Too good to be true?
March 4, 2005 11:55 AM   Subscribe

On eBay sometimes they list products as extremely cheap because you are paying for "information" to get free products (e.g. a laptop or ipod for 5 cents). Are these things ever legit?

... And if so, how can you determine if they are? Anyone out there with experience with this?
posted by mowglisambo to Computers & Internet (13 answers total)
Most of the time what you actually get is an offer to sign up for a bunch of "free trials" of services, credit cards and whatnot, and in return you get your free product. Apparently they often (though not always) follow through on the offer, but it's a PITA to unsubscribe from everything to not get charged in the end. It's all marketing. Here's a Wired article about it.
posted by squidlarkin at 12:10 PM on March 4, 2005

Some of the info is also a guide on how to fraud wholesalers into thinking you are a retailer. This gets you "free samples" but is very illegal.
posted by mervin_shnegwood at 12:21 PM on March 4, 2005

Some people think so - and willing to cough up big bucks. But if I could buy a new Motorola V3 for $40, why wouldn't I do so and sell the real thing on ebay for $500+ ?
posted by Neiltupper at 12:25 PM on March 4, 2005

It very much depends on what the item is. I would say the more desirable the object (iPods, Nikon digital cameras) the more wary I would be. If I were able to look at the feedback and see several positive feedbacks relating specifically to success with idetical or similar "info sales" from the same seller then I would be tempted to take it further. And by that I mean ask him a whole lot of questions.
posted by fire&wings at 12:46 PM on March 4, 2005

They are in fact too good to be true. The early scams on ebay were all these auctions claiming you could have free plasma TVs if you followed "the plan". I emailed a few folks that actually bought them, asking what it was and a few kindly emailed everything they got from the auction.

It was basically a Word doc describing how you can fake your way through acting like you're a big time american importer, and the companies in China to target. It included industry lingo and apparently you try to build their trust by asking for "test models" before you "promise to purchase 10,000 if the unit is to your liking". These all claim that after getting a few free clock radios, a distributor would send them a plasma screen, no questions asked, and then you were supposed to just keep it and say you didn't want to order anything.

Then the pyramid schemes started, where people that bought this info basically resold it on ebay.

Currently, the scam seems to be that folks will furnish you with "secret URLs" to places that give out test items, but it all sounds like complete bullshit to me.

The trend in this kind of scam has gotten so bad that recently when I was looking for prices on an in-car GPS unit, the number of fake scams offering info to get it free for $40 or so vastly outnumbered folks actually selling one of the units. I remember reading listings that said "THIS IS FOR A REAL ACTUAL UNIT"

Pretty sad to think it's gotten so bad folks have to actually write that.
posted by mathowie at 1:06 PM on March 4, 2005

On that note, anyone know if there is anything legit about all the "real product" auctions coming from people with 0 (or fully astroturfed) feedback. All from China, all in GBP. The prices are cheap, but seemingly not so cheap that it wouldn't sting if you got burned. Lots of these for MP3 players (archos, iriver) as an example.
posted by true at 1:11 PM on March 4, 2005

For all the reasons listed above, I think the rule that If it looks too good to be true, it isn't true applies here. Generally these "too good to be true" ploys are playing on people's greed or naiveness.
posted by WestCoaster at 1:21 PM on March 4, 2005

Simple... Not legit often enough to take the gamble.
posted by HuronBob at 1:23 PM on March 4, 2005

I've gotten two free ipods from these sorts of sites. No need to buy the information off of ebay. and associated sites owned by Gratis are legit, as is

Go to for info about all of this. The free ipod/free plasma TV/free whatever sites run off of a pyramid scheme, but they are legitimate, and if you can find 5 friends (or otherwise) willing to help you out, then you get yourself a free ipod.
posted by sirion at 3:22 PM on March 4, 2005

Response by poster: Yeah, it actually occured to me the only way something could be offered on ebay for a "buy it now" price of one penny and make money (listing fees alone are a couple dollars) is if ebay itself made the listing. According to the Wired article,ebay is one of the companies giving gratis money for the ipods. Thanks for the tip sirion, I'm on my way to getting my referrals to :)
... also, there a laptops & shuffles and ipod photos that do this too... weird... let's see if it works!
posted by mowglisambo at 4:08 PM on March 4, 2005

true - I haven't bought durable goods, but I have bought DVDs from such vendors. In the case of the DVDs, they tend to be bootlegged garbage.

I suspect that for MP3 players and such that they're re-packaged Chinese versions. They *are* cheaper over there, especially for wholesalers, and by selling to N. America they can make more money than selling in their local markets. Watch out for shipping costs and paying through Western Union.

true... ? have you ever spend time in Iowa?
posted by PurplePorpoise at 5:43 PM on March 4, 2005

Are these things ever legit?


They really should be reported to eBay so these fraudsters will eventually lose their accounts.
posted by caddis at 7:33 PM on March 4, 2005

Response by poster: Yikes. So I guess there's a difference between like the class of offers and most of the stuff on ebay? It seems like the viral marketing stuff is legit (if a pain), whereas the "info" stuff on ebay is fraud... yes?
posted by mowglisambo at 8:23 PM on March 4, 2005

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