I’ve written about in the past with eBay. Respected dealer Bill Weiss wrote a piece in Jim Lee’s “As I See It …” editorial in issue #73 of Jim’s Philately Newsletter. If you want to see the original article by Bill Weiss, you can find it online at Jim Lee’s website. It’s at http://www.jameslee.com/newslett.htm.
What spurred Bill Weiss’ piece was a copy of Scott #13 with a pen cancel that was sold at auction. This same stamp showed up on eBay, sans the pen cancel, and with gum added. An unsuspecting buyer paid $3000 for this mint copy. The buyer probably thought they got an incredible bargain. The truth is: the buyer got taken.
In 2003, eBay partnered with the American Philatelic Society to create a Community Watch group, this one around online auctions of philatelic material. Several knowledgeable philatelists were involved. eBay users could report suspicious items and the experts would review the listing for accuracy. Later on, eBay severed its ties with the APS and changed to an Enhanced Member Reporting program (EMR).
In 2014, without advance notice, eBay discontinued its EMR program. eBay users can still report items, but they are not reviewed by philatelists as far as anyone knows. What happens with reported items isn’t clear.
I’ve said before that in my opinion, there are some knowledgeable sellers on eBay, including some APS and ASDA dealer members. There is a large number of “dealers” who bought a collection (or inherited one) and they are on there with incorrectly described items simply because they don’t know any better. However, there are a few outright crooks on there. What’s being done to try and protect buyers from the obvious crooks? I bet almost nothing is being done.
Bill Weiss and Don Denman set up a “Stamp Smarter” website to try and educate collectors about suspicious material.
If you are buying valuable items on eBay, in my opinion, unless they come with a certificate of authenticity from a recognized organization, I think you are taking a HUGE risk. The crooks are very good at removing cancels, regumming stamps, reperforating them, or making other repairs and alterations.
Bill Weiss says, “We believe that the problem of online fraud is far bigger than the average person realizes”. I concur completely. And it’s not just limited to eBay. This applies to other online auctions of philatelic material too. However, eBay is largest and most popular online auction site with thousands of listings per day of philatelic material.
In my Spring 2014 pricelist, I mentioned a customer who wrote to me to remove his name from my mailing list because he was buying stamps on eBay at about 10% of catalog value. If they are genuine items, he’s saving a bundle. If they are problematic, he’s going to lose the seat of his pants.
Years ago, I used to browse eBay looking for bargains that I could use in my business. I stopped a long time ago. I still use eBay to fill in some modern material where my stock is running short. The chances of getting fakes in modern mint US stamps are pretty small. Sometimes it’s beneficial for me to buy one or two items instead of buying large quantities through a wholesaler.
If you buy items on eBay for a couple of bucks and they turn out to not be what you thought you were buying, it’s not the end of the world. It stinks to still lose that money, but you’re still going to be able to put food on the table tonight. But if you’re buying valuable material through eBay, I hope you know what you are doing and taking precautions to protect yourself. I don’t want to see anyone get taken.