Online Auction Scams: Caveat Emptor! - Mixonline

Online Auction Scams: Caveat Emptor!

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fuston-slam.web.jpg

The real Lynn Fuston with his real SLAM!

A recent item on eBay brings up the need to be careful when buying gear online. Some overseas seller (surprise: It was the UK this time... they must be getting wise to the fact that Indonesian sellers are a tip-off) was offering a mastering version of a Manley SLAM! limiter with a way-too-cheap price. The serial number and description—complete with typos—were taken from a legitimate auction that closed a few days before, and the listing included a bunch of photos (including a shot of Nashville engineer Lynn Fuston posing with his non-mastering version of a SLAM!, taken from Fuston’s Website, www.3daudioinc.com. So on the surface, it all looked great—a deal too good to pass up—but Fuston was certainly surprised when friends informed him that his picture was adorning someone's scam auction page.

It's an old technique. Go onto Google Images and search for the name of the item you want to sell and you'll be rewarded with tons of great pictures to use for your scam. About a year ago, someone was "selling" a vintage Theremin on eBay and the description was accompanied with photos from every angle of the real thing, copped from a legitimate Website, which gave the impression that the auction seller was genuine. It wasn't.

To be fair and to keep a balanced perspective, one should realize that there are a zillion auctions happening everyday and most of them are good people with legitimate offerings. Like lots of other pro audio denizens, I buy (and occasionally sell) stuff on eBay myself. However, there are some sharks out there in the pond, and it's best to be careful. For some reason—perhaps because Manley stuff is pricey (but worth it)—Manley Labs gear and other studio treasures such as vintage mics—and even SSL consoles—seem to surface on online auctions with some regularity, offered by fraudulent sellers.

Here's some online bidding advice from EveAnna Manley of Manley Labs: "There have been many instances of people listing 16x2 mixers, SLAM!s and other high-buck Manley gear on eBay for ridiculously low prices,” she told Mix. “If you are considering 'winning' those auctions, think about a few things. Beware when you buy something like this that is priced just too good to be true. The price that fraudsters typically list at is below our build cost. Anyone with half brains would list it much much higher and make some bucks.

"Look at the items the 'seller' has previously sold or bought. Nothing at all? Uh-huh. Or what? One guy we busted was using someone's account who only bought and sold stamps. I placed a bid on the item and got the seller's info and called him up. That account holder was a guy in Canada who collected stamps and owned a Baskin Robbins franchise. Sound like he might have an expensive exotic Manley mixer for sale? No way. He wasn't aware his account had been compromised. So look out for listings that might be account hijackings.

"Be careful—and use PayPal and buy the extra protection. And don't ever just send cash or have PayPal yank money right out of your bank account. Don't use a ATM/check card. Use a credit card so if the transaction goes south, you at least have recourse with your credit card company. Don't send a cashier's check or send money to some unknown seller overseas. And those overseas sellers that only accept Western Union? If you're gullible enough to bid on those auctions, you will learn a very expensive lesson.

"Watch for the 'I have to sell it right now due to (pick one): a) divorce b) has to move c) needs to buy a car d) some other urgent need. Yeah, right. Do these sellers look like they're even in the recording business? Is their e-mail a real ISP or a free Yahoo or Hotmail account? Be careful. Real people have domains and Websites and phone numbers and real addresses and real businesses. Think!

"Get all details about the seller before the auction closes and before the 'seller' changes his ID. Definitely make contact with the seller or 'seller' before you make payment. Speak with the seller by telephone if you can. And make sure they know they have something for sale on eBay and their account hasn't been hijacked. If you suddenly see the "shades" icon [indicating an account name change] appear next to the seller's name, run away quickly. This seems to be the M.O. The fraudster changes the e-mail address and account name right as the auction is closing so you deal with Mr. Fraudster and not the poor innocent "stamp seller" who owns the Baskin-Robbins franchise.

"If you do see a piece of Manley gear on auction, get a serial number of the unit from the seller before you bid or pay and e-mail it to me via www.manleylabs.com/email99.html. I'll give you the history of the unit. If the seller cannot give you the serial number, then he probably doesn't have the unit to sell you!"

Epilogue: After a day or so of paperwork wrestling with eBay, Manley was able to get the auction pulled, thus saving the auction bidder from a financial loss. But with scams cropping up every day, it's impossible to police everything. In the meantime, think twice, bid smart and caveat emptor!