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December 2003: Not Your Father’s eBay

Extra Fine Points Index  ]

BY DON FLUCKINGER • Last month, I wrote in this space about how I got my first negative feedback on eBay after six negative-free years and more than 1750 positives for a total of 1420+ rating.

A day after that issue of Nib Noise went out, blammo! I got hit with more negatives. A buyer from Finland (of three vintage, used-never-abused, sold-as-is HO-scale electric train pieces I’d consigned for a friend) posted that he hadn’t heard from me in the two weeks since he’d won.

Wait. Yeah, you heard right. Even though you’d prefer to have that Jade Green Balance Flattop with the Big Ball Clip in your hot little hands five minutes ago, give it 30 days before doing something rash. Extra Fine Points

I’d sent him notices. He requested the total with shipping to Finland, I sent it. Never got bouncebacks so I assumed we were good.

Nope. Three tasty, red-type Complaints in my rating. And it’s because of spammers. Or more correctly, the aggressive anti-spam filters people employ both through their Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and in their personal computers’ email clients.

I don’t begrudge people their spam filters. I get 200 spams daily. For Viagra. And to fool the spam filters that automatically discard emails with “Viagra” in the subject, V*I*A*G*R*A. Vi@gr@. Viägrä. And Xänäx. And Vîcödîn. Today, for the first time, I even received an offer for a PMS remedy.

But when I get jammed with three negs in a month even though I was doing my part, it’s not just an accident, it’s a trend. eBay has been transformed by the spam culture. The feedback record is the foundation upon which the site is built. When some jamoke can turn off emails from me, not know it, and disparage my good name because of it, that isn’t just my problem, it’s eBay’s: Their whole sacred system has been cheapened.

They’re going to have to do something about it. I’m an honest guy. I have never deliberately filched a cent out of anyone, nor would I be able to sleep at night if I did. If they don’t get this garbage straightened out soon — where honest people’s records make them look dishonest through no fault of their own — the site’s whole honor system will be brought down. I hope there’s a lot of shareholders who are going to be, to borrow a word from Richard, perturbed about this threat to their equity.

(The story, by the way, has a happy ending, which I’ll get to. Enough of this rambling, though.)

Since this space isn’t really a soapbox for complaints about my eBay seller travails but is instead a means to edify the world of pen collecting, I’ll get to the meat of the column: How to protect yourself from the wall of spam filters that prevent business from getting done on eBay.

You’ve won a pen. You can’t seem to get ahold of a seller. You’ve sold a pen, you can’t get ahold of the buyer. Either way — it doesn’t matter. There’s a disconnect going on. Here’s what to do:

  1. Don’t get enraged or panic. Please assume something’s gone wrong between you and the seller’s end. The seller probably isn’t a jerk.

  2. Pick up the phone. eBay requires people who register to provide a contact number. Get it from eBay and use it to call the other person to confirm they’re, er, human.

  3. Use eBay’s means of contacting your transaction partner. If your email can’t get through, one filtered through the eBay forms when you click on his or her seller name might work.

  4. Try an alternate email. Open a “freemail” account at Yahoo or Hotmail. While you’re at it, use this as your “spam deflection” account to enter contests or when one of those bad bad sites (like requires you to “register” (for spam) to read something important.

  5. Wait. Yeah, you heard right. Even though you’d prefer to have that Jade Green Balance Flattop with the Big Ball Clip in your hot little hands five minutes ago, give it 30 days before doing something rash. If you’ve heard nothing, file a grievance through eBay’s customer service about the seller having a bad email address and see what happens.

If you’re the one who receives the negative feedback inadvertently because spam filters killed the transaction, fight back.

  1. Blast back with a negative. That is, if you haven’t already chimed in with a positive; in most cases it hasn’t happened. While I’m not a negative guy, and I don’t really want to promote dissention among my normally collegial pen collector friends, doing this is necessary, because it gives you leverage in the next step.

  2. Get wrongheaded negatives removed with Square Trade. I always thought the mediation service Square Trade ( was for babies who couldn’t get stuff done on their own. Or for sellers who needed to “launder” their feedback. Turns out it’s quite useful when someone has blasted you with a negative because his spam filter killed off your communication.

And that’s the deal. If you blast back with a negative, your trading partner realizes there was a disconnect that wasn’t your doing. He’s got that ugly blemish on his record. He’ll be more than willing to work with you and not contest it with the mediator.

Then if you both agree, and split the cheap mediation fees ($10-$20, typically), the negatives are removed for good from the feedback record.

And that’s what I did. My partner got my three “DEADBEAT BIDDER never responded to my emails DOES NOT PAY” feedbacks in his record, and suddenly he was very amenable to fixing the situation. And it all went through, uncontested, without a hitch. So now I’m back down to the one negative I got from the chump I wrote about last month. I can live with that. For now.

cover Further Reading: eBay for Dummies, by Marsha Collier

If this column — or any other report — has scared you away from using eBay, that’s a shame. Check out this book, loaded with good advice on how to do business safely at the World’s Biggest Garage Sale & Flea Market Bazaar.

Freelance writer Don Fluckinger lives in Nashua, New Hampshire, and is the son-in-law of Richard Binder. His articles have been published in Antiques Roadshow Insider, The Boston Globe, and on the collectibles Web site. Please note: Any opinions stated in this column are Don’s alone and do not necessarily reflect those of Richard Binder or this Web site. Don Fluckinger
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