Sunday, 24 June 2012

Seller Beware!

I was thinking yesterday about the various things I've done online and was remembering one particular incident that happened some years back.  I'd been selling a few things on eBay - mainly books and ephemera that I'd found in local auctions - nothing major.  However, at one auction I had bought a diary written by a British colonel during the first world war.  It was in with a few paperbacks, some postcards and a couple of hardbacks and I bought the whole lot quite cheaply.  I kept the diary for a while because I thought it was so interesting but then a little research led me to believe that it might do well on eBay.

I listed it with, as I remember, a reserve of £100.  Very quickly the price rose above the reserve.  It then continued to climb until it was at £500 . . . £600 . . . £700 . . . £800 . . . £900 . . . by this time I was speechless with excitement.

The final bid was just over £1000.  I was ecstatic . . . that is, until an email arrived from eBay to say that the final bid had been fraudulent . . . the person whose account it was had denied making the bid and the sale had been cancelled.  Now if something like this happened in a 'real' auction, the item would be offered to the underbidder.  But I didn't know who the underbidder was.

I emailed eBay and asked them to put me in touch with him . . . which they refused to do, saying that they no longer had any record of the sale.  However, they magnanimously said, that they wouldn't charge me for the original listing and I was welcome to list the item again!  By this time I was speechless with rage.

In the end, amazingly, it all worked out.  When I did my original research on the diary, I'd come across a couple of websites that were concerned with the Colonel's regiment.  So when I listed the diary on eBay, I'd emailed the website owners to tell them about it.  Now one of them emailed me to say that a militaria collector had contacted him to ask whether, by any chance, he knew who had been selling the diary on eBay, as he had been the underbidder.  He had discovered that the auction had been disallowed but, with all records deleted, had no way of getting in touch with me.

I contacted the underbidder and sold the diary to him at his final bid less what I'd have had to pay eBay in fees, so it worked out well for both of us.  I don't think I've sold anything on eBay since then.  But it has made me aware of how much we are at the mercy of other people when we use some of these large websites.  And I wonder whether, nowadays, there are so many rules and regulations designed to protect the buyer (no bad thing) that the welfare of the seller is somewhat disregarded.

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