Spotted a misdescribed fake on eBay?
2. Contacting the seller - be polite
Sellers who reacted favourably to receiving information on misdescribed items
Sellers who needed persuading that action was needed, or preferred to wait till auction end before passing the information received on to bidders
Sellers who took no action on advice received about misdescribed items
|23 Jan 03||Writing to sellers - more on the important part diplomacy plays in making sellers more amenable to changing descriptions or ending auctions early|
How many times have you been ploughing through eBay listings looking for that elusive item to add to your collection when you see something that makes you sigh with dismay. A fake or a forgery. But that is not what distresses you. After all, you know that there are many fakes and forgeries around, and eBay is certainly the place to find them. The thing that leaves you ashen-faced, however, is that the seller has not described it as such. It may be written up as genuine, possibly genuine, or alternatively you see the ubiquitous "see scan" with no other description. And there is also the catch-all phrase "as is". What to do, what to do.....
Do you blame the seller? Many do, thinking that sellers are out to rip everyone off. But think again. It is a bit too much to ask sellers to be experts on all the items they list. Some are recognised dealers, breaking up collections they have bought outside of eBay. Possibly the better items have been sold elsewhere, and what is left goes on eBay. Others are collectors selling off surplus stock or items not in their collecting field. We cannot expect every item to be properly and fully described, though we can hope!
What about contacting SafeHarbor - would they take any notice, or even pull the item? Generally, the answer is no. They are unlikely to do anything about it, and you may get a response along the lines of "we often cannot remove items based on representations of third parties", or may suggest that you ask the seller questions on the age, authenticity and condition of the item before bidding.
eBay has recently reviewed its policy on the listing of forgeries, as the following response from SafeHarbor shows:
"We generally do allow forgeries of stamps, so long as the seller states they are forgeries, or has an image with the stamp labelled as a forgery. We will not allow forgeries that are attempted to defraud either the mail system or deceive bidders, however."
If you feel that you need to contact eBay urgently after having already registered your complaint with SafeHarbor, you could try the Emergency User Contact Board, where staff are on hand to answer questions. The "Green Links Box" is regularly posted to the board, and has a multitude of links, including contacting Rules & Safety about violations. The Trust and Safety Board is also worth keeping in mind, as its many regulars are dedicated to keeping eBay safe from fraud.
A probably more productive option is to contact the seller before the auction ends. We are all unofficial voluntary "policemen" on eBay. This is more obvious at the Stamps chat board, where specialists from around the world answer questions on almost any philatelic topic and will discuss fakes and forgeries presented to them. Many chat board members, and undoubtedly others, email sellers to tell them of fakes or forgeries they have noticed on the basis of the seller's scan. Alternatively, if they are suspicious, they may ask the seller for a better scan to improve their chances of making a determination.
You can do this too, if your expertise is sufficient for you to be certain. Make sure that you phrase your advice politely, so that sellers would be unlikely to think you are telling them how to run their business, and that they would have reason to believe your credentials as an expert.
I have found during my time on the Stamps chat board that writing a polite email to sellers has been a positive and effective strategy in getting them to re-examine items, change descriptions or end auctions early, and also improves their relationships with bidders.
It is important to state your qualifications up front, before getting into the nitty gritty of your particular concern in a constructive manner. I have vinobub to thank for some splendid introductory wording, along the lines of:
"Allow me to introduce myself as a specialist collector of....."
which has been shown to work with sellers, getting them on side, and I personally have since used this phrase many times with success.
Present your opinions politely as opinions, and if possible offer a comparative scan or a link to a webpage dealing with forgeries of that item. You could also refer them to any relevant literature, as this may help sellers determine for themselves the nature of the misdescription, and knowledge of these references could prevent them from making future errors.
I cannot stress enough the importance of diplomacy in communications with sellers (and indeed with bidders!). We cannot expect sellers to change descriptions or end auctions early if we do not write diplomatically or do not back up our emails with our own credentials or references to literature or websites. And if we rub sellers the wrong way, then it just makes more work for concerned collectors who have to continually deal with seeing misdescribed material from antagonistic sellers down the track.
In Appendix 1, you will find many encouraging examples of sellers who have acted on advice and either ended the auction early or amended the description to make note of the fake, forgery or problem.
Appendix 2 contains examples of sellers who were less quick to act, needed persuasion from more than one member before acting, or preferred to wait until auction end before notifying the high bidder of the problem. Perhaps they wanted to check the information given to them, or were unused to the idea of changing descriptions or terminating auctions.
But what if the seller does not reply, or does nothing? You may feel it would be the decent thing to do to contact the bidders. However, it is considered "transaction interference" to notify the buyers during the time that an auction is in progress. Most bidders of course would be grateful, but just one of them contacting the seller about receiving the warning might spell big trouble for you with eBay. Even when the auction is over, it is still unwise to contact bidders, as eBay's "transaction interference" rule no longer permits this practice either.
See Appendix 3 for examples where sellers were contacted but did nothing. For lots that were sold, the high bidders were then contacted where possible, as it was prior to the above rule change.
It is natural to feel concern when you see a misleading auction description of a fake, forgery or an item that has been altered in some way. However, by following the above suggestions, you may feel that you are "making a difference" in the continued fight against the proliferation of these items into the collecting community. Your good deed of helping to educate a seller may be very much appreciated, and eBay will be a safer and fairer place to trade.
Some sellers will be receptive to the information you present, and either end the auction early or amend the description to make note of the fake, forgery or problem. Here are some examples of favourable responses by sellers.
In late July 2001, the seller "diman55" listed three Italian stamps with certificates by Maurizio Raybaudi Massilia (Italian expert). However, inspection of the scans by a board member revealed that the stamps listed were different to the photos on the certificates. It was believed that two board members contacted this seller, to no avail. This seller had listed other items that were shown to be fakes or forgeries, and had overrated the condition of some stamps.
More than a year later, this seller contacted me expressing surprise and disappointment to be found written up in this article. The seller had no recollection of the above events and, whilst admitting that mistakes could possibly have been made in good faith, informed me that anyone who has requested a refund has received it. The seller's return policy states:
"I guarantee the integrity and the quality of the stamps sold (whatever may be clearly seen by the image, as for instance centering or cancels, is left to buyer's attention and is obviously excluded from the warranty). All lots may be returned within 14 days from receipt for every defect not stated in the description and/or not visible in the image."
The seller admitted to selling some fakes (offered "as is") amongst a variety of good quality material, according to market demand. No fakes were sold as genuine items, however, and refunds were offered on those stamps offered as genuine but which were later discovered to be fakes.
The seller has since contacted me again, this time attaching a polite email written to one of the board members concerned which explained the reason for the different certificate and that the description had been corrected:
"I really thank you very much for your notice.
In effect the stamp shown on the certificate has been sold and the stamp actually in auction came together the other two in the certificate because it is signed by Chiavarello (they were put together to avoid loosing the one signed).
However I corrected the description and I thank you very much for your very kind notice."
The seller "stampmad" added a change to the description of an auction for three Nigeria Oil Rivers stamps (SG1, 2 & 4 used) as a result of a chat board member emailing him that one of the stamps appeared to have a forged overprint. After the seller supplied the member with a more detailed scan, the identification of the forged overprint on the stamp on the right was confirmed. The change read:
"I have had information that the stamp which I have called #4 is in fact a forgery of the double overprint of SG32. If you are bidding on this auction solely for this stamp please be aware of this fact. Any current bidders are welcome to withdraw their bids before the close."
The seller stated that he was happy to have been told, as he would have had a very irate buyer if it weren't for the advice presented and acted on. All three bidders retracted their bids. One, with zero feedback, wrote to the seller expressing gratitude that the seller was so honest.
The seller "lkburgman" added a change to this description of a " Great Barrier Island stamp - Special Post, One shilling, almost complete circular date stamp that says Apr.3, 1899, Pigeon Service" as a result of a chat board member emailing her that it was a probable forgery. The change read:
"THIS NOTE WAS SENT TO ME EARLY THIS MORNING. IF ANYONE WANTS TO REMOVE A BID, I FULLY UNDERSTAND. "I regret that this item may well be a forgery. The genuine stamp has a line before the letter "G" of "GREAT" and a dot after the word "POST". These are both missing in one of the two best known forgeries, and regrettably in the picture of your item for sale."
The seller "cinnamone" listed a German Feldpost cover which, according to members of the Third Reich Stamps Group, had been upgraded to a Waffen SS cover by the addition of a fake handstamp. The group moderator advised the seller of this. The auction was later terminated by eBay on other grounds. However, the seller was unaware that the cover contained the fake handstamp, appreciated receiving the information and stated that he would seek a refund from the person from whom he bought the cover.
The seller "domenico" was grateful for information received from a chat board member concerning a listing of a " mixed postage Civil War era cover from Santa Barbara with Scott #63 and #65 stamps", and added the following change to his description:
"AN ADDED NOTE SINCE LISTING THIS COVER. MY THANKS TO A CLIENT WHO HAS CALLED THE FOLLOWING TO MY ATTENTION: I believe this cover is missing two 3-cent stamps. Looks like they were to the right of the faulty 3-cent. The missing stamps would have made up the 10-cent west-coast rate."
The seller "harbourstamps" was politely informed by a chat board member that one of his items, a Great Britain QV 8d, appeared to have a reperforated margin. He promptly sent the following response:
"Thank you for pointing this out - you are of course right, an 8d value with this lettering must have originally had a wing margin. The perfs look suspicious too, and I should have spotted that. I have ended the auction early, there were no bidders."
The seller "georgetownlaw" listed some Brazil material and had misidentified a few of the tough stamps in one lot. A chat board member sent him an email explaining the differences. The seller cancelled the auction a few hours later and sent the member an apologetic and grateful email.
A German Samoa cover listed by the seller "spoogeman" was discussed on the chat board. The consensus was that it was a German WWI field post cover to which a fake cancel had been added. After the auction ended, the high bidder sent the seller a synopsis of the discussion. The seller came to the chat board and informed members that he had refunded the buyer's money and had also sent the cover to him as a gift for his reference collection. He thanked members for pointing out the forgery, as he didn't ever want to see anyone get "burned" on a lot. Board members commended the seller for his honesty and integrity.
The seller "mayfair99" listed Spain 19 cuartos of 1860 and 19 cuartos of 1865 in separate auctions. They were both forgeries, which were being offered as genuine. Soon after the auctions started, a board member passed this information to the seller, who terminated both auctions within 48 hours.
The seller "alhpcs" listed Sarawak Scott #1, and was advised by a board member that it was a crude forgery. The seller acknowledged the email, but as the description had not changed, the member sent a follow-up email. The seller cancelled the auction some hours later.
The U.S. 1893 Columbus stamps listed by the seller "fairstamp" caused much discussion among board members, even though they were described as being in mixed condition with the high values rebacked and reperfed. Large scans were provided of the stamps and of the backs of the high values. Several board members wrote to the seller about this lot, some showing concern that the high values may be the 1992 issue, there was a marked difference in the colour of the paper (too white) and the perforations were all wrong. The good reputation of the seller was mentioned in some of the posts.
This listing received occasional comment on the board over the following week. Not long before the auction was due to close, the seller emailed the bidders, cancelled the bids and terminated the auction, then wrote to those who had given advice. He stated in one reply:
"I must admit, I would not have discovered this to be a forgery. The stamps are all in bad condition that is why I scanned the back side also. It is probably one of the reasons, why people realized it to be bogus. I feel little ashamed (not too much though, since mistakes cannot be fully avoided), but I still learn from this case. I should have participated in the ebay discussion board, but I was not in that whole week. I feel satisfied though, that so many people defended me, even though I did not react until Saturday. It shows that quite a few people know, I have always been honest with my stamps, and if I made a mistake I have always set it right."
I think you are getting the idea now, so I won't give you any more case histories. However, I would like to make note of the seller "baudin", who was mentioned on the Stamps chat board as polite and receptive to advice.
Some sellers needed advice from more than one member before they took action, or decided to wait till the auction closed before alerting the high bidder. Whatever the reason, persistence by board members paid off, and the following sellers eventually acted.
The seller "firstname.lastname@example.org" advertised a U.S. 1947 exhibition souvenir sheet cut-out as an 1875 "imitation" of the 1847 issue, accompanied by a beautiful screen-sized scan (reduced here). A chat board member drew attention to it, and the many U.S. collectors confirmed the error in the description. In spite of the seller's being informed of this before bidding began, the listing remained unchanged. Members became increasingly concerned as auction end approached, and discussion turned to contacting the high bidder. This was done straight after the auction terminated, apparently by many board members.
The high bidder was grateful for the concern and support shown by members, and planned not to go through with the transaction, regardless of the threat of negative feedback. An email from the seller to a member stated that the seller did not know much about stamps, and that as the stamp was mounted in the 1875 reprint space in an album, that was how it was listed. The sincerity of the seller's email gave us cause to feel that the transaction would be terminated amicably. Thanks to the many emails from board members, perhaps another honest seller was inspired.
The seller "ajossi" listed a Sierra Leone 3d used stamp. The diamond dot cancellation alerted members to the possibility of a forged stamp, and it was soon confirmed as a Spiro forgery. The member who politely emailed the seller of this received a similarly polite response that the auction winner would be notified of the forgery.
The seller "email@example.com" listed a New Hebrides 1920 French 5c on 50c "without Condominium" variety for $349. The "5c" overprint was markedly different to known genuine examples, and this was brought to the attention of the chat board soon after the auction began. The seller was presented with a comparison scan and a link to many genuine examples on the New Hebrides website, but received only the response, "We will reverify it but all our single items are offered with guarantee", and the auction continued. Only after another board member contacted the seller was the auction terminated. The seller stated that the stamp will be sent off for expertisation.
The seller was also informed that the Germany 1953 "Frankfurt Expo" Panes currently listed showed line perforations, appearing to be one of the modern German forgeries documented in the "Peter Winter and the modern German forgeries on eBay" article. The seller amended the description for this auction to include mention of the forgery, and it finished a day later with no bids. This item was since relisted at a lower price.
The seller "bm-hier" listed two sets of German used stamps, the Marienkirche issue and the NBA issue. These were reported on the chat board as forgeries, and two members contacted the high bidders. The high bidder of the "Marienkirche" was told that the seller suddenly saw that both stamps "were damaged" and could not be sold at this price, and a similar excuse was given to the winner of the second lot. Had the board members not acted, it is possible that these forgeries may have been sold as genuine. See the "Peter Winter and the modern German forgeries on eBay" article for more information on these forgeries and on this incident.
The seller "karlmarq" listed Spain No. 188 and Spain No. 189 used stamps in 3-day auctions. Immediately after the auctions started, a board member notified the seller that the two stamps could not be genuine. The cancel on each (the Trebol or "Cloverleaf" design) was not in existence until 1878, and the stamps were no longer valid for use at that time. Most high values were used for telegraph purposes and received a punch cancel. These were often "repaired" and either passed off as genuine unused without gum, or had a fake cancel applied.
The seller responded with "Thanks", but did nothing further. Confirmation was made by another collector of Spain that the cancels were not in use at the time of the postal validity of the stamps.
The stamps sold for $26 and $117.50 , and the concerned member contacted the high bidders. The sale of the #188 did not go through, and the stamp was offered again. The seller was again contacted, as eventually was the high bidder, when the stamp sold for $51. This sale too did not go through.
The seller "hadleigh" became aware of a Stamps chat board discussion of 1877-82 Samoa Express stamps (Sc1-3, Sc4-6 and Sc7-8), which he had listed for $450, and which were found to contain reprints or forgeries. After emailing a board member and receiving a reply, the seller did nothing to change the description. The lot remained unsold.
The seller "ozphila" listed a postally used Queensland 1881 20/- stamp for AU$39.50 . At least one chat board member informed him that it was actually a fiscal cancel. The seller did nothing and the auction ended with no bids. The seller relisted the item for AU$19.50 without changing the title of the auction. Chat board members recontacted the seller regarding the misdescription, but again nothing was done. Note that the description consisted of only "See pic." for both auctions.
This item eventually sold for AU$47.00, and the high bidder was contacted by at least two board members. The seller was eventually persuaded to doubt the authenticity of the stamp and cancel the transaction, but only through the persistence of board members who were knowledgeable in this area.
In February 2002, the seller "stampsrus2001" offered fake Indochina imerf blocks as proofs. When notified by a board member that they were fake, the seller indicated that he didn't know what he was selling. Soon afterwards, he offered more such material, still described as "proofs". Both sets of auctions were 3-day private auctions. This seller has bought similar material from "atdinvest", whose activities as a fake overprint seller are documented in the article "Fake overprints from Hialeah/Miami/Sunshine State on eBay".
In February 2002, the seller "virgin", who usually places an "as is" caveat on all his 19th century material, offered a Tasmania 1860 6d imperf "as is". The seller defines "as is" in his terms of trade as:
"We believe this item is genuine but cannot guarantee its authenticity."
When notified by a board member that it could not have existed imperf unless it had been trimmed, the seller indicated that he would withdraw the item. He didn't, however, and the item received a bid. At the end of auction, the bidder was stuck with a $20 fake.
© 2001, Sheryll Oswald, All Rights Reserved.
Material from this article may be reproduced only with the written consent of Sheryll Oswald.
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