The "APS and eBay" Thread on the Virtual Stamp Club
The “APS and eBay” Thread
on the Virtual Stamp Club
Editor’s Note: In Internet parlance, a “thread” is a group of messages or postings to a
newsgroup, mailing list or Internet forum on a single topic. This thread” (which is titled
“APS and eBay”) consists of such a group ― a total of nearly 300 such postings made by
various individuals between May 5 and May 18 to the Virtual Stamp Club
(www.virtualstampclub.com), of which this report concerns postings Nos. 1 to 207.
Wading through this lengthy thread was more work than trolling eBay itself. But there
are some salient issues and some minor misinformation that ought to be addressed.
As I see it those issues are:
1. How and when an individual should report a problematic listing for review
by the Stamp Community Watch (SCW) committee?
2. Is the SCW committee adequately staffed – how best to provide coverage
for non-U.S. listings?
3. What can be done to elevate the accuracy and image quality of listings on
Before commenting on those, it might be useful to review the three basic purposes of the
eBay Watch Program.
1. to assist eBay in removing true fraudsters from the site;
2. to protect eBay customers, many of whom are APS members, from buying
misidentified, altered , or fake material; and
3. to educate sellers whenever possible by providing information about
questioned items or where else to find more information about them.
II. How Best To Report an Item for Review
This is indeed a bit of a sore subject. When the American Philatelic Society became
involved in this eBay program, we asked them to develop a mechanism so that, in
addition to just having Stamp Community Watch committee members look for fakes and
misdescribed items, individual eBay users could also directly refer items for to the SCW
for review. eBay responded by providing the following specialized report link:
Unfortunately, the link is not well publicized or easy to find on eBay’s site.
It may be accessed from the Stamps Category main page: http://stamps.ebay.com/ and it
is also to be found at the bottom of eBay’s Stamp Selling Policy page at:
http://pages.ebay.com/help/policies/selling-stamps.html. Neither location is ideal.
I may be mistaken, but I’ve never seen it publicized on eBay Stamp Chat.
We’ve suggested and urged eBay to include it at the bottom of every listing placed in any
eBay Stamps category. That suggestion was rejected with the explanation that eBay
won’t make changes to the basic auction page unless accomplished across the entire eBay
platform, i.e. changes to specific categories, while likely possible, aren’t acceptable.
eBay subsequently implemented a generic “REPORT THIS ITEM” link at the bottom of
every listing page, across the entire platform. As soon as that generic link appeared last
year, we asked eBay if it were possible to integrate the specific “Stamps” link into it,
even drafting specific line-by-line instructions re how to edit and add to the generic form
to make it appropriate for stamps and other collectibles (there is at least one other specific
link for the Coin Community Watch program). Again, those suggestions were rejected.
I have been advised that a major overhaul of eBay’s entire “HELP/REPORT” process is
underway with a goal of rolling it out at eBay Live in June 2007, with the stated aim
being to make it easier for eBay users to report problems and for eBay personnel to
understand why items are reported. But given eBay’s desire for uniformity, I suspect
we’ll see another generic system, and not a system driven by specific category problems.
It should be understood that Stamps is not the only eBay category with fraud problems. In
fact, Stamps is small change compared to some higher-profile product categories. I
suspect the new system is being driven by those other more problematic areas but,
hopefully, we’ll be surprised to the contrary.
In the meantime, because the current SCW-specific link is effective when used, I believe
the best action to take is to enhance its visibility within the philatelic community. I’d
encourage anyone with a stamp-related website to add it to their links list (kudos to Lloyd
de Vries for having put it on Virtual Stamp Club long ago). We’ll continue to ask and
urge eBay to do a better job of providing access to the link. Maybe it’ll eventually even
find its way to the Yellow Boxes on eBay Stamp Chat.
III. When to Report an Item for Review by the SCW
The main purpose of the Stamp Community Watch committee was to address the overtly
fraudulent sellers that had been a plague on the Stamps Category until the program was
initiated, and who continue to resurface from time to time.
We’ve been very successful in doing that. These days, most of the problems we see on
eBay are inadvertent misdescriptions, or failures to recognize altered or fake stamps ―
not intentional fraud. Most eBay sellers are honest people who are quite receptive to
constructive counsel and advice.
Formally questioning an eBay listing, maintaining the necessary documentation about the
lot, and taking follow-up action via eBay is a time-consuming process, Because of that,
SCW’s efforts are best spent on serious repeat offenders ― not casual sellers.
RickB608, in post #49, perhaps offered the sagest advice in this regard when he
challenged everyone to e-mail sellers first about problem lots, and involve the SCW only
if they are rebuked or ignored. As Rick suggests, the greater community of eBay users
can go a long ways to self-monitor and mentor sellers on the site. It doesn’t necessarily
require action by the SCW to correct or counsel a simple mistake by a naïve or
Here’s what Rick suggested ― and I couldn’t have said it better!
“…Somebody show me an eBay stamp lot after June 15 that they think is
fraudulent, or otherwise needs to go through this process, where they have
emailed the seller and either not received a response or have gotten the equivalent
of ‘tough, I'm selling it anyway,’ and we’ll take one through the process and see
what comes of it. Let’s test the process, figure out what works and doesn’'t work,
report our results, and make some recommendations to those who can fix
whatever needs fixing.”
Members of the eBay community themselves can do much to provide oversight and self-
regulation of the site. When you see a problem, simply click the “Ask Seller a Question”
link and send the seller a polite message about the noted problem. It helps to include
some specific information as to why you feel it is a problem, or a link to where additional
info may be found.
Using Rick’s interest in the U.S. Fourth Bureau issue and the confusion there between
Rotary and Flat Plate printed issues, an example of what a message for a misidentified
30-cent issue might say is:
“If you carefully gauge the perforations and measure the image area of this stamp,
you’ll see it is the later Rotary Press variety and not the Flat Plate issue. See the
note after #447 in the Scott Catalogue and go here:
http://www.1847usa.com/washfrank/printingmethods.htm. This is a perf 10.5 x 11
rotary press Scott #700, and not a perf 11, flat plate Scott #569, as described.”
Just telling someone that they have made a mistake is not enough; that usually simply
results in a seller taking offense and assuming a defensive posture. But if sellers are given
a brief description of their error, or a link where more information about their mistake
might be found, they are usually quick to take corrective action, as Rick noted. And
personal contact like that can have other rewards or benefits, too.
Certainly, not everyone is interested, or has the time, to contact sellers in this way, so
sending a referral directly to the SCW instead is fine. But Rick is right; a quick,
instructive message to a presumably naïve seller usually results in corrective action. If
corrective action doesn’t occur quickly, or if similar mistakes persist, then most definitely
the seller ought to be reported to the SCW for more formal action.
While eBay’s generic report link doesn’t allow for specific comment, the direct
http://www.ebay.com/scw does provide space for comment and when making a referral
to the SCW it is also helpful to them, if a brief descriptive comment is included when a
suspected fake, or misidentified stamp is reported.
The SCW includes individuals who have served each of the major U.S. expertizing
services ― The American Philatelic Expertizing Service (APEX), Professional Stamp
Experts (PSE) and the Philatelic Foundation (PF) ― as well as some specialty society
services, but they certainly don’t know everything. Usually, including an identifying
characteristic that allows easy verification of a referral is sufficient to have it proceed
through the review process.
IV. Is The SCW Adequately Staffed?
First, let me emphasis that the eBay Stamp Community Watch Committee is an eBay
entity, not an APS Committee. It is eBay that staffs it, albeit sometimes with suggestions
from the APS. The specific eBay criteria, if any, for SCW participation are not known to
me. APS is responsible for vetting listing referrals made by the SCW committee, or
which come to it via third-party reports, and for formally contacting sellers about
confirmed problem listings.
The SCW committee and APS do an excellent job with material from the United States
and some other high-profile geographic areas. However, as suggested in the thread, it is
occasionally a struggle to confirm and process some referrals of worldwide material. In
my position as the APS Review Coordinator, eBay has authorized me to contact experts
outside the SCW committee whenever faced with material outside the scope of the
current SCW members. I mostly rely upon APEX experts in that regard, and my former
colleague Mercer Bristow has been most helpful in referring me to numerous specialized
experts. Occasionally, we have used other recognized experts, both in the U.S. and
abroad. I also maintain informal contact with Lars Bottger who coordinates a similar
review group for eBay Germany. I’d welcome contact with any other similar committees.
Could the SCW do a better job with non-U.S. material? Yes, absolutely. But I’m not sure
adding a raft of specialized experts to the committee is the best solution. Many would
have scant reason to otherwise participate and, given the level of U.S.-based email
reports, could well wear out their Delete keys waiting for the opportunity to report or
confirm a report of an esoteric foreign fake. The SCW has twice had members from
outside the United States; both eventually resigned.
Instead of artificially beefing up the SCW committee, I’d prefer to enhance the existing
database of experts to whom we can call on for one-off reviews as needed when the SCW
cannot otherwise confirm a third-party referral. Now posted at the home page on the APS
website is an expanded version of the form that I have distributed at various expert
gatherings to solicit such assistance. With these few editorial changes, I believe the form
could be used to solicit help via the International Philatelic Federation (FIP) Fakes and
Forgeries Commission, and I’d be thrilled to have Peter McCann’s support and help in
I should also point out that things are not always as they seem on the Internet, and
particularly on eBay! Because of the time-sensitive nature of auctions, and the additional
time it sometimes takes to process some referrals (including some U.S. items), we
sometimes don’t contact sellers until very late in the auction cycle and sometimes not
until after an auction has closed with a sale. When we do that, we ask sellers to agree to
nullify the transaction or to offer a refund if a buyer has already paid, but these facts are
unknown to anyone looking at the listing. We only notify eBay about closed listings
when a seller doesn’t otherwise agree to nullify a sale.
In other words, not every sale that appears to have transpired on eBay actually has been
consummated. What may appear to be inaction is not always what it seems!
V. Image Quality on eBay Listings
This, too, is a bit of a sore subject. Because poor images often make it difficult to render
an informed opinion about the correct identity of an item, committee members have been
encouraging eBay to require good, decently cropped scans since the SCW program was
initiated. Technically, however, one need not even provide an image to list an item on
For our part, when we question sellers who use digital camera images, we recommend
using scans instead and often refer sellers to Peter G. Aitken’s tips on scanning:
http://www.pgacon.com/tips_on_scanning.htm. We’re open to other suggestions, but
unless eBay sets minimum standards, there’s little we otherwise can do about images.
I’ve informally tracked suspect listings from time to time just to see the outcome in
instances in which a poor image prevented us from formally questioning the item being
offered. While some of those items sell (we can’t save everyone from poor judgment),
they usually don’t sell for much, and they often don’t sell at all. Many eBay users are
casual, trusting collectors filling album spaces ― but they aren’t stupid.
I hope this is useful. If you have questions or want me to expand upon any subject please
let me know.
15 May 2007