Shill bidding on eBay

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Shill bidding on eBay



My Dad is going on a trip next Saturday. He needs a new Compact Flash memory card for his digital camera. Where better to go for such a thing? eBay.

I've bought and sold numerous things on eBay; I'm pretty bullish on it. Well, actually I don't really like the higher listing fees, since it makes it harder to offer small items I just want to be rid of, but I don't mind paying the feels if I'm the buyer. But that's neither here nor there. Today we've come to talk about shill bidding.

What is shill bidding? PLACEHOLDER

Before we begin our adventure into eBay's heart of darkness, some words of disclaimer are in order in the interests of fairness:

Everyone who is mentioned on these pages is presumed innocent. It may be that this is all a coïncidence of the highest order, that no shill bidding took place, and everyone mentioned was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. The point of this page is how difficult it is to get eBay to do even the meanest amount of investigation.

None of these screen-shots have been altered, except to make them narrower so they fit better on this web page. (You may click on any reduced-size thumbnail to see the full-size screen-shot, should you desire.)

Okay, that having been said, let's go visit the original auction, in which I won a SanDisk 256MB CompactFlash card from roseleaftea <>; for $50.01:

At first I didn't notice the zero-feedback entities bidding up the item, even though both of them sport the dark eyeglasses icon, which eBay places to warn of a recent nickname change or recent account creation.

What made me suspicious was a series of emails I received immediately after I sent the money via PayPal.

Return-Path: <>;
Received: from
Received: from
Date: Mon, 12 May 2003 23:27:49 -0700
Subject: Payment Denied

This email confirms that Jun Peng has denied the $57.51 you sent for an auction item...

Denied? Something begins to smell.

I send email to the account on record at eBay and get this as a response:

From: Angelina Gu <>;
Subject: Re: Question for seller -- Item #2928198615

... please repaypal to my busniess account and mark it clearly on the notes that the payment is for roseleaftea...

Wait a moment. I thought I was talking to Jun Peng. At least Angelina Gu owns the email account on record. Send it to another account; won't I lose what meager protections PayPal gives me if I send it to an account not even associated with the auction? Smell is getting worse, but it might be nothing at all.

I respond:

To: Angelina Gu <>;

[The numerous email accounts and personalities] followed by the smell of what appears to be shill bidding by two accounts which were created on 8 and 10 May 2003, is making me a bit uncomfortable. Seems like we're stepping out of the eBay contextjand I'm emailing money to an account not associated with the auction after funny bidding.

I'll be contacting ebay and see what they say. I've done selling and buying and this is the most complex arrangement of steps to pay for an auction I've ever experienced. If ebay is okay with this, your money is on the way.

Sadly, eBay responds via auto-responder:

Auto-Submitted: auto-replied
Subject: Your message to was not received (KMM78464547V13615L0KM)
From: eBay Safe Harbor <>;

... The address you wrote to ( is no longer in service.

Classy. Respond from a defunct email address with a note that the email address doesn't work. I thought only spammers tried to prevent contact with appropriate employees. I went to the online web forms and submitted a report.

While we're waiting for eBay to respond (and from what the federal government found in their investigations that might be a long, long time), let's check out my first awareness of possible shill bidding. In the auction I noticed these two newly-minted personalities bidding:

Both recently created. It's possible that two new eBay users are looking for a CF card for their first purchase. Still, it's never happened in other auctions in which I've bid. Hmm, they jump into the fray in the last five minutes of the auction. It doesn't pass the smell test.

I get more email from the seller:

From: Angelina Gu <>;

... I have 9 different email address connect to my two different paypal accounts

anyway, I am actually a powerseller with 300+ feedback, I have 5 different eBay seller ID, this is just my new account to sell small stuff...

Ummmm, this is supposed to make me feel better? This seems rather complex for a straightforward auction transaction. I wonder what this grand number of accounts is supposed to hide.

The final auction, from another seller:

Have you found errors nontrivial or marginal, factual, analytical and illogical, arithmetical, temporal, or even typographical? Please let me know; drop me email. Thanks!

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