The Complete Guide To Safely Buying Cards on eBay
I’ve had the unfortunate experience of breaking the news to many eBay buyers that the card they spent multiple thousands of dollars on was a fake.
Thankfully eBay has strong buyer protection rules in place along with PayPal guarantees and options to dispute the transaction through your credit card company. Thus, many of the buyers I’ve spoken to have been able to recover their funds.
Still, I really hope that eBay can develop a program for sports cards, similar to what they have done with sneakers and watches.
Despite this, I decided that I should create a guide to help buyers protect themselves from the most unscrupulous of eBay sellers.
eBay does a good job of shutting down fake listings if enough people complain, but often times many fall through the cracks.
Note that eBay does require that any cards that have a questionable authenticity be listed as a reprint, yet buyers are still bidding up these cards thinking they’ve found a diamond in the rough.
This guide will help you avoid these mistakes and help you become a better-informed buyer when purchasing sports cards on eBay.
eBay is a great resource for card collectors and offers the largest marketplace for both buyers and sellers. We are eBay affiliates, and have a store on eBay. No medium will get you more attention for your listings then eBay. Yet with the massive amount of listings, come the less than desirable sellers, who are leveraging the power of eBay to scam unwitting buyers.
This happens unfortunately far too often as I keep seeing clear reprints or counterfeits that are selling for way too much money. Thus, it is apparent to me that many buyers on eBay are just very ill informed; they won't realize until years later that the card they spent hundreds or thousands on is a fake.
So, here are the key things that I believe every eBay buyer should focus on when purchasing sports cards from the eBay marketplace.
Closely Examine The Seller's Feedback Rating
This is probably the most important thing that you can do as a buyer. Normally I don't like to buy anything from a seller that has a feedback rating below 99%. I'd say that 1 complaint out of 100 sales is probably the most I'm comfortable with.
This is because a seller always has a chance to rectify a problem if there is an issue. So, realistically, there shouldn't be any room for error, but I'm willing to accept that there are going to be circumstances where a buyer is just being a pain and there's not much you can do about that.
Check Out The Most Watched Cards on eBay Right Now!
Importantly, check to see that the feedback involves sales or if it also includes feedback as a buyer. Many scammers on eBay will boost up their feedback by buying many smaller priced items. Note that getting solid feedback as a buyer doesn't take much; you just pay for the item on time and a seller can leave positive feedback. Whereas, as a seller, feedback is based on communication, quick and efficient shipping, along with the delivery of the promised product.
If you examine a seller's feedback and they have say 100 positive reviews, yet 99 as a buyer, I would be wary. This person has only received feedback on one item on eBay prior to your purchase. Are you willing to be the test dummy for one of their first sales on eBay?
Here's a good example of a buyer with limited seller feedback and multiple positive buyer feedback ratings.
jenny08051987 has 100% Positive Feedback on 403 ratings. So, a buyer would likely see that 100% and assume that they can buy with confidence.
Yet, jenny08051987 just sold a fake 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle card for $1500.
If we look at her profile, we can see that nearly all of that feedback has come as a buyer. And not as a buyer of household supplies or clothing, yet as a buyer predominantly of sports cards. We can see this based on just the sellers of the items that she has purchased from:
This is just a small sampling, there she has hundreds of purchases from sports collectibles stores. So this gives me some inclination that jenny08051987 has some sort of idea about the sports card market. Out of over 600 positive reviews as a buyer, she has received feedback on two items as a seller and both more than a year ago.
And them BAM, jenny08051987 comes out of hibernation to sell one of the most valuable baseball cards of all time. She did, per the eBay rules, list the card as a reprint, but when is it okay to sell a worthless counterfeit for $1500?
Maybe eBay needs to institute some sort of rule whereas if you have less than ten positive reviews as a seller, you are limited on what you can actually list for sale?
Common Terminology on eBay Auctions from Scammer Sellers
"found it in grandpa's attic...."
"inherited these from my grandfather...."
"don't feel like waiting to get these graded..."
"someone passed these down to me 45 years ago..."
"acquired this in a storage auction sale..."
I will point out --- just because a seller has limited feedback does not mean that they are some sort of scammer. Everyone has to start somewhere and they very well might be an honorable person looking to establish themselves as a seller.
Yet, this means, especially if you are spending a lot of money on a card, that you maybe spend a little more time communicating with the seller, maybe asking for additional pictures to help confirm ownership and/or authenticity.
Examine The Seller's Other Items For Sale
Often times a closer examination of a seller's other items for sale can help piece together the puzzle as to whether a seller is trying to scam you or not.
Here's an example of one seller that eBay needs to shut down.
Now using point one from above, we can see that drewcecil1985 has a 112 positive feedback score over the past twelve months. Yet this seller has not sold any items for over a year and that feedback score has been built primarily as a buyer.
So then all of a sudden, drewcecil1985 decides to list some cards for sale. These cards will likely have sold by the time you are reading this. However all of the cards he is selling are clear fakes.
Here is one the seller had for sale -- a counterfeit 1948 Leaf Jackie Robinson. The auction is now at over $200 with several hours left. Thankfully not into the thousands yet, but someone is going to get screwed royally on this card.
Here's the seller's description for the card:
1948 Leaf Jackie Robinson #79. Condition is "Very Good". I acquired this card (among thousands of others) recently through a storage auction sale. The previous owner had hundreds of boxes of cards, mostly vintage and some modern. A few cards were graded, but most were not. I do not know the history or authenticity of the card with 100% certainty. Per eBay policy, I will be selling it as an aged reprint. Bid accordingly. Sales are final, no returns. Good luck!!
So while this seller is technically following the eBay rules, he is still sort of implying that this card very well might be real. And in fact, with 100% certainty it is a fake. So there is no grey area, no possibilities of an authentic card here. And someone is going to pay WAY TOO much for this card, thinking that it might indeed be real. It isn't.
But suppose you walked into this listing and you aren't sure about the authenticity. Start examining the seller's other listings. And this is what you would find:
Mr Cecil has some of the hobby's most valuable cards for sale, including two 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle cards.
I'm willing to accept that someone who isn't a card collector might be so clueless that they don't realize they have fake cards. But I'm not comfortable with someone doing so without zero homework. You're telling me Mr Cecil came across two 52 Topps Mickey Mantle cards and just decided to throw them up on eBay?
As a buyer, you should immediately notice that all of these cards are selling (even with several hours left) well below the actual book value of the cards. That's an immediate red flag that other buyers haven't at the very least bid these cards up close to the actual value of the card. So, the combination of 'found it in a storage locker', with zero seller feedback, priced way below market, along with a small collection of the best cards in the hobby should be enough to tell you to walk away.
Avoid Sellers That Won't Provide Clear Images
One of the hallmarks of a scammer is the lack of clear images. This usually entails avoiding the areas of the card that might help identify the card as a fake. Limited clarity on a Fleer or Bulls logo on a Jordan rookie is one example. At that point if you are still trying to pursue the card, and the seller will not provide clear images, you must move on.
I have certainly been in situations before where the seller is just not very technically inclined or they have a phone that takes poor photos. Still in this day and age, if you are unable to examine higher quality photos of the card, there is a much higher probability of you getting scammed.
In addition, check out their other items for sale. If they have crystal clear images on other items, yet the one in question has blurry images, it is likely a clear sign that the seller is being deceptive.
Feel Out The Seller For The "Real Story"
While I noted some of the red flags in many listings we see, such as 'inherited from grandpa' or 'found in a storage locker' sometimes those stories end up being true. But if you have a hunch that the seller might actually be telling the truth, it's your job to communicate with the seller to find out the 'real story'.
If they say that they were 'inherited from grandpa', maybe you send a message, and find out more about how the cards were left to them, how did 'grandpa' acquire the cards. Often times you might actually get a story that sounds like it couldn't be faked. A seller that has a limited response and minute details probably has no story to tell and is likely just out to take advantage of you.
Watch Out For Relisted Items
This is not always the case, but often times, if you see an item relisted after a month or more from a previous listing, there is a good chance the card is a fake. And if it has been relisted multiple times, that is a huge red flag.
Often, a buyer will receive the card, authenticate it, and determine that they want to return it. Again, the buyer might return a card because they didn't get what they thought they were buying, BUT if there were questions on authenticity to begin with, and you see it relisted, there is a very good chance that it's a fake.
But remember, a relisting isn't always a red flag! If used in conjunction with all of the other red flags I've provided, it most certainly can be. Here's an example:
Here's a 1933 Goudey Gehrig card that sold for $2200 in December. Yet the card was recently relisted. This is an ASA Acugrade graded card which has a history of grading altered or fake cards. In this case, maybe it was a buyers remorse sort of deal--note the seller feedback is excellent and my guess is that they helped alleviate any buyer concern. This card could very well be real, but it also is probably trimmed if it is authentic. It looks like maybe somebody also may have tried to crack open the case at some point and gave up.
I'm always learning about different ways that the bad apples will try to take advantage of people on eBay. So, if you've been taken or if you have any additional advice for eBay buyers feel free to comment below or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org