back to article Online sales of stolen gear prompt call to list serial numbers

The US House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary yesterday heard police and retail witnesses call for eBay to include serial numbers in its auction postings. Members of the Committee said the issue of organised shop lifting needed action from legislators because it was now costing US retailers $30bn a year. Brad …


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  1. Andy Turner

    Can't see that working

    Surely the crooks could then harvest valid serial numbers from genuine auctions and re-use them in the future, perhaps multiple times. Are they expecting eBay to monitor for serial number re-use?!

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ebay should comply with the law

    <font color=green>

    "But Chesnut warned that sellers are usually nervous of including information like names, addresses, and telephone numbers on auction listings."</font>

    In the UK, and probably throughout Europe, its a LEGAL REQUIREMENT that every business seller puts their name and address either in the listing or on their ebay ME page.

    Probably more than 50% of ebay sellers are NOT simply selling their unwanted presents or used items, and are therefore very obviously buying to sell.

    Why, therefore, do 50% of the UK listings not obey the law and contain the name and address of the seller?

    And why, therefore, does ebay aid and abet these sellers by failing to provide an effective mechanism for reporting business sellers who fail to properly disclose their name and address?

    At the moment, these people can probably only be reported by Trading Standards -- and sadly, there's no evidence that anybody from trading standards is doing its job by enforcing this part of the law.

    Meanwhile, we can't complain TO trading standards because the seller often doesn't identify their location beyond "UK" or "London" and TS is far too compartmentalised to be able to deal with sellers who have no location.

    So, its Trading Standards that are in part "causing" this problem and its high time that they made it a priority to set up an ebay supersquad that can deal with sellers in unspecified areas.

  3. Mr Beast

    Don't think that will work.

    So are the serial numbers just going to be placed on each advert? And will there be any cross reference to ensure duplicates, or reposts. As soon as a serial number is added anyone with nicked equipment will just use what looks like a genuine serial number. Hell, maybe this will allow them to create genuine serial number stickers and then flog it off down the car boot. When the police check, it's genuine.

    Serial numbers should be tracked by the owner, AND by the manufacturer.

    If someone nicks your HP Laptop, YOU phone HP and tell them that it's been nicked. Then, when someone decides to update drivers, or autodetect my system and tell me what drivers I need. Bing! thats a hit. flag their vistiting IP address and invite them to have them emailed instead of downloading them that gets turned over to the police.

    Hell, they could even be evil and say that there is a "critical BIOS patch" that must be installed. The Thief (or at least the receiver of the stolen goods) downloads it, applies it. Hey presto one Brick that just displays.....


    (at this point it's probably going to be lobbed in the nearest bin)

    If it does get to a police station somehow. police return it to the owner along with the crime reference number. they phone up the manufacturer and maybe fax a copy of the police doumentation. HP Ship out BIOS repair CD and a recovery CD as well.

  4. Stephen Russell

    Serial #s rule.

    It would be fine if serial #s were required for TV, PC, etc type of posting.

    A manufacturer could determine if that was a legit item if if it was bogus they could ask eBay to contact the poster as to why it was removed.

    It would be great for say HP to find a laptop that is new and was stolen from their shipping dock.

    We need to terminate the allowance of crime in the name of free speech.

  5. Tony Carter-Inman

    Serial Database?

    ...err, won't that mean that you'll then have access to a huge number of real serial numbers to use in your advert, with the buyer only realising when they get the product delivered - assuming they even verify the number once they have the product.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Excellent Idea - Other uses too..

    Excellent Idea serial numbers cant be changed, and can be verified online in advance of sale. Could wipe out memcard fraud issues easily.

    I will remember to ask for serial in all sales before I buy in future !!

    if seller wont comply it's a fraud...

    Still a problem with no post frauds though...

  7. Anonymous Coward

    what authentication verification

    Would undermine the profitability of our walled semi anonymous black market and repress sales of stolen, misrepresented, or nonexistent items how would that profit us.

  8. Anonymous Coward


    Its all to easy. We simply require that every product sold over a given value be tagged with an unique serial number - along with an encrypted validation key. Preferably in a RFID tag as well. Then, since we will all be buying on-line, we require that the vendors record all ID tags - which since it will only be eBay, Amazon and Google left will be easy. Indeed, clearly Google can simply add the records of the IDs of everything you own to their already voluminous database of your everyday habits. Since all second hand buying and selling will be done on eBay, and all purchaes paid for with PayPal we can track everything.

    At some point a bit later we simply outlaw the use of cash, or indeed the use of any non-approved (i.e. not owned by Google, eBay or Amazon) shops or services. The need to prove ownership of anything ceases, all you need do is have the police Google for your complete list of posessions. Clearly if you have anything in your possession that doesn't appear on your Google inventory, you are not entitled to it, and can be summarily arrested. Birthday and Christmas presents can be tackled by a new targetted on-line services - which since this is where the present will be purchased from is no problem. A new all of society social network Web 2.0 enabled mash up I think.

    My goodness, it is all so obvious. It can all be done with just a single click. Hmm, maybe I should patent this.......

  9. Leo Nicholson

    Anonymous Coward (12:19 GMT)

    I'm afraid you're wrong in this case. I used to work in IT for DSG (yes, I know, cringe) and I now run an online business (ltd. company) selling through a few websites and a few eBay accounts. Our name and company registration number is on every page but our address is not shown to the buyer until just before they pay.


    Because we operate from a residential address (bought two next door houses and knocked 'em together - upstairs is home, downstairs is work) and we hold expensive stock. Sure, we have comprehensive business insurance but even so information is power.

    How is it legal?

    The DSRs state that the customer has to have the full business information before the transaction takes place. Selling on a website, the transaction doesn't commence until the buyer pays, and on eBay selling items and requiring immediate payment, payment and the legal contract of buying merge into one.

    Long story short, you're wrong.

  10. Anonymous Coward


    this could save me a fortune buying windoze licenses and any other software .hope they do it

  11. Anonymous Coward

    Err. IMEI's

    your all talking about sellers harvisting IMEI's, or making them up. the make, model and country of origin can all be determined from your phones IMEI.

    It wouldnt be at all difficult for ebay to verify the make and model and whether an IMEI is valid or not. The bay could easily track duplicates, and advise buyers to check the IMEI upon receipt (Which ebay should disclose to the buyer once the transaction has completed), if it doesnt match, then the buyer gets a refund, the seller screwed over and banned. Simple.

    I've bought and sold a good few phones on ebay, and this sounds like a good idea to me.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How about this way?...

    Erm, surely the seller should enter the serial number when placing a listing. This would be kept private and only sent to the buyer upon purchase. When the buyer receives the item they would check it's the correct serial # (if not then seller should be considered suspect and reported to Ebay).

    Once Ebay have this database of valid serial numbers, it could be continually cross-referenced to a police database of stolen property serial nos. Any matches and the plod get called in to investigate. How about that?

    (After losing £1,500 of serial-numbered camera gear this year, which probably made its way onto Ebay, I have an axe to grind!).

    Heh... more controversially, since the police never have enough time, it would be even better to be able to pre-register a bunch of serial numbers with Ebay. Then if your stuff's nicked and ever sold on Ebay again with matching serials, then at least the original owner could be notified in order to conduct their own investigation.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    EBay and it's boy PayPal

    Anything that has to do with EBay and it's Symbi-idiotic arm PayPal is as close to a 419 Scam as any legalized entity (Other than torte lawyers) can get.

    Why would Ebay do anything to encumber a lucrative trade in black market goods? They get paid the same whatever the source is. You got ripped off? Too bad. You want your Paypal refunded? Well you've just introduced yourself into a process that will turn any American football Tight End into a Wide Receiver before the process is completed. And you'll thank them for it.

    Bottom line is legal businesses have no incentive to combat fraud. Period. I attempted to deal with Verizon to obtain information regarding a number of fraudulent purposes made on a Debit card of mine. The basic response is that fraud can't possibly exist, we don't have that information, and you'd need a Supreme Court ruling to get that information in any case.

    Bottom line is that fraus only exists if you are the victim. Since Ebay has been historically pretty much a Swiss cheese factory when it comes to security, why should this case be any different. All they want is their listing fee, and no small matter of legality of goods being sold will get in tthe way of that. Trying to fix this is akin to attempting to masturbate if you are a quadrapalegic.

  14. Mark Nelson
    Thumb Up

    Re: Ebay should comply with the LAW

    Most people on the Internet are nervous about supplying things like Name, Address, Phone Number and email address because these things can be used for Identity Theft and to send you SPAM so they think why should I do something so dumb. If the British Police and New Scotland Yard are willing to compensate them for every time their Identity is stolen because they complied with the law those organizations will go in to receivership pretty darn quick in my opinion. :lol: :lol: :lol:

  15. Morely Dotes

    Hooray eBay?

    "Other witnesses criticised eBay for not co-operating with retail investigators as they do with police."

    Bugger retail investigators. The police have the force of law behind them, and follow specific procedures which, should they deviate, may subject the investigator to legal consequences of their own.

    "Retail investigators" are unregulated cowboys out to make a name for themselves with their employers; they have no oversight by law enforcement, no consequences for violating the privacy and other rights of their "suspects," and no motivation to restrain themselves from abusing their position.

    eBay is correct to refuse cooperation with retail investigators, both morally (as explained above) and legally, as eBay might suffer the consequences of revealing their customers' information to an unauthorized third party.

  16. Phil

    Stupid idea

    It's a stupid idea for the numerous reasons others have already listed.

    Someone has a nicked DVD player, they go into their local electrical store, make a note of the serial number of the display model , then use this in their advert. Not marked up as stolen so will be no problem.

    That took me 5 secs to think up, the average criminal will probably be able to come up with 100's of better ways.

    In the last week, twice I've ordered free things online (one being the free wii handset jackets available from Nintendo), both times I was required to enter the serial number of the product to confirm I really owned one. While this could obviously be got around if someone so desired, now all we have to do is look up ebay and get one from there.

  17. Svein Skogen

    Only way this could be done was if

    There was an ISO-standard for serial numbers on all equipment. Why? Because as long as each manufacturer has their own standard, there is NO easy way for an automatic system to verify that the serial number entered actally checks out as one. Some manufacturers even manage to have several standards for serial numbers, due to purchasing other companies, AND their "re-branding" policy.

    If there was an ISO-Standard ebay could automatically verify the serial numbers. Easily. If the standard even was smart enough to include "special" numbers that contain information such as "compartment demonstration model", the idea of using the serial number from the one in the local shop doesn't really help you much. Since this standardized serial number would autmatically provide ebay with model info, the fraud from marketing one thing as a Rolls Royce, and selling a Lada, would get fairly impractical. Add to that a setup with pre-paid "ownership change" papers to send in to the manufacturer, and a process of automatically send the new set of ownership papers to the new adress. Add to that a standard of returning things to the registered adress whenever things has been in for service, and we may be close to a solution.

    This will of course only happen the day pigs grow tired of ice-skating in hell, and fly off into the sunset.


    Because, as someone else has said, ebay has no real reason to care if what is sold is illegal/stolen/counterfeit/broken. They get their money anyway. Only there is one small way we can give them some incentive.

    Dealing with stolen/misrepresented/illegal goods is a criminal offence, and should you or I do it, we would face criminal charges, and jailtime, for handling the transaction. Since ebay's accountants handle these transactions, make them PERSONALLY reponsible. The accounting part of any company tends to be the favourite pets of the administration. Thus, the administration may take a dim view on their accountants being arrested and tossed in jail. Especially since these accountants have a strong lawsuit against their employer for becoming crminals... If the persons being responsible for this starts to have a personal interest of making sure things are as they should be, we might see an improvement on their willingness to fix the problem.


  18. Joe

    Phil is right

    It would be very easy to either make up a "not-nicked" serial number, or get one from looking on a store display model of the same item.

    Most of the solutions suggested here seem to require vast databases like the one the DVLA uses to track cars, which (if you haven't noticed) are much larger and more expensive than digital cameras and PCs - and even that system isn't completely infallible!

    Plus, why would the manufacturer of a PC care if it gets nicked? If it does, the insurance company will just pay them to supply a new one - more profit.

  19. Ian Michael Gumby

    Its actually a great idea but not for the intended reason...

    Tracking stolen merchandise is one thing.

    Verifying that the goods are valid are another.

    An example? Suppose you wanted to buy a used er "pre-owned" Cisco router. (You don't always need the latest and greatest...)

    How do you know that the Cisco router advertised on e-Bay is legit and not a copy? Cisco and other manufacturers do track the serial numbers of the products that they manufacture and you can then tell some information about it.

    The biggest reason isn't to catch a thief of stolen kit, but those who are selling counterfeit goods.

    Sure the seller can use a fake serial number, or a real serial number but not the one that they shipped. But then again, how long will they last before getting nabbed?

    Of course, buyer beware is still the mod.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    IT Angle

    It could work

    I frown upon the idea of valid serial numbers being posted on the Internet because whilst that might be good for the good guys, the bad guys would reap the benefit of being able to get a shedload of good serial numbers for free.

    However this could potentially work okay if the serial number was passed thru a one way encryption algorithym to produce a unique listable number. The software authors (etc) could declare illegal numbers which had passed thru this algorithym, and the fraudster wouldn't be able to reverse engineer the given number back to something which could be useful to them.

    I originally thought of this general idea for identification of paedophile's, as it is is a little less confrontational than tattooing 'paedophile' on their forehead, which is what those scum really deserve.

  21. SImon Hobson

    Well it would help if ...

    ... there was any sensible way to report stolen goods AND to check things against the list.

    If there were a national (or even better, international) scheme whereby people can check that what they're being offered isn't nicked, then it would certainly help the problem of people buying stuff in good faith and then later finding out it's stolen (or always wondering).

    It then wouldn't take a huge leap to see a system whereby the vendor suppplies the serial number to the auction house (such as eBay), the auction house checks the serial number and indicated in the listing that this has been done. Of course, if it gets flagged up, the police get informed.

    Only after the auction is complete does the serial number get given to the purchaser so they can check it against the actual goods received - and report it if they don't match.

    I've bought several high value items on eBay, and whilst not having any suspicions I would have checked the serial numbers 'just in case' if I knew of a simple way to do so.

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  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    My hobby

    is wandering around dixons smartwatering everything in sight with my postcode. The I sit at home and wait for the police to bring all "my" goods back to me.

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