The Marketplace

Normally, we would be listing a product item or a press release in this column, however, this month we found an item which deserved a closer inspection. We were looking at G4 notebooks online and naturally ran to Ebay to try to find a good deal on that new titanium G4 notebook.

What we found was that the section for Apple G4 Powerbooks was rife with fraud waiting to happen. There were several listings for the 667mhz version of the Powerbook all by members of Ebay which all had a rating of 0 and all of the user ID’s associated with the machines were similar. One other item that set us off is that the EBAY members were in Canada, Italy or in Romania. Also the member’s sales information said wire transfer only.

While many honest dealers are trying to make a living on Ebay through the sales of legitimate equipment and deals, you must be aware that the people who are selling are not always what they claim to be. Thus many buyers win their auctions, send their money, and never see the product. When the go looking for why, the member who they paid has disappeared with their hard earned cash never to be seen again.

Of course while many of us have been long time Ebay or Yahoo auctions members, we have all had that one experience which really turned our blood to a boil. Thus we decided to put together a few tips for those people out there who were looking to purchase an item through the auction sites.

1) Reputation is everything. On most auction sites, there is a member rating system. One way to avoid those unsavory types is to read the feedback left on a particular member by the other members who have purchased items from them. If a member has a zero (0) or a negative (-1) feedback rating, best avoid them. Even sellers with a high rating can sometimes be hard to deal with. In one case, the seller had a rating of almost 1500 yet the seller also had a reputation of not delivering goods, delivering them in condition other than described, or being late with delivery. Be sure to read the feedback. Keep in mind that if something looks too good to be true, it most likely is.

2) Check the status of those leaving the feedback. If the user leaving the feedback has a negative rating, they are definitely bad news. If the user is relatively new to Ebay, they may have made a mistake or may have been hasty in leaving their feedback. However if the negative feedbacks left by users look legitimate and are in numbers greater than 1 or 2 per 500, it is advisable to not deal with the seller. Most sellers always have that one customer who was absolutely impossible to deal with. But those with good reputations you will notice have consistently good feedback and few if any negatives.

3) Look at the description carefully. If an item looks too good to be true, it is in almost every case. While we have found unbelievable deals once in a while, usually most of the time when an item has been described as something that would normally sell for more than 50% more than the price being listed, this can be a warning. Also look at the location of the member. If a member is within the U.S., there are steps you can take if you do happen to get someone who defrauds you. (We will describe these steps later).

4) Know what you are buying. Most products that are sold on the net are products made by a known manufacturer. You can find information on the product on the manufacturer’s web site or do a search on Google. Make sure that what you think you are buying is actually what you are buying. One more item that you must do is to read the description carefully. Make sure that the computer you are buying comes with legal copies of the software and not pirated CD’s. Many machines on Ebay and Yahoo are shown as being loaded. What we have found in most cases is that they come loaded with pirated software and illegally copied CD’s and manuals.

5) Know your seller. If you know someone else who has purchased items in the same section from a particular seller, ask them about their experience. If the items they received were similar to what you are bidding on, they will have a pretty good idea of the quality of the item as well as the reputation of the seller. It is important that you check out a seller prior to taking the plunge. Make sure that they are who they say they are. If a seller is vague about information, this is a clear sign that there may be problems.

While most deals in the Internet world go off without a hitch, there is a high rate of fraud committed every year. The unsavory types do watch the auctions looking for high priced items that people want and do bid on. They then set up shop looking for some poor sole to fleece. This is currently a major problem in the Apple & Macintosh groups on Ebay especially with the popularity of the G4 Titanium Powerbooks.

When something does happen there are several routes that you can take to resolve the issue. Ebay does have a fraud claim process that will allow you to recoup your money up to a percentage. The only problem with the process is that it is neither easy nor guaranteed and there is a time limit. While it is a good concept, we have not had much luck with it due to the fact that deals under $25 aren’t covered. Also there is a 25-dollar deduction and the maximum reimbursement under the program per claim is $175. Not much benefit for the trouble when the average computer costs around $2000.

Paypal has a charge back program, however, this program only applies to US sellers and bidders. International buyers have no recourse.

What we recommend is using a credit card in all of your transactions. While this may not be convenient in all cases, it is the only method that has a true charge back system. Most credit cards do have policies concerning the charge backs but it is still far better than the other schemes offered by Ebay’s Billpoint and Paypal.

One other problem that has turned us off of the systems offered by EBAY is that no matter how many times you contact them, it seems that the only thing you get in response is a canned response that does not even apply to the case you are reporting. While the concept of the self-policed type forum is good, the system is only as good as the people backing up the system.
Currently most people I know only deal with those dealers who have very high ratings and are people that they know. For most of this, this does slightly limit those dealers we deal with but I suppose in this day and age, you can’t be too careful.

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About the Author

Bill Martens

A.P.P.L.E. Chairman of the Board and Club president -- Bill worked for the founder, Val J. Golding and A.P.P.L.E. from 1981 to 1982. In 1999, he began archiving the materials which were distributed and sold by A.P.P.L.E.. That project led to the group that remained of A.P.P.L.E. Bill was involved in the financial industry in Tokyo and has over 20 major office infrastructure projects to his name. In March 2001, he retired to write books and to spend more time pursuing personal interests. As the president of the users group, Bill is in charge of distribution of Call-A.P.P.L.E. magazine as well as the organization of this web site. Bill currently resides in Tokyo, Japan and Shelton, Wa splitting time between the places.