Friday, May 9, 2008

Are we buying stolen goods on ebaY?

“Hey, check out this great deal I got on ebaY - it’s brand new, still in the box and half price!”

I have heard similar boasts several times from co-workers and most don’t seem to care why it was priced so cheaply. They rationalize that since it was on a website, it must be okay to purchase. In fact, they encourage others to go online and try to get the same great deal.

There is a difference between being frugal, which is getting something for a fair price, and buying something at an incredibly cheap price that screams out “I am stolen merchandise”.

Yet, just about anyone will tell you that a lot of the stuff at the local flea market is probably stolen. And, if you think about it - isn’t that all ebaY really is - a worldwide flea market.

You might argue that sellers put their wares out there at low starting bids, so what can one do? Well, for most inexpensive items there is probably no way to know if it is stolen or not. Whereas for more expensive items your first clue might be when you see someone willing to sell a brand new, high dollar item with no reserve.

So, how do people get all this stolen stuff? Most business owners can tell you that theft is greatest amongst the business’ own employees. The “help” will rob you blind. Nothing like biting the hand that feeds you! I have seen this first hand and have always envisioned that the thief rationalized the whole thing by some kind of Robinhood scenario where the poor steal from the rich. He says stuff like, “The boss has so much money, he will never notice this item missing and besides he can report the loss on his insurance.” People can find excuses for even the most abysmal behaviors.

Because employers must trust employees and can not watch them all day, theft is real easy. An employee picks up an item off the store shelf, sets it in the back alley while no one is watching, calls his buddy to come pick it up and the next night it’s on ebaY.

As a side, I find it amazing that criminology students are taught that crime follows opportunity. Indicating that anyone would steal given the opportunity. Gee, a lot of us have worked in stores and never stolen a thing, yet we were surrounded by temptations. The truth is some people are just always looking for an opportunity to steal or commit another crime. You don’t have to give them an opportunity, they will find it or make it all by themselves.

The next time you see one of those deals that is too good to be true – ask yourself, is it possible that item was stolen? Do you want stolen goods?

Most of us want to be highly regarded by our friends, families and peers. The only way to achieve that and really believe that you are highly regarded is to expect more out of yourself. Hold yourself to a higher standard and eventually you will become that person of great integrity, honesty and sincerity.


  1. I usually agree with you but this is pure speculation. Having a low starting bid with no reserve is totally legit. It creates more interest from the buyers and it saves listing fees. The competition from the buyers will eventually bring the closing price to its true value. I've done it most of the time when I sold anything and I'm pretty sure my item wasn't stolen.

  2. It is difficult to figure out if an item is hot or not - that's why I titled the post as a question. An item with no reserve is one of the few clues that something might not be right.

    Market efficiencies work for popular items, but I have noticed a lot of variation in price for sold listings.

    This would be boring if everybody agreed with me! Thanks for the comments.

  3. I recenly caught someone whom I considered a trusted friend, my advertising agent, was stealing my merchandise and selling it on Ebay. We have found over 150 items were sold on his primary account in the last 12 months, to the tune of over $50,000 dollars worth of my merchadise. He would come to the store offer to help a customer while hanging out, get a set of keys from one of my employees and go on a stealing spree. We figure this had been going on for three years. So the next time you see brand new merchadise selling for 60 to 70 percent below retail, just ask yourself were'd they get that? I'm not rich, just an average guy who scraped together every dime he could to open his own sporting goods store, and some dishonest lazy theif has just about pushed us out of business.

  4. I wonder how many of those "lost" UPS packages end up on Ebay. They just "lost" $600 of our Christmas presents, all new with tags. The packages were insured, but UPS refuses to pay out because the driver marked the packages delivered. My husband and I were both home as the alleged time of delivery, and we are 100% certain that those packages never made it to our apartment. The driver says he had the right address. They were three very large, noticible boxes. The individual items in them were worth less than $100 each, so there are several of each item we lost on Ebay and Craigslist. :(

  5. this post is responding to the situation above about stolen UPS packages.
    Same thing happened to me. my ups guy, who i trust, said in my townhome complex a pack of teenage black kids follow him on a regular basis and grab the packages after he leaves. so its not always the ups person. the same group even check my truck randomly at night and if i forgot to lock it they help themselves. they got 1 ipod and 2 gps over the 7 years i have lived here.

  6. EBay is a good metric for figuring out the mark-up of goods in a store. I think that many small businesses sell their unsold stock at cost on ebay to cut losses. If anything, I see the low low prices as an indicator of how much I get ripped off when I buy at the till.

  7. Fancy a laptop, very cheap?