I wouldn't believe it until a close PowerSeller friend told me so, but it seems a really nasty scam operates within eBay's buying population and it depletes you of money and reputation.
This is what happens:
Someone has a damaged item, they bought it at a sale or broke it themselves, and they can't get their money back from the seller. So they bid on a similar item on eBay which, when it arrives is swapped with the damaged item. The damaged item is returned to you and forms the subject of a complaint that you are selling damaged goods and a warning that you either refund the payment or face negative feedback and become the subject of a complaint to eBay's own security branch as well as local and national consumer protection bodies.
It works, and works well, and will leave you out of pocket and the conman or woman in possession of a brand new item in place of another that may have originally cost little or nothing.
My friend came up with an answer to this problem, in the shape of one of those pens the police use to mark bicycles, vehicles and other valuables, with a code that only appears when held against a specific kind of ultra violet light.
Many enlightened PowerSellers mark all expensive items this way and, when items are returned which don't bear the mark, the perpetrators are reported immediately to eBay and the police.
It's heavy handed, but there are some very unscrupulous buyers out there, like the man who bought a 105-year old box I sold on eBay, in perfect condition, which was originally used to store stereo photographs. It was in perfect condition when posted, really well packed, but the message came back: ‘Either refund on this broken item or else!’ I requested the box back, I had to pay return postage, and on arrival the item bore no resemblance at all to the one I sent out. It was not the same box, just an inferior and badly damaged similar item.
The scam hurts, it's expensive, and you feel totally useless to avenge yourself. So now I mark every expensive item before posting, except postcards and really delicate items which I photograph. If a poor quality replacement item is returned I'll take the appropriate action based on certainty this time.
So how do you mark your items without being spotted and certainly without diminishing their value?
Let the London Metropolitan Police explain: ‘Invisible Marking. For antiques or other valuable property which might be devalued or spoiled by visible marking, there's an invisible ultra-violet marker. Burglars cannot see it, but if something marked is stolen we can identify it with a special ultra-violet lamp. UV markers are available from most good DIY stores and stationers at around two pounds. It's important to remember that UV marking fades and will need to be renewed every so often. '
* Make just a tiny mark where it won't easily be spotted by anyone else, such as in a crevice or blended with bright background colours.
* It seems that sometimes the law protects thieves more than innocent victims and certainly in the home one must provide a sign to burglars indicating that items are marked for security purposes! What rubbish, but the law is the law. So include this information somewhere ‘quiet’ such as in paperwork accompany the fulfilment package.
Really Clever Thieves
Sadly, really clever thieves know how to remove UV markings so you might also consider the next deterrent to prevent your goods being stolen and replaced by inferior products.
* Buy some security tags, like those used to close plastic food bags, which once closed can't be removed without destroying the tag. Add something to the tag to prevent replacement at the other end, like your signature (most thieves will stop short of forgery), or add your business name and address on a sticky label which also can't easily be removed and replaced. In your paperwork say the tag must be intact on all items returned for replacement or refund.
A similar scam operates among book buyers which works like this:
You sent the book, they say they haven't received it, they want another copy. You send another and one comes back for refund, leaving you out of pocket and the thief reading your book free of charge. He or she threatens negative feedback if you don't respond quickly, like within your guarantee period!!!!!
Protect yourself by marking the second copy by underlining just one word that wasn't underlined in the earlier copy. This means:
1) If the first copy without underlining is returned your ‘customer’ was lying and just wanted another copy of the book, one for himself, one for a refund. You should still give a refund, these people are not worth arguing with, but you must take steps to ensure they never again get your product free. Remove these people from your mailing list, include them in your ‘Banned Bidders’ list on eBay.
2) If the second copy comes back, the person could be genuine, so refund and give that person another chance at buying. If it happens again with the same person, follow the tips in the earlier paragraph to protect yourself in future.
Avril Harper is a business writer and eBay PowerSeller who has produced several guides to making money from eBay, including MAKE MONEY TEARING UP OLD BOOKS AND MAGAZINES AND SELLING THEM ON EBAY which you can read about at: http://www.magstoriches.com 103 POWERSELLER TIPS can be downloaded with other freely distributable reports and eBooks at http://www.avrilharper.com