Friday, August 18, 2006

Fraud on Ebay

There's an interesting thread today on the BookfinderInsider list about an Ebay seller who is offering a number of books they do not own, whose descriptions they have lifted from the internet, without telling the actual owners.

Sounds odd, eh? It happens all the time. The Ebay "seller" puts a reserve on the book which will allow him a profit if the book sells and he actually has to go buy the copy. OK, some folks say, what's wrong with that?

Well, what's wrong is that it is misrepresentation and fraud.

The seller is misrepresenting that he has examined the book (when he gives a statement of condition) and he is misrepresenting that the book will be available to a buyer at the close of the auction, which it may not be.

To explain- since the seller has not seen the book he is, in fact, lying when he states it is in "such and such condition" as if he has seen it when he has not. Further, there is absolutely no way he can guarantee delivery, since the book may well have been sold by the actual owner in the meantime. That's the most serious offense- by offering an item for sale there is an implicit understanding that if I want to buy it and meet your price you will deliver it- that implicit trust is broken in this case. By misrepresenting their ability to deliver goods, they are committing fraud.

There are sellers on Ebay who sell goods they do not own, but those are resellers of new material, bought from wholesalers or suppliers, who encourage that sort of business. That is a completely different matter than offering a unique item you do not own, while making it appear that you do own it and have it in your possession, available for delivery, when in fact neither is true.

In addition, the actual dealer who owns the book suffers financial harm. As anyone who has been in the book business for more than ten minutes will realize, the value of your stock is hurt when unique or scarce copies you own "proliferate" on the internet so that they appear to be significantly more available than they in fact are.

One would think that problems with these sorts of fraudulent sellers would be somewhat self-correcting, as their bad feedback will be significantly higher than those of sellers who actually have possession of what they are selling. This would be especially true if there was a concerted effort to identify them, publicize them, and encourage everyone to refuse to sell anything to them.

It all comes down to one of the hard-and-fast rules in the business:

1. Own what you offer for sale.

2. If you do not own it, get the permission of the owner before offering it to somebody else as available for purchase.

3. If you do not get the permission of the seller, be honest with the person you offer it to about the fact that you do not own it and cannot guarantee that it will be available.

Any other type of dealing constitutes fraud, pure and simple.

Sure, people will say, but booksellers were quoting books from other dealer's stock for decades before the internet came along.

True enough. But you were not supposed to claim ownership- when you sent your list of books on the exploration of Artic caves by one-legged pigmy eskimos to your customer you simply said that these were books you could obtain for them -that is different than claiming ownership.

Folks go around crowing that the "internet has changed everything".

Bullshit. The internet has changed NOTHING. There are still rules in this business, and ethical dealers adhere to them.


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