back to article The web rip-offs nobody cares about

The problem with web crime is "who cares?" It doesn't matter if we're talking about identity theft or credit card fraud, if it's done to you, you may well have to weep alone. The simple economics of crime make it impossible to show a payback for any individual scam. Take the simple question of buying something off a web " …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down


    wholeheartedly with this article.

    However when you cannot get a police officer to attend a break-in / burglary when the burglar is STILL THERE, how much effort do you think that the police are going to expend on someone who buys 'dodgy' stuff off the online tat site(s)? I think you would be lucky to get a crime number.

    Another problem is the fact that you rarely know where the perpetrator of the scam lives / operates from. If this is in the next town then nothing is going to happen. The next county or (worst still) another country; forget it. The police already have.

    And anyway, in the authorities opinion, you're not important enough to worry about. After all what can you do to them?

  2. Ian Wilson

    Solution has always seemed obvious to me....

    ...don't do it.

    However, thats not a very useful thing to say. Personally I don't use eBay, and if I can't pay by my credit card for online purchases, I'll go elsewhere. Further, its always worth ensuring you can contact the company/seller by phone - at least you've got someone to shout at if it all goes wrong.....:)

  3. Ian

    Too Good to be True

    This appears to be an extended riff on the basic idea that things that are too good to be true are too good to be true. Real price a grand, someone's selling it for 300 quid, and they turn out to be a crook? What an amazing thing that is, I'm as surprised as Mr Surprised from Surprise Street in Surprise Town, where bears wear funny hats and the pope keeps the trees fertilised.

    I work on the assumption that everything on eBay is stolen or fake, and everyone dealing on eBay is a crook. That way on the odd occasions I buy something and don't get ripped off, I'm pleasantly surprised.

    The scull and crossbones, because it's about time someone noticed that pirates aren't honest businessmen.

  4. N1AK

    @Don't like, Don't use

    Personally I haven't used Ebay in a couple of Years, when I did it was only to sell things for payment by cheque.

    I'm sure if you take the time to check carefully, and are only buying certain things (tat that no one would fake selling) then you can get a great deal out of eBay.

    Personally I hate their attitude to abuse, and simply don't want to give them any money.

    I'm probably not bankrupting them just yet, but as that's the warning I give to anyone I know who asks about eBay it will of cost them. Perhaps the costs of being a legitimate auction site are more than the lost business though.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "It is very difficult to get the police to prosecute...


    Unless it's something they find interesting or is high profile, they're likely to tell you to get lost and then arrest you for being abusive when you call them useless bastards.

    (Incidentally, it's "investigate", the CPS "prosecutes", so it's not even that exotic.)

  6. John F

    eBay stuck in a rut?

    It seems to me that eBay are in a simple near-monopoly situation where they don't innovate substantially any more and yet no competition can really take them on.

    The problems I had just to set up a seller account recently were ridiculous, and they fixed my account's oddity rather than fixing the actual bug (I figured out the problem - slowly - thanks to google).

    There are lots of little innovations, lots of odd notices popping up saying "you're insured now if..." etc., but rearranging the whole process to make it easier, safer and more friendly? Not happening.

  7. Jamie

    Police, and gov't

    They will only get involved if it in someway affects them such as a buddy or business aquantance.

  8. Shabble

    Internet crime ignored

    Face it, the government is entirely unprepared for the growing social burden of internet related crime. What we need is to make the websites like Amazon and eBay responsible for enabling fraud in the same way that websites like PirateBay are held responsible for copyright infringement.

    Unfortunately, this would require our mighty leader to take some action... which seems unlikely considering New Labour's eleven year track record of sucking up to big business at the expense of the consumer. If eBay was used to sell vast quantities of Leona Lewis albums I bet things would be different!

  9. oliver Stieber
    Dead Vulture

    obvious solution

    Persuade google to do an auction site, that should sort out the tatfest that is ebay

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    is an idiot. £1500 product from vendor - £300 from e-bay or similar "dodgy" site.

    If he believed he was buying a genuine produce then he deserved everything he got (or lost as the case may be).

    As for the rest of the article, yes all very true.

    But then when the authorities cannot be bothered turning up for "actual" crimes (muggings, burglaries, car thefts etc) then do we really expect them to actually investigate a "virtual" crime.

    Mind you, I would think they would be happier as it would involve them sitting in front of a screen and would not disturb their doughnut eating.

    Anon for obvious reasons.....

  11. RichardB

    Small claims for the win

  12. Pete Silver badge

    fake software is easy to fix - if you want to

    One indication that your product (whether it's a handbag or a copy of Pho..<cough>..op) is overpriced is when others start to make conterfeit copies.

    For tangible goods, there's not too much you can do - except assist/make the authorities find and destroy the merchandise. For software, the situation is much easier. There are now very few barriers to stop a product from working if it's not validated.

    It has been suggested that some software providers turn a blind eye to fakes, as it acts like freeware and gets people using the stuff. Then later they may decide to buy a copy - if they don't have the money, well you haven't lost a customer as they couldn't afford it anyway. Of course they'd never admit to this in public and the judge would probably choke with laughter if you tried this as a defence "Hrrumph, very serious matter .... string him up ... court adjourned"

    While not condoning the practice, you've got to ask yourself why the supplier of a £N-hundred product is so nonchalant about so-called "losses" due to fakes.

  13. David Burton

    It does sometimes happen, but rarely

    It does sometimes get attention, but I'd recommend if you get ripped off by a website to do a search on Google or the like for the site and problems, as when I had a Wii not turn up, I later established that a lot of other people had similar problems, and some had turned up details of who ran the site. The guy's now being prosecuted for 100+ counts of fraud, and his 2 nice houses might be in jeapordy. So it's not always a dead loss - it does require enough complaints about a single person to result in action, though.

    Mind you, it's no real surprise that many frauds remain unresolved - things like hacked MP3 players or USB drives that have half (or less) the claimed capacity tend to come from the far east, and the sellers know the authorities won't take action... the worst that would happen is a few buyers get refunded and they have to set up a new eBay account. And when someone gets your card details and starts spending money abroad, nothing gets done for a while... surely it's not beyond the card providers to implement a scheme that allows you to block foreign use except when you specifically log into their site to enable it (for a period of time - next transaction, next 2 weeks, etc).

    Hell, just letting you specify individual transaction limits, or an email to notify whenever you pay someone new (so you can instantly spot unexpected new recipients of your money) would be a start.

  14. Anonymous Coward


    To be fair to Amazon, they do monitor their Amazon Marketplace a bit; I bought a pair of Sennheiser headphones off an Amazon Marketplace seller, after viewing the product on Amazon's site and following the link, when they were delivered I was a bit suspicious about the packaging and Googled to see if counterfeiting was common for the product I'd ordered, turns out it was rife so I contacted Amazon and they refunded me immediately.

    The bottom line is that many products are now counterfeited and on e-Bay it's "buyer beware"; the level of each individual crime is so low and there is so much of it that it isn't practical for Police forces anywhere to act; leave it to the car-boot crowd.

  15. Ondrej Doubek

    ask who they get their money from...

    I stopped buying from E-bay long ago, after a few unpleasant incidents where buyers withdrew from sales because the price they achieved in an auction turned out to be too low (it was the time before minimum prices...).

    I complained, no results. On the other hand, didn't answer to a seller within a few days after the auction because I was traveling, immediately got a warning...

    That was when I realized with whom the loyalty of e-Bay really is. Not with You, dear buyer. Their valued customer is the seller, from whom they get their money through fees and commissions.

    Who do You think will they piss of first, 100 buyers or one seller?

    I bet that even scamers have to pay their fees and commissions to be able to keep scaming, else their accounts would be suspended.

    So as long as e-Bay can refuse to take liability for the scams or other illegal actions happening on their portal, how big can their motivation be to stop them in the first place?

    Just thinking...

  16. Anonymous Coward

    eBay = Sunday market (mostly)

    I don't buy at Sunday markets or car boots. I don't expect the police to police them either (it would be nice, but we must remember that the police have a war on terror to deal with).

    Mind you my local Computer Fair no longer operates because it got raided by police, FACT reps, and the VAT man. Which is fine by me as one of my neighbours was sold an XP PC there on the basis that it had legitimate XP on it. he paid the same price as he would have paid at the time at somewhere like Morgan. Unlike Morgan's deals, the Windows was of course a fake, but as a pensioner with little knowledge of these things he was too trusting to know any better. The trader is of course now bankrupt.

    Similarly I don't do eBay, unless there are very special circumstances *and* I can see who I'm doing business with and am comfortable with the risk.

    A £1000 software package for £300 is not something I would be comfortable with, or willing to risk. A laptop docking station at £30 2nd user, vs £150 new, is something I've risked.

  17. dervheid
    Thumb Up

    @ David Burton

    Promising idea, foreign transaction enabling/disabling, but one that would involve the banks/credit card companies actually getting off their arses and doing something about it. It'd certainly limit the fuckers.

    I'd take it further. If you're going to use your card online regularly, you should have to register the seller's site with your card provider, and use a positive verification for each transaction. Same with when you want something delivered to another address (birthday/xmas surprise sort of stuff), then that delivery should need to be fully verified from the card provider's web site, or you set up an authorised alternative delivery address system. If your card gets used to order goods online or by phone or by mail and the seller delivers it ANYWHERE ELSE, then it should be THEIR responsibility, not your loss.

    Personally, I'd not mind a small fee per transaction for this, if it was to guarantee cutting down on your chances of having your card details abused like this.

    Your other item, that's just the banks getting joe public to do their donkey work tracking these bastards down.

  18. ImaGnuber

    Getting police to investigate

    Most police forces won't put much effort (usually none) into investigating crimes under a certain monetary value. The cutoff amount will vary from force to force. It simply isn't cost effective. Would you spend $10,000 on a lawsuit over a $100 item? Same principle. It is unfortunate but, like you, they don't have unlimited resources.

  19. Jack

    Is it just me....

    "Especially if it's not actually clear that a fraud has been committed, or if it's some kind of civil offence."

    or is this a reasonably sensible line for the police to take? If there's no evidence that a crime has been committed then there is little point in investigating as there will be little chance of prosecution, and if it's a civil offence it's not really the business of the police anyway.

  20. Mike Tree
    Thumb Up

    Delivery Address

    "Personally, I'd not mind a small fee per transaction for this, if it was to guarantee cutting down on your chances of having your card details abused like this."

    You shouldn't need to pay a fee. The banks would be able to cover it with all the money they're saving due to the reduction in card fraud.

    Great idea.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I've bought things from time to time from Ebay, having been stung I only buy low value items that I can't buy elsewhere - I don't gamble with what Ican't afford to loose. A year ago my account was compromised. I've no idea what the other person did with it, I wasn't told. After the initial conversation with support about not giving out passwords - which I never do, not even for chocolate, they simply reinstated everything and that was about that. You don't get a good feeling from that kind of thing.

  22. Kevin Gurney
    Thumb Down

    Hasn't there been....

    ....a couple of recent well publicized cases of people on Ebay selling dodgy software being caught, taken to court and fined ?

    Looks like the Police and Trading Standards are doing something at least but I agree that Ebay could be doing a whole lot more to stop the rip offs.

  23. David Cornes


    Why don't ebay take credit card payments?? Der, let me think: funnel EVERYTHING through PayPal (which the own)... now how much of an earner do you think that is?!

    My last two purchases from eBay, I've noticed that the PayPal payments have gone through as something I'd never seen before ("eCheques??). These took around 5 days to clear, so firstly I was pissed off with the delay (which I initially put down to the vendors), and secondly how much extra money must they be making on holding those funds for that amount of time?!

  24. steogede

    RE: eBay = Sunday market (mostly)

    >> I don't buy at Sunday markets or car boots. I don't expect the police to police

    >> them either (it would be nice, but we must remember that the police have a war

    >> on terror to deal with).

    War on paper, more likely. Most of them are too busy filling forms to fight terrorists.

  25. tim

    @ David Cornes - eCheques

    The card you have registered with Paypal has expired. the same thing happened to me, there doesn't seem to be anything to say you will be paying by eCheque, which is annoying. As they also have your bank details I don't really see why it is necessary, but there you go.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    >>After all what can you do to them?

    Here's the crunch. They'll run after you for Motor offences, if you take the safe option of NOT stopping at a dodgy quiet intersection; if you fart in church... but hey, what's new?

    The traffic corps routinely break the speed law -without- official need, or with sirens for that matter (with impunity, as the courts back them up happily). Here's just another thing they can kick you in the 'nads with...

    "You got a crime to report? You were defrauted? Ahhh... tut, tut."

    "Investigate it? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Whew.. hahahahah... eheh... hehe... heee. Yeah, that'll happen. Say, what was your car reg again? I'm sure we're looking for you for... uh... driving recklessly in.. erm... somewhere, we'll make it up when we come to court. No problem gov."

  27. A J Stiles

    How software piracy harms businesses

    Software piracy harms businesses, alright, but just not the way you think it does.

    Adobe would rather you were using a pirate copy of Photoshop than a legitimate copy of someone else's software; just like Microsoft would rather you were using a pirate copy of Office than a legitimate copy of anything else. So they turn a blind eye, **unless you're making money** -- then they will want their bit.

    Anybody looking to sell an inexpensive photograph editor or office suite is unable to compete on price because to all intents and purposes, Photoshop and Office are available for nothing.

    Human instinct working the way it does, most people would rather "save themselves £1500" by illegally installing Photoshop for nothing than "save £1450" by legally installing some inexpensive package -- let's call it CheapPhotoEditor -- for £50. After all, CheapPhotoEditor can't be much good if it's only 1/30th of the price of Photoshop, can it?

    Result: Nobody ever needs to make a single pirate copy of CheapPhotoEditor for the vendor to go out of business due to piracy. And while I wouldn't ordinarily lose any sleep over a payware company going out of business, it's still not right that anyone should be felled by a cheap below-the-belt hit.

  28. Chris

    online transactions

    I never use Paypal after an article in El Reg a few years ago pointed out that they perform all the functions of a bank without being subject to banking regulations. They can go into your (real) bank account and remove funds just because someone on eBay says you ripped them off, and you have no recourse.

    I have a credit card provider that allows the creation of a "virtual" CC number to be used for one online transaction only. The number then expires, so even if someone got hold of it, the transaction would be refused. I just wish they'd enable Autofill in Firefox, and tie the TSR program to my user account instead of starting it up automatically for every user of any machine it is installed on. I have complained about this huge gaping security hole numerous times to no avail.

    There is also a slight problem when you order, say, tickets to be picked up at the Will Call window. They generally ask you to present the card that was used to pay online, which doesn't exist in physical form.

  29. Peyton

    If my credit card company told me...

    that they had provided a ""a cash advance" and I was SOL I would drop them in a heartbeat (although threatening to drop them often makes them come around).

    I kind of doubt though, that this is a common line. For one thing, Paypal still begs me to register a bank account with them every time I log in - I'm sure it's precisely because they have to eat so many charge backs. Also, my parents and myself have both have to go through this very process and we had zero hassle from the CC company (first attempted to go through paypal of course - which was 100% useless). Maybe some CC companies are more customer oriented than others?

  30. Andrew


    "I have a credit card provider that allows the creation of a "virtual" CC number to be used for one online transaction only."

    Pray tell - which credit card is that? I want one.

  31. Anonymous Coward

    Just one momemnt ....

    I read many of the comments about "I don't use ebay" "sunday market" etc that is an obnoxious and talentless answer amounting to to let's not do anything unless we are REALLY safe about things ! a very petulant response to a clearly widespread problem

    Having made 100's of ebay purchases over the years I find the the simple answer is buyer beware, yes - go for the bargain if due diligence dictates it is genuine and the best method by far is:



    On the odd occasion I was missing a delivery or scammed - I had not followed these rules.

    Ebay certainly is a monopoly but so is the British Government these days and whilst British Citizenship may not always be fun - it has its desirable qualities and though people DO complain about it, many still come flocking to these shores for it

    FIRE - I don't want to start one and I am not fanning flames

  32. Jesse
    Thumb Up

    RE: Solution has always seemed obvious to me....

    That is the heart of the solution. Problem is, most people are stupid, and, as with scams and spams, if you reach enough people, even a 1% return can be very lucrative.

    That said, I think the easiest solution would be that the lost funds should come directly out of EBAY's pockets. Then there might actually be a fraud system put into place.

    It's kind of tough in America to do that though, Nowadays corporations have more freedoms than consumers. Just another reason our founding fathers are rolling in their graves.

  33. Anonymous Coward

    You get what you ask for...

    I was using ebay when the ink ws still wet on their "open for business" sign and loving it. Then after a few years it became obvious they were turning into a fencing and scam operation. I quit using them. Same with Paypal who pretend to be a bank but are a totally unregulated money laundering system. I can't beleive the Fed's let them get away with it.

    Stay away from both. If you use them and get screwd you are the only one to blame.

  34. Anonymous Coward

    Cash advance my arse!

    Every credit card company I've ever done business with has joyfully and efficiently applied a "cash advance fee" to every cash advance transaction (generally something like 1.5%-2.5%.) If they believed at the time of the transaction that it was a cash advance then they would have charged me. If that charge isn't on my bill they can go and take a flying one if they want to claim later that it was a cash advance.

    As for the Police... Doing a few miles over the speed limit? Flash. Taking a piss in an alley because you couldn't find a public toilet? You're nicked you filthy sex offender! Crime detected and solved in minutes for the statistics. Tracking someone down who stole over the net? Difficult to solve and bad for the figures when they don't so the victim can go away.

  35. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    @ andrew - vitual credit card numbers

    Googled it : and found this -

    By Caroline E. Mayer

    Washington Post Staff Writer

    Saturday, October 1, 2005; Page D01

    Offered to holders of Citi, Discover and MBNA cards, these "virtual credit cards," or single-use card numbers, are designed to give some peace of mind to consumers concerned about credit card fraud. Although the system slightly differs on each card, the principle is the same: For no extra charge, consumers sign up at the credit card's Web site, often downloading software on their computers. Then, when they're ready to shop, they receive a randomly generated substitute 16-digit number that they can use at the online store. The number can be used once or, in some cases, repeatedly at the same store.

  36. Chris Comley

    Paypal "credit"

    Bottom line is, if you have to use Paypal

    1) Don't pre-fund it, rather, make specific funds available for the actual transaction.

    2) Fight off PayPal's efforts to get you to pay by bank transfer and insist on paying from a credit card.

  37. Graham West

    virtual credit cards

    I believe there are two available in the UK tied into a mainstream credit card.

    A good one is the cahoot webcard which is 'linked' to your Cahoot credit card but generates a 'one time' card which is limited to an amount you define per transaction. This has all the info needed to complete an order but comes with a clear stop limit if you get scammed online and they can't get at your main card.

    Absolutely superb for online transactions but Cahoot never seem to advertise it.

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