Buying stamps from anywhere (no matter if you are visiting a reputable philatelist's store with all the 'association guarantees', or you take an offer from a casual acquaintance who knows you collect) will always contain an element of risk. How good you are at minimizing that risk may mean the difference between buying a great stamp and entering a 'lucky dip'. Ebay is no different. Here are some easy eBay tips for you, and some things you might see that should sound the 'WARNING ALARM' ...
The Pitfalls. Remember - a stamp can look great from the front. It can be almost worthless with the tiniest cut. A Watermark mis-identification usually means it's a different stamp completely. Stamps can be repaired and even 'regummed'. Once you have paid (which you will always do first) - there are no absolute guarantees of quality. EBay is not 'International Rescue'. Yes, there is the 'feedback' system, but mostly - it's "Buyer Beware" time.
What Checks? EBay comprises an international array of Sellers and Buyers in perhaps the widest international market on the planet. In the resultant millions of transactions, 'Due Diligence' can range from the astonishingly casual to the painstakingly meticulous. To be fair, given the time-frames involved, 'meticulous' is rare.
The Variables. Some stamp buyers will automatically assume that if a stamp seller is 'reputable' (a good eBay feedback-count and a professional looking webpage that lists the member associations and policies) and describes an item as a particular stamp....then, it must be that stamp. On that assumption (and perhaps even wanting to believe that at last they have found that hard-to-locate-item) they buy. On the other hand, most stamp sellers on eBay are certainly not out to misrepresent their stamps, or, out to make a fraudulent profit. The overwhelming majority are honest dealers, private collectors and even once-off sellers with different expertise in what they are selling.
Time. The other 'market variable' to be aware of (especially for buyers) is the TIME pressure that an auction always engenders. Make no mistake, the time pressure to buy is the brilliance of eBay - from the sellers perspective. If you detect that long-sought-after-item with only a few hours to go - and the seller is half-way across the globe and sleeping......YOUR risk dramatically increases if you decide to bid.
Its Up To You. So......what we have in eBay, is an international stamp shop on a continuous countdown with a different manager for every 'mouse- click'. Exciting, isn't it? There IS a reference system for Buyers and Sellers to check (and, in most cases, stated guarantees of 'money back'), but the only Due Diligence YOU can be sure of, is the one YOU conduct before hitting the "Confirm Offer" button.
Consider the following basic Due Diligence checks before hitting that button:
- Have you got the time to ask the Seller for a better scan, a scan of the back and a confirmation, via email, of the return policy?
- If a Seller cannot provide you a scan of these basic things (for any reason).......he or she either does not have the stamp, or, you must assume it is not as described. Dive.
- If you haven't got the time to ask, think twice.
- Has the Seller given you a clear, uninterrupted and complete scan or photograph of the stamp(s)? Do not assume that a corner of a stamp or its perforations (perhaps being covered by another stamp) are actually there. They are not there until you see a scan that indicates they are!
- Be very Wary of a photograph or scan that is unclear, blurred, or taken too far away for detail to be seen. Dive.
- Has the Seller been consistent in the description? Never assume the better description of the two if there are any contradictions.
- Is there a certificate of authenticity or other 'expert document'? This is usually stated or able to be produced for that big purchase or that expensive rarity. If not, Dive.
- Is the auction open for all to see, or, is there a private aspect to the bidding? Beware-Ask-Why-Then-Dive. Identities don't need protecting in a public auction where bidders can use 'usernames' anyway.
- You can protect your interests up to a limit by paying the additional charges for Registered Mail and by using Paypal as a payment option.
- Ensure that you have a reasonable knowledge on what you are bidding on. A good catalogue provides a benchmark and for an initial outlay, will be an important investment for future purchases.
- Always use the internal eBay communication system when you can. It provides an 'auditable trail' for eBay's staff should a dispute be referred to them.
You can always report matters to eBay. It will respond with all the professionalism to which we are accustomed. EBay is not, however, International Rescue. It cannot realistically act as every Buyer's (or Seller's) private international legal arbiter.
EBay Stamps is an exciting and fun place to go. It simply is an international boon for the hobby. By being reasonably knowledgeable, using the recommended safegaurds and taking just a few simple precautions, buyers should be able to put their hand into the chocolate box and be reasonably certain that they will take out what they want. Good collecting......