What's the right response to a likely eBay shill bidder?
March 5, 2012 1:02 PM   Subscribe

I feel an eBay seller is likely using a shill bidder. What should I do about it?

I inspected a car on eBay and liked it. I had not bid on the transaction before, but bid after the inspection. Now, a new buyer with zero feedback is bidding up the car after everyone else but me had stopped bidding. The reserve price has been met. Previous bidders all had feedback in the same range as me (at least mid double digits - mine is 43 or so) and all seemed legit. This new buyer has not bid on anything else, and seems to have an automatic bid set above the range in which the bidding was taking place. It seems likely this is a shill bidder. I still want the car, but I'm not willing to pay much more than the current bid. What should I do?

I could let the shill bidder win, and then see if the seller comes to me with a second chance offer, but if that's the case I feel that I've confirmed it's a shill bidder. Or I could just ignore it and stop bidding. (I know that I can report it, but I'm not even sure if I want to do that - I do want the car and don't want to irritate the seller.)
posted by iknowizbirfmark to Shopping (22 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: If you are at the limit of what you are willing to pay, stop bidding. It's just that simple. I wouldn't bother trying to determine whether it is a shill or not, because what difference does it make?
posted by dirtdirt at 1:06 PM on March 5, 2012 [11 favorites]

just let it go? honestly, i don't know what kind of car is worth this.
posted by violetk at 1:08 PM on March 5, 2012

My motto (borrowed from Robert Deniro) With ebay auctions, "When there is doubt - there is no doubt". If something about the transaction feel fishy - get out now. The same seller using a shill bidder is more likely to rip you off down the road, or will have misrepresented the item.
posted by machinecraig at 1:08 PM on March 5, 2012 [20 favorites]

If someone is using a shill bidder, can you really trust that they are accurately representing the condition of the car?
posted by amarynth at 1:09 PM on March 5, 2012 [10 favorites]

This very situation happened to one of my friends about five years ago. He reported the seller and ebay took action against him/her since they found evidence of it. I can't remember what action it was, sorry....

And, yes, don't buy the car.
posted by johnofjack at 1:11 PM on March 5, 2012

Fuck 'em. Unless you're bidding on something really rare, there are a lot of cars out there with honest sellers behind them. And get off ebay. If you're not looking for something truly odd and willing to go across the country for it, it's gonna be better on craigslist.
posted by danny the boy at 1:16 PM on March 5, 2012

Please, please report it if you have suspicions. This will probably not fix the current problem and you still have to decide whether to buy the car (I concur with the other answerers), but reporting will help eBay catch the person if there truly is shill bidding going on. It's the "flag it and move on" of eBay! (Shill bidding is particularly pernicious on Motors, as the auctions are less frequent and for more money than most other categories.

posted by feckless at 1:16 PM on March 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

Sellers can take advantage of the fact that bidders can become emotionally attached to that object. I don't know how many times I've seen a particular item get bid up in a bidding war while an identical item languishes at 1/2 the price a few items down on the page. The key to rational bidding, online or otherwise, is to determine the value of the thing you're bidding on, then STOP at that value. Period. There will be another one of those things, unless you're buying Monets or Gutenberg Bibles. Let it go.
posted by Devils Rancher at 1:17 PM on March 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: The car is relatively rare, and the reason I am looking on eBay is that other options are more expensive, fewer options, worse condition, etc. I am not overly concerned about the condition of the car - I will have an extended warranty, have driven and looked at this car, am familiar with the model and will have eBay Vehicle Purchase Protection.

I am looking at this more from a game theory perspective - I could just stop bidding out of principle, but that's not going to get me the car I want. I could make an offer off of eBay (which the seller invited me to do), but I would prefer to have the eBay "Vehicle Purchase Protection."
posted by iknowizbirfmark at 1:24 PM on March 5, 2012

I could make an offer off of eBay (which the seller invited me to do)

Now, see, if I weren't already skeptical of the seller, this would have made me so. I would definitely report the seller and forget about the auction--it's obviously someone who does not have your best interests in mind.
posted by johnofjack at 1:39 PM on March 5, 2012 [15 favorites]

iknowizbirfmark: "I could make an offer off of eBay (which the seller invited me to do), but I would prefer to have the eBay "Vehicle Purchase Protection.""

This situation should be setting off all kinds of alarm bells. I think you're getting too fixated on how to make the deal work, and losing sight of whether or not this is a good/safe deal. Does making a side channel offer to a guy you suspect of utilizing a shill bidder really seem like a good idea?

Either way, there isn't really anything you can do here. Continuing to bid against a possible (and likely) shill bidder isn't going to help. They'll either raise it past your hard limit or the seller will come back and give you the 'second place' chance anyway. I'd report on principle, assuming Ebay doesn't inform the seller of who filed the complaint. The question you should really be asking yourself is are you willing to to take a chance on a shady deal. I wouldn't.
posted by vohk at 1:49 PM on March 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If the seller is a licensed dealer with an eBay Motors Dealer account, then taking offers off of eBay is a normal and acceptable practice, allowed within the terms of the dealer's eBay agreement.

Shill bidding, however, is never allowed.
posted by doomtop at 1:51 PM on March 5, 2012

Stop bidding on the car.
posted by dgeiser13 at 1:54 PM on March 5, 2012

Alternative (cos it's happened to me): It's not a shill, just a first-timer who has come to ebay on an item you want because he/she
1. wants the hard-to-find car.
2. love's dicking around with sellers (which was my experience, I tracked him down to being an ex-footballer with probable brain damage).
3. everybody has to start somewhere.

How to not to lose out of this deal? Stop bidding past your cut-off amount and wait to see what happens.
posted by Kerasia at 1:59 PM on March 5, 2012

Best answer: The only reason using a shill is successful is that some people decide what they are willing to pay based on what others are willing to pay.

When there is a fixed end time for an auction, like on ebay, the only non-losing strategy is to wait until near the end of the auction and then bid the maximum amount you are willing to pay. This gives other bidders no chance to raise their bid, a bit a time, until they are a tiny bit higher than yours.

Note that you must bid the maximum amount you are willing to pay, not the amount you HOPE to pay, not the amount you THINK is a few dollars over what the next guy bid, etc. etc.

If you had done this (and you still could), the problem would be moot.

Any other behavior, such as bidding a few dollars more at a time until you are "on top" and then getting all upset when someone else bids after you, is irrational and is perhaps based on a misunderstanding of how the proxy bidding system works.

So the answer to What should I do? is: You should understand and think about the rules carefully, and then use ebay in a way that maximizes the chance of the outcome you want, and that does not let others manipulate you.
posted by fritley at 2:04 PM on March 5, 2012 [6 favorites]

Agree with Kerasia. I was a first time bidder on an unusual item on eBay that I could not find elsewhere. I really wanted the item and just put a high bid, my highest price in and figured I would either get it or not.

If I were you I would bid up to the amount you are willing to pay then stop and send a message to the seller to contact you in the event the highest bidder flakes.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 2:06 PM on March 5, 2012

It's for reasons like this that I always use Auction Sniper to bid on eBay auctions. Put in the maximum real amount you would be willing to bid and the Auction Sniper bot will enter the bid for you around a tenth of a second before the auction ends. This way a shill bidder can't bid the auction up, you beat any of the other bidders who might have manually raised their bids to outbid you, and if someone has entered in a maximum amount higher than your evaluation of the maximum you would be willing to pay then you have avoided paying more than you wanted by getting caught up in a bidding war. Doesn't help you for this auction though.
posted by slkinsey at 2:18 PM on March 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

slkinsey this only works if no one else is using snipers..... It sounds in this case like it might be an auto-sniper, either the car-owner's or someone else who is genuinely interested.
posted by a womble is an active kind of sloth at 2:38 PM on March 5, 2012

The beauty of using a sniper on eBay is that when you bid on eBay put in your maximum bid, but eBay will only "bid up" the auction price until you hit the lowest amount necessary to have a winner. If your max bid is 100 bucks and the next lowest bidder's max bid was 70 bucks, you win the auction at 75 bucks (or whatever).

So using the sniper means that you have to actually put in the real maximum amount you would be willing to pay. Otherwise it doesn't work. All the sniper does is exploit the weakness of non-snipers who might come back and manually "bid up" the price of the item by submitting your bid at the last possible second. In order to do this, the sniper bot comes in and submits your maximum bid only at the last fraction of a second. This won't defeat another sniper bot at a higher amount, but it will defeat someone who would have manually bid higher.

So long as your maximum bid is higher than the maximum bid of anyone else who might be sniping, you will win the auction. If someone else using a sniper has specified a higher maximum bid, then you do lose the auction. But since that amount is higher than the maximum amount you were willing to pay, it doesn't matter anyway.

The reason to use the sniper is to determine your max bid and then ignore the auction until it's over. Then either you won or you didn't. There's really no need to bid on an eBay auction before the last second, and it's actually counterproductive to do so.
posted by slkinsey at 2:52 PM on March 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: "Alternative (cos it's happened to me): It's not a shill, just a first-timer who has come to ebay on an item you want..."

This is possible, but seems unlikely to me that such a person would not have bid on previous similar cars (which there have been recently) and wouldn't even previously have had an eBay account. Also, it seems unlikely that a person's first product purchased is a big, multi-ten-thousand dollar item like a car - buying a car remotely is sufficiently fraught with peril that I would be surprised if anyone who cares about their money would do it on eBay without first being comfortable with eBay through experience.

Honestly, I would be surprised if most dealers would sell a car to a new eBayer with zero feedback.

Anyway, I stopped bidding and the suspected shill bidder won the auction at an amount I think is actually a little under market and at which the dealer didn't want to sell me the car, but I'll probably never know unless the car shows up again somewhere.
posted by iknowizbirfmark at 3:02 PM on March 5, 2012

I got tired of this a long time ago. I just put in 1 bid, for the amount I’m willing to pay, and move on.
posted by bongo_x at 5:20 PM on March 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

This happened to me with a car on ebay. I finally walked away and the other bidder won. Then, the seller wrote me and said, "congratulations on winning the auction for the car" and listed my last (losing) bid amount as the amount due. I told the seller that I did not win and that I was not interested in buying it even if it was now newly available. I didn't trust the transaction after such a transparent shill situation.
posted by quince at 8:13 PM on March 5, 2012 [4 favorites]

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