Curiouser and curiouser: An Ebay Tale

PC-LJC--fastshow22An occasional post for any interested observer of Life on Ebay. If you are not nosey like me, you might want to look away now, but you will miss a good story, and you could learn something useful along the way. Hello hello hello, what do we have here?

Three fine Blue Notes in NM condition offered for auction the other week, of which I tracked only the two shown below (the third being off my radar at the time)

Larrissa_Fin-Original-listing-two-Blue-Notes

The auction – on which I had one bid on the Reece – attracted stiff competition and a good financial result for the lucky seller. Or so it seemed…

Larrissa_Fin---The-Winners

I lost on the Reece, which slightly  annoyed me at the time as I had my eye on it and had ventured over my house limit, but I  fell some way short of its final selling price. I had to have a closer look to see what sort of bidding habit this XXL-bid winner had.

By a strange coincidence, the buyer of each was the same:  z***j (private).  I thought it odd he was a private listed buyer – no doubt one of those private secret island and personal submarine -type collectors, whose hedges are mainly gold.

larissa_fin-1st-auction--BIDDING3

tokyojazzcollectorThe winner certainly had the hots for those Blue Notes, and had taken no chances to ensure they won. Their personal bid history was even more strange, not at all what I would have expected. I expected a 30 day  bid history of twenty or thirty snipes, a battle-hardened seasoned collector, or three hundred plus  – a dealer.The winner even beat the bid from my alter ego, the notorious  TokyoJazzCollector, Disc Union, so their maximum must have been truly eye-watering.

Larrissa_Fin winner Capture

The winner of all three Blue Note records had only bid on three records in the preceding 30 days,  100%  all placed with – our Finnish seller. How cosy. That might have been that, but for a strange turn of event which followed shortly:

Each of the LPs turned up in my daily watch list, immediately and mysteriously relisted. At first I thought the winner must have reneged on the auction – one of those prank bidders that turn up sometimes, but it all happened too quickly – not the usual three weeks waiting for payment, the offer a second chance. They were relisted more or less instantly.

larissa_fin 1st auction - relistsCapture

Relisted, but with a subtle difference to the first auction listing: See if you can spot it.

larissa_fin-1st-auction---relistsBuyItNow2

Having auction-tested the market to establish the worth of each record, they were put back immediately on the market at their auction final price, on a Buy It Now basis.

Now I wonder who the mysterious private buyer was?

Further, I wondered what sort of feedback our Seller from Finland had received in the past.  Positive feedback: 100% Feedback score: 447. Everything seemed perfectly “legitimate”.

One final piece of the investigation remained: viewing all feedback. There I finally spotted what I had been looking for:

larissa_fin 1st auction - relistsCapture5

A serial re-lister. That’s a new one for the Annals of Psychology of Ebay Behaviour (working title for a book I might someday write: To Bid, Or Not To Bid, That Is The Question)

I am at something of a loss to understand the subterfuge and the circuitous intrigue. The Blue Note collectors who were disappointed the first time around can put their hands deeper in their pockets, there is still time. Has he broken any rules? Is it shill-bidding to bid up a sale – to yourself?

My guess is that there is not much else to do in the Hi Tech Park of Lappeenranta, Finland. Lappeenranta is apparently  the International University City of Finland, and seems a really nice place. My guess is someone with an IQ certainly several multiples of mine has created an intellectually elegant way of maximizing the sale price of some quite desirable mint Blue Notes. If they exist at all that is. Those pictures of the jackets look worryingly  unreal. Personally, I won’t be Buying it Now  – too rich for me, but also altogether too improbable. Of course the story is not over yet. There may be more twists to come. Perhaps he is perfecting the technique. If you have any explanations I m curious to learn more. I have to say, there is never a dull moment on the world’s biggest and greatest market place.

Another of my favourite Record Shops in London has just closed, JB Records of Hanway Street, and another nearby still has virtually no jazz records for sale since earlier in the year a Chinese collector walked in and bought all 5,000 in one go, mostly low value reissues it should be said. So there are fewer and fewer alternatives to the friendly four letter word. Must dash now, I think it’s the postman at the door.

Mind how you go, and be careful out there.

LJC

Postscript 21:30 October 20, 2013

Oh dear. They seem to have blown it. It appears the Buy-it-Now ploy yielded no takers, at least this time around.

Larissa_Fin ended Capture

One of the problems with being very clever is that you think you know better than the market. The market is way smarter than you. In the heat of an auction, with several competing bidders, prices are spurred by competition: it’s you versus the other guys and you want to win. In the cold light of day, Buy It Now has no such spur, it’s just retail. Pricing is weaker, though auction is not without risk. Our friend is clearly not a psychologist.

May be it’s a long game. Or may be its not about selling records at all. It’s some other king of ploy. I watched an American seller the other years close a large number of auctions on his records at absurd prices, locked in with a “shadow bidder”. $800 on a commonly found Jimmy Smith? Who knows what the game was, certainly not selling records.  Tax audits, money laundering, I don’t have the faintest idea. But you sometimes find what looks like one thing is actually another.

Keep watching this space.

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29 thoughts on “Curiouser and curiouser: An Ebay Tale

  1. Great read. And educational too, I might add. So far my winning snipes have always been based on elaborate photo material to give an idea of the record in question and of course a well informed description. I’d have never taken part in neither the Reece nor the McLean, simply because of the poor photos. But that doesn’t take away the fact that your research clearly shows why the phrase “buyer beware” was ever coined 🙂

  2. Is there a way how to avoid paying final value fees to Ebay?? If not, why would this seller pay those fees only to establish a proper buy-in price?

  3. I guess this is a good time to make my first contribution, I also bid on the Reece, but as the seller had already listed it once and then ended the auction and relisted a couple of days later I was already a little dubious. Likewise a near mint copy with just the two pictures, if it seems too good to be true, well let’s just say I wasn’t surprised to see it listed as a buy it now so soon after the auction, it definitely doesn’t smell right.

  4. I could be wrong, but I’d guess he went over-board (perhaps intentionally) driving up the high bid on his own items using a dummy account. He ended up winning the auction, but established a market ceiling and then re-listed the items based on the third highest bidders’ mark. He would be the top, the angry guy being number 2, and the likely or comparative 3rd bidder being a potential customer or future high-water mark.
    He has to be willing to “bust” and estrange the other top bidder, which he sees as better than letting anyone steal the auction in a chance low outcome. Certainly a quick scan of popsike or creating a well listed auction would save him the trouble, but, alas …
    I seriously doubt the record(s) or seller was ever in any other location. If anything its one guy in Russia who drives to post whatever he managed to sell at an his newly discovered Buy-it-Now price. I see a tax dodge as being a potential motivation to add a little complication to his method.

    La Fin pour Le Fin

    • HI Arick:

      Hmmm. A plausible explanation, but somewhat unlikely. From what I could determine, the original winning bidder appears legit and has an identity, history and reputation of his own. But then again, the two may have acted in cahoots, who knows?. But if that was the ploy, it clearly failed miserably as the two items remain unsold. Assuming, of course, that they ever actually existed.

      In any event, it would be difficult to establish a market ceiling based on the fraudulent bid, unless, of course, you meant that the next highest bidder (#2) helped set such ceiling which, yes, is possible.

    • HI Freddy:

      You can’t. Ebay would not let you put in bids lower than the current high bid. Otherwise, as a seller, I would be dealing with throngs of envious Bob Djukic wannabees trying to subvert and undermine my eBay listings. Believe me, there’s a party-pooper in every crowd.

  5. Some good news for you after all the intrigue, JB Records have reopened in Lower Marsh Street just behind Waterloo station (so no more time wasted at passport control for your shopping missions) and they have plenty of nice jazz lp’s. Also Harold Moore’s slowly seem to be getting some more jazz stock but as ever it is in general massively overpriced tat but you might get lucky and find something there occasionally.

    • Cool, thanks, that’s really good news – just other end of the road from seriously eccentric Gramex at number 25, a new vinyl hub, south of the river (just). But I’ll still need my North London visa, for the occasional visit to Crouch End.

    • grammex are fhinished and have been for jazz records for over 4 years now no cash to buy records and no certainly no modern jazz vinyl knowledge between them
      jbs records? overpriced and outta here thank god! not buying jazz at present
      and Harold moores please!! still living in distant memories of the legendary mole jazz in grays inn road
      I would love to know who their benefactor is I heard rumoured Stephen fry when they were about to go under

  6. Andy, kudos and hosannas on your snooping instincts, which I must say are absolutely impressive (shoulda been a Scotland Yard gumshoe) . I must admit that I do not often buy on eBay and shenanigans of this nature often elude me.

    From what I can determine, your forensic analysis of this case is virtually 100% accurate, but with a caveat (see below for details). This clearly is some sort of demented psychological – but not only psychological – game, but I caution that you may have missed a few minor details in your dissection..

    First of all, the auction buyer’s identity is NOT “private”. We know exactly who he is, where he is located and what his feedback score is. What you have displayed is the confidential (not published by eBay) timeline of the bidding, which is opaque and “censored” by eBay so that third parties cannot display it (and for good reasons: this would open a Pandora’s Box of meddling and tampering with the bidding process)

    The seller of the two Reece’s pieces (pun intended) – actually, one Reece’s, the other McLean’s – has a user ID is which has a very distinct structure and format. Of course, the user ID does not have to connote anything meaningful, but in this case it appears to be the name of the seller plus a physical location of the enterprise (Finland).

    What immediately sticks out like a sore thumb is that the seller’s name (assuming that it is a real name) is decidedly NOT Finnish. It is a DISTINCTLY Russian/Ukrainian name. OK, my dear Watson, nothing strange or wrong about Russians living in Finland. Hey, after all, they owned the place until 1917 and it was only after Marshall Mannerheim kicked Stalin’s assets out of Finland in 1940 that they (temporarily) lost their desire to repopulate Finland with babushkas and batiushkas and other interesting and altogether charming characters we shall not bother to enumerate..

    And, oh. Lest I forget. Lappeenranta, ostensibly the seller’s home town, is about 20 km from the Russian border. It is essentially a border town. Gosh, this is beginning to resemble one of Orson Welles’ movies. The Finnish seller, located a rock’s throw away from Russia is selling highly valuable American merchandise to the UK buyer (calling Marlene Dietrich…calling Marlene Dietrich….do you read me?) . And let me guess: the seller probably has a Paypal account registered in Moldova. Or South Ossetia.. Or Bhutan.

    You have to pardon me all for saying so, but something reeketh to high heaven here.

    If you query eBay’s database (use “find a member” function from the eBay site map), you will come up with some rather intriguing minutiae. And this is where the plot (cue in the dramatic crescendo) thickens like borscht.

    Look for seller’s name, and this is what you get (you may have to log in to your eBay account to view the database “hits”; I have blanked-out the suffixes of the user IDs to protect the user privacy):

    larissa_xxx Santa Catarina,Brazil
    larissa_xxx São paulo.,Brazil
    larissa_xxx Italy
    larissa_xxx WI,United States
    larissa_xxx Paraíba,Brazil
    larissa_xxx Germany
    larissaxxx South,Israel
    larissasxxx MD,United States
    larissasxxx France

    The “mask” or the format of these user IDs is near-dentical: name-underscore-location code in most cases.

    These users – or, as I suspect – the same user with multiple aliases – have eBay user histories varying from 2 to 10 years, with the one in MD (Maryland, US) having the longest one (10 years), leading me to believe that this is a “mother” user, while all other user IDs are subsidiaries, or “daughter” users either incorporated or, more likely, merely registered, on different (national) eBay sites. Actually, a correction: not registered on different eBay web sites, but registered with seller addresses in different nations, possibly even on the same (main) eBay site..

    Of course, and in the interest of fairness, I must stress this: my assumption may be entirely wrong. It is entirely possible that we are dealing with 10 entirely different Larissas living all over the world and unsuspecting of other living and breathing Larissas elsewhere, who just happen to have identical ideas how to pick their eBay user IDs. Hey, it’s the Jungean synchronicity at work!

    But, seriously, and in the interest of full disclosure, I must add that Larissa – to my HUGE shock – is the 13th most popular female name in Brazil (I kid you not. Move over Antonia, make way for Larissa)., so it is entirely possible that we are dealing with different identities here. Not likely, mind you, just possible. I am definitely NOT accusing anyone of anything, just saying what the most logical implication or inference appears to be.

    What kind of motive might a seller have to register under different aliases in different countries? I have no idea. I never actively considered the possibility, but here are some possible reasons:

    (1) Avoiding income tax: eBay – via Paypal, it’s payment wing – reports to tax authorities seller’s taxable income exceeding certain annual limit (I believe it is $20,000 in the US, may be different in other countries). Fragmenting the sales and collecting paypal payments in different countries under detectable tax threshold undoubtedly circumvents, to put it mildly, local tax laws and regulations. I am not saying that those laws are either fair or just, but they ARE laws.

    (2) Listing the same item concurrently on different eBay national sites. What logic would this serve? Hmmm. Hypothetically, the seller could sell only the item which sold for the highest price, and then cancel (or prematurely terminate) items listed on other national eBay sites. Sounds convoluted? Impractical? Sure is. But the world was never a very rational place. Some folks will stop at nothing to maximize their profit (why is everybody looking at me?).

    (3) Increasing visibility and exposure. Or maybe not. It is difficult to increase visibility if you are operating under different aliases. Your visibility gets divided by the number of your aliases.

    (4) “Baiting” other eBay users into favoring a seller, establishing his seller name, inducing others to monitor his sales and subscribing to his store newsletter. Absolutely possible, even likely.

    But as they say, the simplest explanation is usually the correct one, and I think you hit the nail on the head right off the bat: the seller simply wanted to establish the upper price limit for his items so that (s)he could relist them as buy-it-now items, payable immediately (this is a critical little detail). Now, by what kind of deranged logic would a legitimate seller cancel what appears to be a legitimate (and rather high) winning auction bid and then relist the same item for the same price as buy-it-now, while instantly antagonizing the ONLY person who might be able (or willing) to pay his asking (buy-it-now) price and – get this – incurring his wrath and his two consecutive negative feedbacks? Beats me. I am just here on this bizarro galaxy in passing. How, or if, the local life forms reason is entirely beyond me.

    Ah, but my dear Watson, we are nowhere near the resolution of this case.

    Read on:

    On August 12, 2013 the original (auction) buyer files two negative feedbacks (visible on his profile, as copied in the screenshots on the LJC page). But if you check the SELLER’S feedback profile, the two negative feedbacks are nowhere to be found. The seller’s feedback score remains as glowing and resplendent as ever. Sheer bliss! You would not imagine for a second that this seller had a particularly acrimonious argument, even conflict, with one of his winning bidders.

    This could mean that:

    (a) Either eBay protected the seller by removing the negative feedback (which would be very unusual and extremely atypical for eBay; I don’t believe eBay ever did any such thing for me in the entire course of my 14-year user history and 30,000-something feedbacks)

    = or =

    (b) The seller and the buyer made a deal to retract the negative feedback, and so the derogatory feedback only remains visible as a feedback given (on buyer’s side), but not feedback received (on seller’s). If so, under what terms and conditions the two parties might have reached a mutually satisfactory deal remains opaque and metaphysical. It does not appear that the original winner has anything to show for his retraction (???), since the two items are still available and collecting dust on eBay as buy-it-now price items and, obviously, were never sold or shipped to him (moral of the story: eBay sellers, please do not slaughter the golden-egg-laying chicken for a pair of chicken wings; your auction winner is much more valuable than your buy-it-now buyer).

    All things considered, this is how I reconstruct the flow of events. Larissa #1, located in United States, acquires two (or more?) valuable Blue Note pieces. Does not know what to do with them, but know that they are valuable (this is what God invented Popsike for);; after finding out how much they are potentially worth, declines to list them on eBay’s main (US) site, probably for tax reasons; passes the discs on to Larissa # 2 located in Russia (most likely as a cheap gift to avoid Russian customs distress), who is registered as eBay seller across the border as a Finnish resident or guest-worker. Why Finland, you might ask? Well, that’s easy. First of all, aside from the obvious advantage of proximity to Russia, Russian post office is notoriously unreliable, slow and physically abusive, and using the Russian post office to ship the goods would seriously risk incurring loss, damage or theft (not to mention: Paypal chargeback), so the Finnish address (and post office) comes in very handy. Secondly, and more importantly, postal authorities in certain East European countries have this nasty little tendency to report the outbound (exiting the country) items as potential sales and revenue-raising items, which then have to be registered either with customs or income tax authorities. Bummer!!! It is much easier to drive 20 kms across the border and, oh, “accidentally” carry a few nondescript American records of symbolic value in the trunk, plus a few loose piece of cardboard which can neatly serve as mailers. Return address? No worries. A Finnish P.O,Box will do.

    Alas, Larissa #2 knows absolutely nothing about Jazz – or, for that matter, the records in general – except to parrot the same line (“VERY RARE JAZZ LP”) and a few popular details (ear stamp, deep groove, etc). But there is a problem. Larissa # 2 must flip the item and turn some profit as soon as possible so that she can cut a piece of action for Larissa #1, so she is in a mad scramble to sell as quickly as possible, as high as possible. Ah, but therein lies the rub. If she lists her wares as auction items. the winning bidder does not have to pay instantly, can drag his feet for weeks, and may not even pay at all, while Larissa # 2 is left holding the eBay’s final value fees and listing fees bag. Bummer # 2.

    To work around this problem, Larissa # 2 lists a frivolous auction, which receives legitimate (?) bids, then comes up with a cockamamie excuse to relist the items as buy-it-now items, thus allowing her to get paid (and pay Larissa # 1, or her designated proxies in Russia) right away. And, oh, those who care to know how the bidder established the selling price can simply search the seller’s prior sales history and see that the same items were sold for exactly the same amount to a bad, bad, baaaaad UK buyer who did not pay on time and actually waited all of 15 seconds before attempting to pay.

    Voila! UK buyer screwed. US Tax zero, Russian Tax zero. Finnish tax zero. It is one very happy day in Walhalla.

    Am I saying that this is an elaborate and very well organized global network? Hell, no!. Would I ever? Am I saying that someone violated the moral or legal norms? God forbid. Am I saying that something is not kosher here? Never in a million years!

    Well, that’s all folks. The long and the short (mostly long) of the mysterious case of Blue Notes popping up all over Arctic Circle and beyond. Call this a mysterious case of Vinyl Orient Express, if you wish.

    Garcon, please summon Miss Marple. I have an eerie premonition she might be interested in this case.

    .

    • Lt. Columbo: There’s just one more thing, sir! One more thing, before I forget… (raises hand to forehead) That’s a perfect explanation, sir, but the door was locked from the inside, yet the room was empty, which only you could have known – because you had already moved the body.

      Larrisa_Uk: Damn you Columbo, you’re smart, but you’ll never take me alive! (leaps through window)

      Roll credits.

      • WAIT, LARISSA, WAiT !!!! DON’T LEAP !!! I HAVE MANY MORE TEDIOUS AND LONG-WINDED LJC POSTS TO MAKE ! IT’S NOT OVER YET! YOU MAY STILL RECEIVE A CLEMENCY FROM DAVID CAMERON !!! VLAD PUTIN MAY DECIDE TO INVADE EBAY !!! IRS MAY ABOLISH ITSELF!!! ALL HOPE IS NOT LOST!

        (thud!)

        (the sounds of screams)

        Darn….

        Someone please call the Russian priest.

        And pass the mop, please. The big one.

    • Ha ha! Brilliant work, Bob. I was just going to suggest that the seller’s alias points to a Russian connection, but I couldn’t possibly have presented my case as convincingly.

  7. It’s funny, I’ve been buying jazz LP’s from Ebay now for several years and this is the first time I see there is a Finnish jazz record seller on Ebay! And it turns out it could be a bad guy! Or wait a minute…Is it a gal ?
    We got only 5 million people here so there can’t be too many jazz LP collectors in Finland. At the time these records were released you propably just couldn’t buy them because either there was no market for jazz records or they were too expensive because of taxes etc. Maybe only in Helsinki you could find jazz records those days. Most likely 50-60 years old MN collections just don’t exist here.
    This seller seems to have been mainly buying. And selling nice stuff around 2007 and very little after that. To get the whole picture it would be nice to be able to view sold items.

    I’m always surprised how reliable US Ebay seller really are! There are often LP’s that are not quite as described but more often I’m very pleased with records I’ve bought.

  8. In each of the newly re-listed items, the Finn says “Is relisted due to the timewaster,” as if the private bidder was somebody known to him. Still it doesn’t explain the apparently shocked bidder form 2010. A real caution, alright. Why on earth would somebody want “private” status anyway?

  9. Strange – if it was a shill then why the feedback and why relist immediately instead of later with a sob story about non-payment? If it’s a scam then why not take the money before relisting it? Why relist the records at lower prices than the bids you got for them on a Buy it Now level? If it was a scam the seller would surely maximise profits in a straight auction.
    It seems that the seller worked out the potential value and then relisted the records at that value.
    I think LJC’s interpretation of someone messing about with nothing better to do is most likely.

    • First off, I’m not claiming to know what happened here. It’s always possible that there is some innocent explanation.

      However, a common scenario (and the one LJC is positing, I believe) is that the a seller bids on his own items with a shill account in attempt to run up the final sale value. However, in doing so they run the risk of outbidding the legitimate bidders and accidentally winning their own auction. Usually, sellers are too cautious to then brazenly turn around and immediately re-list the item the next day.

      With regards to the negative feedback you are referring to- that is from an earlier auction in 2010 and could potentially be a symptom of another tactic: canceling a sale after an item sells for a low price the seller is unhappy with. Again, usually the seller doesn’t immediately re-list the item for sale as makes things far more obvious.

      All of this is only to emphasize that buyers ought to be cautious and pay close attention to bidding patterns on items, especially when hundreds of dollars/pounds are at stake. While most eBay sellers are just out to make an honest buck, there are plenty who play the game with loaded dice and I have seen it first hand.

  10. As I understand, bidding on your own items using an account other than your own is completely against eBay rules:

    http://pages.ebay.com/help/policies/seller-shill-bidding.html#what

    This kind of stuff is going on all the time, though usually it’s not quite so obvious. Moreover, eBay seems almost completely disinterested in policing this kind of activity. The more sales, the more revenue for them.

    In my experience, it’s usually fairly easy to spot shill bidders by checking the “bid activity with this seller” statistic, as you did. Typical shills tend to use multiple incremental bids to drive up the item price. Also, shill accounts almost always have very low feedback numbers.

    Since eBay doesn’t seem particularly focused on preventing this kind of activity, it will continue largely unabated. As with almost everything else on eBay the rule is “caveat emptor”.

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