More eBay Cautionary Tales

Often, when the words "eBay fraud" are spoken, they're accompanied by an accusatory finger pointing to the seller. But as I described in "Selling Your Laptop on eBay," buyers are quite capable of trying to pull a fast one, too. (My column detailed two different fraudulent attempts to purchase my Sony Vaio laptop on eBay.)

Since that column appeared, I've heard from several laptop sellers who say they've been victimized by fraudulent buyers on eBay .

This week I've included excerpts from e-mail I received from two such sellers. Next week I'll share tips I've gathered from sellers (and from my own experience) for safely selling your laptop on eBay.

To Russia, With Trust

James B. Furst of Eugene, Oregon, relates the following story--a tale not for the faint of heart.

"A few years ago, I decided to sell on eBay a relatively new Toshiba laptop my wife had purchased for me as a present. (I didn't need the laptop.) A guy who said he was an American living and working in Russia contacted me and bought the computer. He transferred the money to me via PayPal and I shipped the computer.

"A day later, eBay and PayPal both e-mailed me, claiming I had 'accessed the buyer's account fraudulently.' PayPal said it was going to investigate the sale. I sent them copies of all the e-mails that were involved in the transaction. In the end, PayPal accepted the buyer's version of what happened and gave him his money back.

"I tried to get my laptop back by contacting the Russian post office...but their postal system is much worse than ours. I even filed complaints with the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Internet Crime Complaint Center and the Federal Trade Commission. But it was way too late for them to do anything about it, even if they could have.

"So, I lost the laptop and the money."

In a situation like this, the buyer may have used a stolen credit card obtained through a phishing scam, says PayPal spokesperson Sara Gorman. Financial institutions such as PayPal are required to compensate consumers who have had their accounts fraudulently accessed and they may hold the seller or merchant responsible for payment, Gorman explained. That's why it's important for all sellers to carefully review and follow the guidelines of PayPal's Seller Protection Policy.

Hijacked to Africa

Crooks have been known to bid up an item as an eBay auction is ending, using unauthorized methods such as hijacked eBay user IDs.

That's what happened to Mary Lou Arnold of Fountain Valley, California.

"Twice in one week, our notebook auction was won by [someone using] a hijacked eBay account," she writes. "Our hijacker changed unused eBay U.S. accounts to a shipping address in Nigeria and bid up the auction in the last three minutes."

When the fraud was discovered, eBay deleted the listing, which denied Arnold the opportunity to extend a "second chance" offer to legitimate bidders. (EBay allows sellers to give losing bidders a chance to buy an item after the conclusion of an auction in which the item didn't sell. But when eBay deletes a listing, it's as if it never existed. So there's no way to send legitimate bidders a second-chance offer.)

"EBay has to do something about this, other than removing the listing," Arnold writes. "It makes bidders more unlikely to bid again on your auction because eBay does not give a reason to the bidders for having removed the auction. EBay should monitor older, unused accounts for, and protect from, this type of fraud."

Here's eBay's response to its practice of removing listings that end in a fraudulent purchase, repeated from my earlier column on this topic: "The current process where we cancel the listing is optimized around immediately refunding the seller's full fees (listing fee and final value fee). We realize that this solution can also have its drawbacks--specifically the inconvenience to the seller of having their listing removed and also the inability to offer Second Chance Offers to any underbidders, which is why eBay is always looking for ways to improve its services to its users."

Mobile Computing News, Reviews, & Tips

Apple's Light-as-Air MacBook: Jason Snell of our sibling publication Macworld has some first impressions of Apple's new MacBook Air ultraportable (which starts at $1799). Apple's latest bit of magic brings "incredibly small size to the MacBook line at a premium price," says Snell. He appreciates the little laptop's video-out capabilities. As for Apple's new Remote Disc software--which gets around the Air's lack of internal optical drive by remotely using another computer's drive--the software in Macworld's brief test worked seamlessly. Still, the MacBook Air has a whole host of missing features, as PCW Editor-in-Chief Harry McCracken reports.

Latest iPhone Alternatives: Apple's iPhone is still the smart phone du jour. But the iPhone's competitors are gaining on it. Among them: AT&T's Tilt ($400 with a two-year plan) costs as much as an iPhone but is more of a true laptop alternative; and AT&T's Pantech Duo C810 ($200 with two-year contract), which is as capable as the Tilt but feels more like a cell phone. For info on these phones, plus three more iPhone competitors, read "Five Ways to Get Over Your iPhone Envy."

On a semi-related note: What does the iPhone have in common with New York City? Find out on Traveler 2.0.

Iomega's 250GB Portable Drive: Iomega has upped the storage capacity of its eGo line of portable hard drives to 250GB ($230). The drive features USB 2.0 and FireWire 400 ports and is available in Cherry Red, Jet Black and Alpine White. No power supply is required.

Contributing Editor James A. Martin offers tools, tips, and product recommendations to help you make the most of computing on the go. Martin is also author of the Traveler 2.0 blog. Sign up to have the Mobile Computing Newsletter e-mailed to you each week.

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Is there a particularly cool mobile computing product or service I've missed? Got a spare story idea in your back pocket? Tell me about it. However, I regret that I'm unable to respond to tech-support questions, due to the volume of e-mail I receive.

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