Published on Dec 29, 2013

I wanted to buy this card on Ebay, but this guy is obviously bidding up his own cards. Come on Ebay, when are you gonna stop this nonsense?

Thanks to ebaY’s new improved, secretly enacted [non] shill bidding policy, we shall be seeing lots and lots more of this type of thing.

will_bid_on_your_ebay_item_to_drive_the_price_up_for_5_20130102_460

Then there will be times when you may not see it at all, but you’ll always know it’s there.

You are not in Kansas anymore. If you’re just now tuning into this, before you get started, you should see how this entire sordid affair began. Sorry for the long read, but this is a lengthy and scandalous saga, with more chapters likely to be written. For the primers, start here, and see this collection of all the pertinent links, read and absorb them all to fully comprehend the background and enormity of this situation.

Shill Bidding is a Crime
Starting with what is regarded as the very first ever case of ebay shill bidding prosecution, which involved author Kenneth Walton, of FAKE: Forgery, Lies, & eBay fame, shill bidding on ebaY has been a crime. A federal crime. Mr Walton was convicted, sentenced, and served his time. He then went on the write his blockbuster.

With the very most recent cases in the news, we see that shill bidding is a Federal Offense:

Online and live auctions of sports memorabilia and other collectibles conducted during the 2000s by the former Mastro Auctions, which was based in suburban Chicago, routinely defrauded customers, according to a federal indictment unsealed today. William Mastro, who owned the former business that once billed itself as the “world’s leading sports and Americana auction house,” together with Doug Allen and Mark Theotikos, both former executives of Mastro Auctions, were indicted on fraud charges for allegedly rigging auctions through a series of deceptive practices, including so-called “shill-bidding,” designed to inflate prices paid by bidders and to protect the interests of consignors and sellers at the expense of unwitting bidders.

There has also been similar cases and convictions in the United Kingdom recently.

The Past

Indeed, shill bidding (as well as across the gamut of issues) has been an area marked by failure, complacency, complicity, and willful ignorance on the part of ebaY since the earliest days of my ebay/paypal centricritical activities. This from the outrageous ebaY fail episode of bidancient AKA Eftis Paraskevaides Affair:

“He claimed eBay would never follow up a complaint against him for shill bidding because he generated about £15,000 a month in commission for the company. “Are they going to ban somebody who’s making them the best part of 15 grand a month? No,” he said.”

I made three points back then and I was spot on.

1.) The problem of shill bidding on ebay was, is and will become even more rampant.

2.) Ebay does not have/has not had, a system in place to deal with the problem of shill bidding, even when the community could police IT.

3.) The new SMI policy is a farce.

Shortly thereafter, ebay enacted the Shilling Made Invisible aka masked bidder IDs policy.

As history, and Philip Cohen will tell you, the policy did more to enable shill bidding to prosper than it ever helped protect anyone from phishing, account take-overs  or fake second chance offers

sneakybay special powers secret midnight policy changes The Present:

With a secret, fly-by-night policy change, ebaY defied common sense, tradition, widely accepted belief,  common law of every civilized nation on earth, (that we know of) and also superseded and shizzledropped on federal law by making shill bidding legal in the United States, (and only the USA – LoLz!). They seem to have given special consideration to consignment shops and businesses with employees. They also seemed to have helped certain TV reality fashion show star types and cable networks to possibly avoid scandal as well. Ahem!

The changes, which encompassed both the ebay shill bidding policy and tutorial, were very sloppily executed within the ebaY site, leaving huge contradictions scattered about the site, and had very conspicuous timing, relative to the current events of the time. If you read the primer postings you’ll understand completely. Even Helen Keller could have detected shill bidding, except I believe she would have been afraid to tell anyone, lest her hands be cut off.

They didn’t ‘relax’ the policy;  They disemboweled it.  It’s nothing but a hollowed out carcass now. I can still smell the rotting cyber-entrails they tossed aside and quickly ran away from.

While I see that the issue has finally gotten some much needed attention at both ecommercebytes and the consumerist, I feel the bigger picture isn’t sinking in. Consumerist, who ran a poll with their post, missed the mark somewhat, omitting any mention of the secret, unannounced nature and scandalous circumstances surrounding: eg; no mentions of consignment shops, employees, dubious timing of the change, and the complete secrecy/lack of any announcement.

A monkey could wreck this train!Ecommercebytes requested comment from ebaY as to the very unusual nature of the changes. To date, I don’t see any update posted there or statement to the community on ebay’s all too often unused announcement boards.

Give careful consideration to this Blekko search screencap image from this post. It more-less cuts to the quick. Note that date which it was captured on (June 6, 2012). That search was for the exact (partial) verbiage of the shill bidding policy before it was altered.

However, when you clicked through you went to the new policy page. (also evident by the date) That policy /page was changed within one blekko crawl/cache cycle, since it showed the former language. Ebay can tell us exactly when it was changed though, if they so desire. And why wouldn’t they? They believe that an open and honest environment blah blah zzzzzzzz…

I’m left wondering if the current ebay spokesperson will give a statement as to how it is that suddenly shill bidding is legal and acceptable on their site? Has there been some unannounced change in the law? Or is this yet another fine example of ebay’s special powers? How is it suddenly acceptable under ebaY rules whereas a crime in the rest of the known universe?

Am I the only one curious for answers to big glaring questions as to *when* (exactly) and *why* (specifically) the policy was changed?

Was it the result of some super-secret ‘project”? A “glitch”? A user survey? A study? For safety of members? In order to keep up with “Industry Standards”? Or by some committee? Or by managerial/executive order? Was Ophiuchus rising in conjunction with the 13th House of Uranus?

If this was a planned change, why all the mismatched, conflicting pages? Even after all this time has gone by? Is that really how a “World Class” multi-billion dollar corporation on the cutting edge of IT operates?

Surely there must be some explanation which neither conflicts with the laws of the land,  all common reason, as well as ebaY’s hitherto repeated, staunch, and widespread  adherence to the notion that “Shill bidding is a crime.”?

Even to this day we find highly contradictory statements regarding the legality of shill bidding Vs stated policies upon the site. All over the site in places other than the readily apparent, poorly and haphazardly hacked policy and tutorial pages, such as the Rules for Sellers Overview, and Shill Bidding community workshops.

Does that really look like it was a planned change? Does that look like a major change which was done completely impromptu?   Was it “fixed on the fly”?

Of course there is still the burning question of why there was no announcement? That is another thing people deserve to hear explanation of.

This is no small change. Major policy changes call for major explanations presented in a timely and highly visible fashion.

 

Why is the policy change bad?
First off, and most obviously, it fully disregards every definition found for shill bidding, including those found within their very own site. Second and just as obvious, buyers/bidders will get cheated. Besides the obviously sleazy circumstances surrounding and most likely precipitating the change, quite simply, ebaY does not have a system to deal with any such change. That would require software and/or other methods of gauging or judging human nature and intent, where it intersects with Murphy’s Laws and any (infinite) number of other unknown variables. If they can’t even get the various policy /tutorial pages all straight, how can they ever make a super-duper “sophisticated proactive system” shill bidding mind reading bot?

Furthermore, they have other policies in place which would aid the shill bidding. ei; the ability to have as many accounts as one pleases, lack of any real identity verification at the gate, and of course the “Shilling Made Invisible” policy. These factors are joined by outside forces or situations which are already a great hazard on the site such as the rapidly expanding underground market in fake or stealth accounts.

The Future

Those whom cannot remember the past… The site is now hacked in irrepairable ways. Trustworthy nevermore. No magic Balm of Gilead can cure the festered boils covering the body of ebay

This change will harm the entire community/website. Ebay has done more hacking than thy realize. With one fell swoop they’ve destroyed trust in a way which cannot ever be restored.

Ebay members are notorious for gaming the system. They will game this in ways which are not foreseeable, and  some which are. When ebay sponsors free listing days, users will be able to fill the listings with purely fake merchandise to drive up prices artificially with fake bidders and winners, thereby skewing and artificially inflating prices of the markets for widgets x, y and z Super Shady Shill Bidding tools coming soon to a crooked venue near you!

There is now a niche created for commercial shill bidding services. Which were, not surprisingly, called illegal by an attorney and ebaY expert when interviewed, as well as  advised against using by an ebaY PR spokesperson when uncovered.

People will also need to get busy updating their “get rich quick with ebay”, how to make money in your pajamas on ebay, ebay dropshipping ebooks, sniper bidding tutorials, education specialist courses or ebaY University courses to make sure they stay on the cutting edge of ebaY’s finely tuned and exciting new dynamic ecosystem.

I’m sure I’m overlooking lots of ways this will be harmful. The detriments are only limited by the ingenuity of the scammers, and whatever else ebaY management may come up with to enhance this further.

Solutions:
Now, the sad reality is that ebay/paypal feels and acts as if they’re above all laws. Not just legally, they would even seem to believe they’re above the laws of physics, math, and even gravity as this and other cockamamie policy changes illustrate.

If you’ve been following along with ebaY issues you know that ebaY and paypal have been busy spackling the chinks in their armor by writing civil rights depriving arbitration clauses with insane opt out procedures into their terms of use. Clearly they fear legal challenge to their many misdeeds. But I’m not sure that there is any (civil) legal recourse for this. I doubt there is any entity on the planet who will tangle with the 900 lb gorilla, who would only wear them to a frazzle.

Just the same, if you seek to force meaningful change upon them, use whatever resources are available. Don’t overlook the FTC as a place to file complaints over this major, shady policy transmogrification. Recently I’ve even seen advice to contact your elected legislators and other officials since the misbehavior is so far out of control. Certainly the States Atty Generals of any state may be interested in this development as well.

Likewise, be sure to spread word-of-mouth where ever and however you can.

I also wonder if ebaY competitors will have a field day with this news? There’s no telling what sort of creative exploitation of this development could have negative impact upon the online auction Ogre.

Best thing to do perhaps, as I have called for since the very beginning of my involvement into ebaY criticism, is simply never, ever use ebaY or paypal. After all, how can you really trust these people?

sleazebay and paypal are troubled, delinquent teenagers blessed with an extra chromosome, the one chocked full of fraud genes I believe.

Now comments found at this discussion and ecommercebytes blog show the ebay shill bidding tutorial also had content removed. Namely 2 questions. The tutorial shrunk from 13 questions to 11 questions.

The content removed  was question 8

Consignment shops (sometimes called ‘drop shops’) offer a great service for helping people sell their items on eBay. However, to avoid even the appearance of Shill Bidding, owners or employees of consignment shops may never bid on the items the shop offers for sale. If the consignment shop is part of an extended franchise operation, individuals employed within any part of the franchise are not allowed to bid on items listed by any franchise member.

and question 9:

When a member’s eBay business grows, they sometimes hire employees to help with that business. Bidding on a seller’s item by individuals employed by the seller – in any role – is a violation of eBay’s Shill Bidding policy. As an eBay member and an employer, you are responsible for actions of your employees as they affect your account and your eBay business. It’s important that your employees understand and follow eBay’s policies. eBay has suspended member accounts as a result of actions by those member’s employees.

Add to that, much like the shill bidding policy change, there are some very convincing reasons to believe this unannounced change was also very recent and made without too much planning, and/or in great haste:

Current Live Shill Bidding Tutorial Introduction Page

(emphasis mine)

Thanks for taking our tutorial on eBay’s shill bidding policy. This tutorial will show you:

  • What shill bidding is
  • How shill bidding harms other members
  • What could happen as a result of violating our policy
  • How you can avoid violating this policy

This tutorial has 13 questions and should take 15 – 20 minutes to complete.

Let’s get started.

Yet when you get to page 11 you see this:

Did someone have a few “oops!” moments when they forgot to change everything to match?

To add another heapin’ helpin’ to the notion it was very recently changed, much like the shill bidding policy, other English language sites such as ebay India, still have the questions 8 and 9, and a full 13 questions to the tutorial.

So far I have not found any ebay site on the planet where those questions were removed other than the USA. Try it yourself.

Again, note that the content removed dealt with consignment shops and individuals bidding on their employer’s goods.

If you read the post about the shill bidding policy change you know they left very conflicting info on the policy Vs Tutorial pages for the USA.

So what in tarnation is going at ebaY? Golly gee, all the flurry about the [alleged] shill bidding VH1 House of Consignment Reality TV star Corri McFadden edropoff scandal,  SLAPP censorship and lawsuits breaking out couldn’t have anything to do with it? Could it?

What do you think? Cover-up? Whitewash? Coincidence? Sloppy website keeping?

Update:

Looks like ebaY may have another Oops! moment, as they still have those now missing questions (and all 13 questions) featured live on the current  non-javascript or text only version of the page for the USA: (click for larger view)

 

See this update:

ebaY’s Secret Shill Bidding Policy and Tutorial Changes Revisited

Nike Air Yeezy 2 Ebay Auction

This ebay listing finished at a whopping US $90,300.00 with 84 bids.

Now I know what you’re thinking. Shill bidding, right?

Maybe someone has some tricky software or some secret observational methods to confirm that beyond any reasonable doubt?

Don’t bother.

That may have looked like or been shill bidding some time ago, but you see ebay mysteriously changed their shill bidding policy in a manner which allows employees to bid on their employer’s items.

We can be sure that as soon as the community finds that out shill bidding by employees will skyrocket.

Oh, but then again, it’s not shill bidding if ebaY says it’s not against their rules right?

Ebay sellers will be hiring employees like never before!

Keep up the good work ebay!

I find this to be unusual. It seems that sometime between July 23rd 2011 or later and May 31st 2012,  ebay quietly changed it’s shill bidding policy from this:

What are the guidelines?

Restricted

Using Buy It Now or a fixed price format to buy an item from someone you know, as long as you don’t violate our Feedback manipulation or search and browse manipulation policies

Not allowed

  • Bidding on your own items with another account
  • Bidding on items being sold by someone you know

Shill_bidding_policy_Internet_Archives

To this (the current verbiage.)

What are the guidelines?

Restricted

Buying an item from someone you know, as long as you don’t intend to artificially increase its price or desirability or violate our Feedback manipulation or search and browse manipulation policies

Not allowed

Bidding on your own items with another account

Current Shill bidding policy

As you can see, those are quite substantial changes.

I have searched the ebaY announcements and forums extensively now,  finding nothing announcing or referring to this alteration.

June 9, 2012:

To update a bit here.

HelpOwl_Selling_eBay Support_September 14, 2011

I’ve located indication the shill bidding policy existed in it’s former state here in September 2011.

Also this search on Blekko, which is for exact, partial verbiage of the former policy language,  indicates that the page was likely changed much much later than that, however long since Blekko’s last crawl. Note that I captured this on June 3rd, 2012. That is very telling.

(click thumbnails to enlarge in a new tab or window)

'Bidding on items being sold by someone you know'_search_blekko_20120603

Furthermore, I’ve examined the shill bidding policy or corresponding page of each and every English language ebaY site on the planet and found that nowhere else was language regarding employees bidding on their employer’s auctions removed other than the USA. Try it yourself.

Here is an example. Ebay India Shill Bidding Policy page. You’ll notice the language regarding employees bidding, with basically only the names in the examples changed.

Shill_bidding_policy_ebaY_India

Very curious to say the least. The implications are huge.

To complicate matters, ebay still has shill bidding tutorials in place which contain the language regarding employees disallowed to bid on their employer’s items. Those pages are nearly identical worldwide.

Update 06-12-2012: It seems the shill bidding tutorials for the USA have been altered as well. Learn more.

As far as the USA, there is some blatantly conflicting info being is being dispensed on ebay’s pages: the shill bidding policy Vs shill bidding tutuorial.

This discovery also comes on the heels of a full blown scandal involving VH1’s “House of Consignment” TV reality star, ebay seller and edropoff owner Corri McFadden,  who is accused of shill bidding and now being criticized for censorship and abuse of both critics and the court system, with an attempt to silence her critics with a SLAPP.

The changes to the policy would make it very easy for ebaY to claim the alleged shill bidder was acting within the rules. So finding exactly when that policy was changed may be a crucial fact with regards to that matter.

I’m wondering whether ebay may make a statement as to when and why this policy was changed?

See this update:

ebaY’s Secret Shill Bidding Policy and Tutorial Changes Revisited