Monday, March 06, 2006

Computers & Antiques & Scammers

Antiques and computers - talk about two opposite ends of the spectrum! The latest technology in computers is now being used to sell antiques regularly through private websites, eBay, and web selling locations like Ruby Lane, yet 20 years ago, who would have dreamed these possibilities would ever exist?

Private websites work well, and give an antiques dealer control over content and design. It can be costly if one hires a website designer for custom work, but there are also many inexpensive do-it-yourself web designer sites that give an antiques dealer plenty of basic templates to configure for their own simple site, and allows them to flexibly add photos and descriptions according to their own needs. One challenge in d-i-y websites is getting the exposure necessary through Google and other browsers so that people learn about and can actually find your website. It's nice to have a website, but if no one knows it's there and they don't visit, all that hard work is for nought.

eBay has worked well for some, horribly for others, yet has opened the door to so many millions of people around the world for antiques and collectible buying and selling. It's changed the entire stature of the antiques trade.

The downside to eBay is the huge amount of scamming which occurs on their site. Even worse, some not-so-nice folks actually take great pride in their scamming accomplishments! A woman in Fort Wayne, Indiana found out the hard way on eBay.

She was scammed by a professional scam artist, and lost quite a bit of money. The scammer was quite proud to "earn" his/her living by stealing from others - no remorse in any way. Then, eBay's response was not sympathetic to the Indiana woman at all. Just because she was hoping to get a good deal on eBay, the eBay folks are now suggesting that her own "greed" caused her to fall for a scammer's trap. She's publicly sharing her story with others so that they don't fall into that same hole.

Note the huge number of tv ads which eBay is currently running, trying to attract fresh buyers. They've lose a lot of customers, as people are afraid to bid on eBay, thinking they might too have their identity or money stolen. They are going elsewhere to spend on the Internet, and eBay is noticing the downturn. As buyers leave eBay, sellers are finding the eBay market very soft, and they too are not selling nearly so much. eBay is paying the price due to their own apathy about bad guys using them for scams.

I occasionally use eBay, but do so cautiously - twice I've had my identity stolen directly through eBay. Each time, I was fortunate enough to recognize the theft within hours, and was able to stop the thieves before they did me any serious harm. It still was a pain in the backside - cancelling credit cards and having them re-issued, closing my eBay account under that User Name and re-starting under another, etc. etc. etc. It was time-consuming and inconvenient, and for more than a year I quit buying and selling on eBay.

A good friend also had her ID stolen through eBay, and is still feeling the financial pain many months later. Her credit has been seriously damaged, and she's still working hard to repair the problem. She's had tens of thousands of dollars charged to accounts in her name which she never opened - the scammers preyed upon her, used her financial information to open new accounts (she's not even sure how many more are out there!), and now she's being forced to deal with collection agencies for very large sums of money she supposedly owes. Those scammers did a whole lot of charging!

Web selling sites like Ruby Lane offer more protection and stability in a selling atmosphere for both buyer and seller, but at a cost. The monthly selling charges are reasonable as long as one is actually selling, but dedication is the key to success. Sales on these sites seem to flow better when a seller is adding new items weekly, or even better, on a daily basis. Ruby Lane has specific rules and requirements which must be met before a seller is accepted into the Ruby Lane community, and - in contrast to eBay - they continually actively battle scammers, doing everything they can to eliminate the bad guys. Scammers still try to take advantage of Ruby Lane sellers, but it's more difficult and they are much less successful.

The bottom line is that anyone who buys and/or sells on the Internet needs to protect themselves from scammers. The responsibility lies with buyers and sellers who use the Internet, since scammers are looking for victims every day. Tomorrow I'll offer some suggestions on how to recognize and avoid the bad guys.

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