February 17, 2006

Disappearing Like Magic

I was in the local comic book shop yesterday. There was a recent Spider-Man crossover story that Maggie got me a bunch of issues of for Xmas, and I wanted to see how it ended.

One of the owners of the shop is a friend from back in college, but we don’t really stay in contact. The fellow who was there is, I think, another owner of the shop and I overheard him telling a few of the people who were hanging around that there was a break-in at the shop last week.

There were a few kids of various ages about, and young adults; I think they were either playing Magic in the adjoining room or some similar game. I might have been the oldest person in there, which to me feels very weird.

The fellow told a couple of the people hanging our that on Friday they’d discovered a break in had occurred Thursday night. Their safe was stolen, along with many brand new boxes of Magic: The Gathering trading cards.

It makes sense to suppose that the thief will get rid of the cards online via eBay auction or whatnot.

I don’t know why I’d never thought of the high probability of stolen items being hawked for cheap on eBay. I have no idea what they do to try to keep things legal, but I can’t imagine what they could possibly do to make sure your Magic cards aren’t stolen. I’ve bought books and some electronics, most of which I really doubt were stolen because they were relatively low value. But a number of things I have bought certainly could have been stolen, and there is no way for me to have known beforehand, or even after the transaction.

I don’t buy all that often via eBay, but often enough that I have been on the receivign end of a couple of slightly shady transactions.

  • A “Signs” DVD I bought worked pretty much fine, but a little bit strange. And it had this big “DVD-9” symbol on the front of the cover. At the time I didn’t know what to make of it. But I have since learned this is one “sign” of a bootleg.
  • I have bought books which have arrived with a black mark on the textblock edge. I’ve wondered if this meant something.
  • I have bought a CD that has a hole punched through the UPC symbol, which to me indicates that it was a promo CD and not intended for resale. Not sure whether that’s legal or not, but it certainly means that the artist was not compensated for that CD the first time it was sold.

Have any of you folks had any experience with strange dealings on eBay where you thought you were not getting the full story of the items you purchased? I’m convinced that someone out there will be getting a good deal on Magic cards in the near future… at the expense of the local comic book shop.

Posted by James at February 17, 2006 9:10 AM
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I think the black mark means that the books were returned from a store to the publisher? I'll bet Patti knows. I know I've read about this before, but I don't think it's anything shady. Whenever you buy a book at a discount place, like Building 19 or Book Warehouse, it has a slash like this.

If the cover of the book is missing, then the book is not supposed to be resold. It's been "destroyed," and possibly reported as a tax loss? It's just that they don't destroy the whole book.

My mom collects Disney pins, and my sister and I were wondering how people can sell brand-new pins for cheap on ebay. I've bought many for below cost (and some for above cost). Some pins you can only acquire through trading with a Disney employee, so I can understand those going for a lower value because the person could have traded a low-value pin from a large set (although, of course, they usually go for quite a lot because you can't buy them). But a $13 pin for less than $8 including shipping and handling... I don't think volume can account for losing $5 every so many pins, even if you're making small profits on other pins. But I don't know.

Posted by: Maggie at February 17, 2006 11:11 AM
If the cover of the book is missing, then the book is not supposed to be resold. It's been "destroyed," and possibly reported as a tax loss? It's just that they don't destroy the whole book.

I think they return the covers to the publisher and the publisher counts them as destroyed, so whoever had the book was reimbursed for the book. I'm guessing.

When you see those books being sold, someone lied to the publisher.

Posted by: James at February 17, 2006 11:20 AM

Crooks on eBay? Are you kidding??

A friend of mine recently purchased a set of empty DVD boxes from a dead person. You see, she thought she was getting a used Buffy Season 1 set. The seller was a dead person whose identity was being used by a crook. I don't know why the crook bothered mailing back empty DVD cases. Ebay actually intervened, in this case. Miracle of miracles.

I quickly realized the guy who sold me the Moog was a liar. Of course he denied it, but after I reported him to eBay (which was NOT easy) he offered a refund, which I refused because by then I had found someone who would repair it in a way that would make further malfunctions much less likely.


I eventually found *proof* that the seller's explanation for the "mixup" was sheer BS, but by that time it no longer mattered and he was no longer on eBay.

When looking at lunch boxes, I noticed that sometimes the seller would say "includes Thermos" or (more misleading) "includes original Thermos" or occasionally the coy "I think this is the original Thermos" when I knew that the included Thermos was likely or DEFINITELY not the one that came with the lunch box.

One of them claimed that a lunch box was from the 50's because it said copyright 1950-something on it. Nice try, lady. That's the copyright of the Peanuts CHARACTERS. Not the lunch box. (In fact, she listed all the copyright dates, of which 195? was the EARLIEST; if you have a lunch box with a 1962 date on it, then obviously it wasn't made in the 50's.)

Since it was the exact same one I had as a kid, and was being sold by other people as "1973," I think that would be a more realistic guess.

And when looking at Vaseline glass, you sometimes have sellers claiming that something is vaseline glass for no apparent reason, or with weasel wording like "I don't have a black light but it sure looks like it." (I'm talking about sellers within the US, where collectors use that term specifically for uranium-containing glass that glows in black light; outside the US, "vaseline glass" has a broader definition.) Or, they try to pass off a repro or re-issue as "antique" or "vintage."

I do sometimes wonder whether other types of items have been stolen, because I think of eBay as similar to a pawn shop or flea market, both of which can easily be used to fence certain types of stolen goods. (When my ImageWriter II was stolen in 1989, we tracked it to a pawnshop, but by then it was already gone.)

Posted by: Julie at February 17, 2006 11:28 AM

Oh - I am not surprised by crooks on eBay. Especially the types who blatantly screw you over. It's jsut that I'd never thought of the extent of the more subtle problem of stolen property before.

I am always interested to hear about people's stories of how they were swindled. Partly because it is an education. Partly to offer sympathy. Partly because it is a (crude) form of conning and I'm interested in how people take advantage of other people.

But sometimes these things are so subtle, like the DVD-9 thing, that you have no idea until someone tells you. I was honestly planning to re-sell the "Signs" DVD, because I don't really want to watch it again. But then I looked into what DVD-9 meant. Now that I strongly suspect it is not legal, I can't sell it in good conscience. So, I'm stuck with it.

Posted by: James at February 17, 2006 12:09 PM

May some God appear and create a special hell just for Mel Gibson, the violent SOB. I wouldn't care too much about accidentally buying a bootleg version of one of his movies. Sorry you can't resell it, though. Why more people aren't born with a conscience, I don't know. Not standard equipment, I guess.

I see a lot of "I'm not a collector, so ask questions" on ebay. I think some of it is probably sincere, but a lot is caveat emptor.

Posted by: Maggie at February 17, 2006 12:16 PM

Almost makes me wish I was a less ethical person. People are so gullible. It's easy to make a fortune if you have no conscience. I wonder if we could make a business model out of busting swindlers? That way, we are making use of our knowledge for good, not evil.

Posted by: briwei at February 17, 2006 12:22 PM

People get swindled for the same reasons people swindle -- they're greedy. Not all, of course. What happened to Julie's friend is really blatantly stealing, not really swindling. But how do you market anything to that crowd? They don't want to hear that they're not going to make it rich by getting a great deal on an auction and reselling.

Posted by: Maggie at February 17, 2006 12:59 PM

There was an article a couple months ago in one of the local papers (I think the Pawtucket Times or the Woonsocket Call) about a guy who's snowboard was stolen who worked with the cops to set up a "sting" once he found it was being sold on eBay.

I generally avoid eBay like the plague. I think it breeds a creepy consumerism where people base their identity around winning auctions to add to some useless collection (I've known several people with this type of addictive thing when it came to collecting). But generally I just find the whole eBay culture off-putting. I hate people hounding me about feedback. I hate all the LIKE NEW - L@@K!!!!! descriptions.

I did, however, buy my car throgh eBay. A kid up in the Boston area was selling his Honda Accord and I went up and test drove it and met the guy and it all worked out well.

Posted by: DG at February 17, 2006 1:23 PM

OK - it's really swindled and cheated.

Posted by: James at February 17, 2006 1:47 PM

Well, I was more thinking of finding a way to make money busting the swindlers. If we can make it no longer profitable or at least too risky to swindle in that way, they are forced to come up wih new methods. We're like the swindling Norton Anti Virus. Norti Anti Swindle. Install this software on your compuer and a pop-up will appear whenever you are getting swindled.

Posted by: briwei at February 17, 2006 4:59 PM

How about a superhero? Like anti-swindleman.

Wow, I'm so out of creativity and energy today. I need to recharge.

Posted by: James at February 17, 2006 5:09 PM

LOL! That kind of sounds like a chess strategy. "Kasparov is employing the Antiswindleman Defense"

Posted by: briwei at February 17, 2006 5:53 PM

The black line is definately an overstock book. When a book isn't sold after it's initial release the store marks it and sends it back to the distributor. They then end up at dramatic discounts on overstock shelves. Even popular books can end up there since they almost always print more books than necessary.

Since paperbacks in general aren't worth sending back they get their covers ripped off and get tossed. Only the covers go back to prove they weren't sold. I used to do this when I worked in books and records at Caldor. It would have been easy enough to grab the coverless books.

The cd cut out is also an overstock thing.

Posted by: B.O.B. (bob) at February 21, 2006 8:14 AM

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