Know Who You're Buying From--And Do Your Homework

Here's a weird story. My friend Gary Greenberg (who has a great blog about his collecting exploits called Garyrocks) contacted me last week about something he'd found on Ebay. Since I just settled a contentious lawsuit (see below) I'm going to be circumspect in telling this story, but the short version is that Gary had found some memorabilia allegedly owned by a member of a highly collectible classic-rock band. He'd negotiated a pretty good deal with the seller and asked me if I wanted to partner with him on the purchase (there were two items; I'd buy one, he'd buy one.)

We discussed the authenticity of the items and it seemed Gary had done his homework--he'd had a lot of communication with the seller, who was allegedly selling the items on behalf a roadie for the band, there was indeed a roadie with that name, and there was a letter of authenticity from him, which looked genuine. So we decided to go ahead with the purchase. Since I had more money in my PayPal account that day, we decided I'd pay and that he'd reimburse me. He sent me the seller's name and name of someone else with the same last name who had the PayPal account I'd be transferring the funds into--I assumed it was the seller's wife. Now the story gets interesting.

Being a research obsessive and by nature a skeptical guy, I googled the names to see what I could find. They were unusual names, especially the presumed wife's name--so I thought I might find something. I like to know who I'm buying things from, and if you're patient you can sometimes find information about the person you're doing business with--maybe they are active in the online collecting community, or have their own business, or on occasion, someone has done business with them and has written positively (or negatively) about the experience.

Amazingly, it took all of about 15 seconds to find a 2005 newspaper article about a huge, multi-million dollar fraud committed by someone with the same name as the seller (who was in prison when it was written,) and who was married to someone with the exact same name as was on the PayPal account. The very unusual name. Uh-oh.

Now of course I can't be sure that these were the same people, but they were a couple with the same two unusual names, living in the same foreign country, and the husband had been in the music business. And come to think of it, his feedback on ebay was unimpressive to say the least.

I let Gary know what I'd found and we both agreed sending this guy nearly $1500 was probably not the world's best idea. Sure, maybe it was a bizarre coincidence. But the odds of two couples having the same two unusual names, being in the music business, living in the same country as the seller were pretty remote indeed. And if it was the same guy, well sure, he might have gone straight. Who knows, maybe the stuff was real. But I certainly wasn't going to risk $1500. to find out.

As I wrote in the last post, if you're buying memorabilia online, it's essential to know who you're buying from, and to do your homework. I know doing your homework isn't always the most pleasant way to spend your leisure time--but like mom and dad always said, it's good for you. And here's a perfect example of exactly why.

--Jeff Gold
(and don't forget; insist on a lifetime guarantee of authenticity too !)

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