Never Buy Fakes! 5 Easy Tips to Avoid Online Auction Fraud

Many consumer advocacy groups now report that merchandise fraud is by far the biggest complaint from Internet buyers.

Online auction and resale sites are becoming the way of the world. Anyone can sell anything to anybody.  And it’s great. People love getting good deals, they love having access to out-of-production favorites and they love finding vintage treasures – all from the comfort of home.  But easier entry to the secondary market has also spawned a proliferation of phony products, most of which are imported. Many consumer advocacy groups now report that merchandise fraud is by far the biggest complaint from Internet buyers.

There are some safeguards in place.  For example, eBay has a robust buyer protection program that allows you to return suspect purchases for a full refund.  But they can’t police hundreds of thousands of listings and other auction sites may not be as conciliatory.  Luckily, it just takes a little diligence to avoid a buying mistake.  

Here are 5 easy ways to watch out:

  1. High Risk Items. Start by understanding which items are most likely to be counterfeit and remember you have to be more vigilant with those listings. Here’s the lineup:
  • Designer luxury goods (handbags, jewelry, wallets, watches, clothing)
  • Artwork
  • Cosmetics and perfumes
  • Collectibles and memorabilia
  • Consumer electronics (cell phones, cameras, video games, music players)
  • Computer software
  • Athletic footwear

Whew.  That’s a lot of stuff.  Make sure to wear your thinking cap when buying these things online.

Fake Anime toy

  1. Google. Believe it or not, simple online research is your biggest protection against unauthorized copies. Type in the item you are thinking about buying with words like “fake” or “reproduction” and you’ll find all kinds of identification guides that will enable you to easily recognize dishonest listings.  Your research will also reveal if there is a known replication problem with a particular brand or style.
  1. Low Feedback Ratings. Yes, low feedback could be because the seller is brand new (and certainly deserves a chance). But it might also be because the seller has been kicked off the auction site and is back with a new identity. 
  • Real first timers will have one or two listings (of unwanted paraphernalia pulled out of their closet) because they are still figuring out how it all works. Professional scammers will have tons of listings, all in the high-risk category.
  • Ask sellers why they have low feedback and if they don’t answer, avoid them. A response like, “I’ve started to sell a different line of merchandise so I changed my user ID” is a big red flag (eBay does allow sellers to change IDs and keep their feedback rating).

 

Fake Hermes Scarf

Fake Louis Vitton Handbag

 

  1. Fake Feedback. It’s easy to fabricate high feedback ratings. But it’s also easy to spot.
  • If the seller’s user ID is a computer-generated default (nonsensical letters and numbers) then the seller could be creating lots of IDs quickly for the purpose of fake feedback and fraud.
  • Click on the seller’s feedback and see what he’s sold in the past. It should be similar to what he’s selling now and spread out over time.  Why would a guy selling Rolex watches have dozens of feedback ratings for cheap, contrived trifles (like 50-cent recipes), all posted within a few minutes of each other?  Because he listed them, bought them and then left the feedback himself.  Most buyers don’t bother to look at past feedback content, they just look at the number.
Fake Rolex Watch Fake Pokemon Game

 

  1. Obvious Deception. Fraud is often easy to recognize. Just apply a little logic.
  • Does the listing use a misleading stock photo (from the real manufacturer’s website)? The seller should always post photos of the actual item being sold.
  • Does the description match the photo? Fraudsters often copy a description from a legitimate listing and don’t even realize it won’t match their knockoff.
  • Are the photos blurry or overexposed? These are common ways to hide identifying features.
  • Look at the seller’s past and current sales. Are there multiples, exactly like the piece you are considering?  A 45-year-old Chanel bracelet should be pretty unique on the secondary market and it won’t look brand new.
  • Is the price way cheaper than other similar listings? The seller wants to unload it fast (before he gets kicked off the site) and is counting on finding a sucker. Don’t let it be you.

OK, some amateurs might list bogus items just out of ignorance.  Lots of people buy at estate or garage sales and then stick it all into online auctions, hoping to make a profit.  They don’t do any research, they aren’t experts, and they don’t care.   Look at the other things they are currently selling and click on their feedback to see what they’ve sold in the past.   Is it a mishmash of yard sale stuff?  Garden tools, silk blouses, used CDs, cookbooks and car parts?  Then they probably don’t have the expertise or experience to identify an original antique.

New cast iron bank, reproduced to look like the 1888 original.

Finally, if you spot a fake listing, please take the time to report it.  On eBay, there is a tab to report fraud just above the item number (in the description panel).  It only takes a few seconds.  It will be investigated and chronic offenders will be removed.  Yes, they may return with new identities, but it gets them off the street for a while.  In the meantime, be smart and don’t be conned.  Caveat Emptor.  


Liz Holderman is a Worthologist and accredited appraiser who specializes in books and collectibles.

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