Why the Change?
Making private auctions standard policy rather than optional was instated in March 2008 after an experimental program showed that hiding the bidder’s identity markedly decreased the instance of bidders falling for scams.
Especially with big ticket items, fraudsters were contacting high bidders with deep pockets pretending to be the eBay seller after the auction concluded. These crooks tried to get the bidder to send the money to an address other than the one provided through eBay's system but they would, of course, never follow through with the goods.
There have also been instances where an unscrupulous person would contact someone who bid on a high dollar item offering to sell another similar item for the same amount or less through a private transaction. Of course, the crooked seller never delivers the goods as promised and the unsuspecting buyer is out a big chunk of change with no recourse since the transaction took place outside of eBay's parameters.
Another advantage of private auctions is to protect the identity of a bidder buying for resale. Sometimes antique dealers want to buy anonymously so they can turn around and resell the item for a profit in a discreet manner, although eBay wasn’t likely concerned with this factor when they changed their private listing policy.
When Do Private Auctions Present a Problem?
Private auctions hide the high bidder's ID so it never shows publicly in the auction listing, even at auction end. Only the seller knows who has won his or her item. This allows a number of sellers who've been known to repeatedly pawn off fakes and misrepresented items on unsuspecting customers to continue their dirty deeds in a stealthier manner.
When all listings are private, it's impossible for honest eBay users who recognize a potential problem to contact the high bidder with a warning after the auction ends. In the past, knowledgeable good Samaritans would try to guide others in the right direction when concern was warranted. This is no longer an option.
How to Protect Yourself When Bidding on Private Auctions
In a nutshell, when bidding on eBay always:
- Check the seller's feedback before bidding. Avoid sellers with a number of negatives and bad neutrals, or a very low feedback rating.
- Look for prohibitive policies in listings regarding returns and refunds if an item is found to be a reproduction, misrepresented, or damaged when you receive it.
- Examine items carefully through both the photographs and descriptions provided.
- Email the seller any questions you have about the item prior to bidding. If they don’t reply, don’t bid.
- Use your credit card through PayPal (rather than keeping funds in your account) so that you have more leverage for recourse if the deal goes sour.
Pamela Y. Wiggins is the author of "Buying & Selling Antiques and Collectibles on eBay" (Thomson Course Technology).