back to article Net sleuth calls eBay on carpet over shill bidding

How can you be sure the price of your latest eBay buy wasn't shamelessly inflated by some faceless shill bidder? Well, there's always the ad hoc investigative skills of Australian retiree Philip Cohen. Cohen recently posted a nearly 8,000-word shill-bidding case study to the online forums at AuctionBytes, as part of a, shall …


This topic is closed for new posts.
  1. Anonymous Coward

    Big question...

    How on earth does the shill bidder know the maximum proxy bid placed by the "real" bidder? Even the seller doesn't know how high the proxy bid is.

    Ebay generally do jack sh*t about anything you report. Keyword spamming is still common. I've yet to see anything I have reported get removed. Even items with over 20 days left.

    I recently spotted someone who had recently won a camera I was bidding on when he relisted it a week later with the entire ad copy/pasted from the original. I watched with glee as he failed to meet the reserve.

    Next week it was back, with "relisted due to time waster" added. I reported this to ebay as misleading and suggested they look at their logs. I even provided them with the item ID for the unsold listing.

    ebay did nothing.

    On the plus side it was several weeks and listings before he finally managed to shift it, and took a £50 loss in the process.

    Beer, cos that's where all of ebay's support staff are.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    As an ebay seller I can say it would be easy!

    I of course don't do this... but ebay have made it ridiculously easy, hiding the bidders' identities from other bidders, allowing the 'nibble' bidding shown in the report, and failing to notify anyone that it's a crime. Lots of people I know of do this (I've reported a few of them myself, hence the A/C), but by and large, ebay tacitly supports this behaviour. It would, wouldn't it? Highter final sales prices=higher profits for ebay. Another reason for A/C! Thumbs up because as a legitimate seller, I want shilling to be prevented, that way buyers will be confident it's not happening. This report's a good first step.

  3. Dave Bell

    I am shocked!

    ...shocked to discover that Ebay are allowing fraudulent bidding that increases the commission they earn on auctions.

    OK, I'm not a lawyer, but I've been around auctions for most of my life, and I'd be very surprised if this was legal. Proving it in court might be difficult, but check with Trading Standards on "false auctions".

    Most of the Midlands livestock markets have closed, and they worked differently anyway. Some of the mechanisms in eBay didn't exist. In particular, the automatic bidding up to a limit. Which meant that shill-bidding can backfire when the other buyers just stop.

    It's a bit odd how this fake bidder knew just when to stop. How does he know where the real bidder has set his limit? When I've sold through eBay, I didn't get told that information: has that changed? So what is the trick being used?

    OK, I can think of a couple of ways of making good guesses, where similar items are being sold by several traders, some on auction and some on buy-it-now, but I'm left wondering if eBay has a security breach.

  4. Peter H. Coffin

    simple answer

    As a buyer, bid what you'd be happy paying, then ignore it. You'll either win and get something at your price, or you won't. Either way, you get an outcome that make you happy. Making a game of it only helps ebay.

  5. Haku

    "protecting the users"

    is practically a blanket explanation as to why eBay make so many restrictive new rules.

    I started using eBay in 2000 when you could have your email address as your username. I liked that, things were open and simple.

    Then I was forced to change to pick a new username or they'd pick one for me, and from then on things have been steadily going downhill in terms of protecting yourself from rogue traders on eBay and faith in the system.

    They removed the ability to find out what people were actively bidding on - a very easy way of finding out shill bidders.

    Then they made it so you can only contact other eBay members through their own monitored message system, I've had several messages not reach the recipient because eBay thought I was wanting to buy something direct and so they wouldn't get their cut, despite in the messages asking when they'll be listing/relisting the item(s) etc.

    Now they've made ALL bidders anonymous so you still can't find out who won the auction if you're not the seller, let alone find out what they've won in the past.

    I tell you, eBay's becomming like a fricken freemasons event, you don't know who the hell you're dealing with until you win the auction. All this forced privacy to "protect the users" isn't helping with people's trust in the site.

    I haven't sold anything on eBay since they introduced the fucking stupid rule of sellers not being able to give negative feedback to buyers.

    As much as Google creeps me out, part of me wants them to make their own auctions site, they're probably the only force on the internet big enough to bitch slap eBay in the auctions dept.

  6. Tankantoo

    Gross negligence by ebay

    ...includes sitting back as hundreds of thousands of truly naive buyers bid in miniscule increments during the final 15 minutes, blissfully unaware that the only viable strategy is to bid your absolute maximum (and, thanks to these same ignoramuses, to do so in the very final second).

    If I sold plenty of stuff on ebay I'd be pissed that ebay did not inform its users how to stand the best chance of winning an item, thereby realising the perfect auction and securing the largest returns for the sellers.

    Ebay can't survive as long as it strains to ignore the qualms of buyers and sellers alike.

  7. patricia013

    This Again?

    Shill bidding has been going on since day one. Ebay never pursued it and probably still doesn't even have a way to track it. Why should they? The final value fee is what they're after and the higher the bid the higher their fee. To expect Ebay to police the site for shill bidders is like the fox guarding the henhouse! Hidden bidder ID's were put in place for one reason protect Second Chance offers. It was only after Ebay came out with second chance offers and it erupted into complaints of scam artists using the opportunity to make some easy cash that Ebay finally came out with hidden bidder ID's. Scamming second chance offers (where bidders were contacted and asked if they would want to buy the item in a second chance offer) were so numerous that many sellers were stating right in their listings that there would be no second chance offers and if bidders were offered one it was fake! So, to protect the final value fees Ebay was losing from second chance offers and to stop the uproar over phony second chance offers Ebay came out with hidden bidder IDs.

  8. Anonymous Coward

    You think all this is bad...

    If you want to see eBay in full action you'd have had to see them react when a small reputable car dealer was alerted that one of his cars was being promoted in an eBay auction. They had copy/pasted the description from his website and even used his pictures - it was possible to recognise the background where *all* his pictures were taken!

    Anyway - he could not even contact eBay until he registered as a user. Then I jumped in trying to assist him and backup his claims. Posting about the potential fraud - at best they were selling their car using his pictures of another vehicle, at worst it might turn into a deposit or delivery scam - in the ebay forums got me an almost instant warning, and the message deleted. Posting about that got me another warning and that message deleted. This confirmed only two things: mentioning "fraud" is a serious offense - it might put off buyers - and criticising that policy is an even worse offense.

    What was amazing is that we got warnings about the forum posts within (IIRC) an hour *but at no time* got a reply to any other message warning ebay about this very odd auction which was obstensibly for his car which *he* was not selling on ebay. They also allowed the auction to run until completion!

    The other clever trick in ebay's anti-trouble toolkit is the disappearing auction. If ebay do decide that an auction might make trouble then it silently disappears - even if it has already completed. This is especially demonstrated if they decide it conflicts with one of the "rules". eg. bought an unused copy of a window's OS. They decided AFTER the auction had completed and been paid for that it broke their "OEM software without hardware rule" (or some other rule) and erased it. I assume its erased so that people like M'soft cannot tell them off as no evidence exists. Anyway the seller and I managed to complete the sale even though the auction *never* happened. They got rid of the software they didn't want and we got an unused copy of XP Pro.

    Again - one concluded that eBay's only concern was to avoid evidence rather than actually protect anyone's rights. Disappearing an auction *after* payment is not a favour to anyone but themselves. One almost imagines that their "shill training course" is on "how to shill without being caught!".

    Although it was dodgy second chance offers that ostensibly removed the IDs from auctions there had been no problem UNTIL ebay invented second chance offers. Had they dropped that feature (oh dear less income) or revised it into a secure mechanism (very hard for *them*) then they could have kept the IDs. I suspect another reason for blocking the IDs is that there were several helper sites in those days that did auction intelligence and helped you to detect both shills and fraudulent sellers/buyers by seeing odd buying patterns. Removing the IDs eliminated most/all of those services and so a) protected ebays *apparent* reputation, b) stopped others getting ad/click revenue and c) maximised transactions at the expense of transparency. All good for ebay's bottom line but very poor for the legitimate trader and buyer.

    Seriously its much easier to be a dodgy or just unhelpful bulk seller on ebay than it is to be a small trader or boot sale type. Its like the rumours some years ago about how easy it was for big sellers to get bad feedback removed as "libelous", "wrong", "etc". There were even a few who boasted about how easy it was....

    Anon - cos the have too many lawyers and where else can you buy a refurbished printer for under £20.

  9. Philip Cohen

    Shill Bidding on eBay: a Case Study

    Anonymous Coward,

    How can the seller figure out what the highest bidder’s maximum proxy bid is? It’s so simple: the shill simply places a ridiculously high bid, he is then shown as the winning bidder, one increment above the proxy maximum of the previous highest bidder, then he retracts his high bid with an excuse such as “incorrect amount”. And eBay would actually have us believe that this proxy system is secure—secure for them, that is.

    Dave Bell,

    There is no problem if the genuine bidders stop bidding, the shill simply retracts his bid, with the agreement of his shill-master, the next highest bidder become the winner and, such a “mutually agreed” bid retraction apparently does not even count as a “bid retraction” on the bidder’s Bid History Details page.

    Peter H. Coffin,

    Simple answer? No so. That’s exactly what the defrauded winner did do, he did what eBay advises, he placed a proxy bid for the amount he was prepared to pay (about four times the value of the starting price), and he paid exactly that maximum amount!

    Oh Patricia,

    Although we agree on most things eBay (let’s not continue to argue about the reason for the introduction of Hidden bidders”, let me just say that if eBay said it was for a particular reason, then you can be reasonably sure that it wasn’t), you still appear to not understand the principle involved with the subject of shill bidding on eBay generally.

    Whereas you can do nothing to stop an auctioneer at a “traditional” auction from taking a bid from some winged insect climbing up the wall, eBay could control shill bidding if they chose to do so. Clearly the facts I present show that they have chosen not to do so, or to do very little, in this respect, undoubtedly because to do so is of no financial advantage to them.

    Not only that but, if such suspicious activity is reported to them and, even they cannot ignore that it is shill bidding, they will tell the complaining user nothing. That to me is the deliberate concealing of a criminal offence. I though there were laws proscribing such behaviour.

    Maybe you should again peruse my rant, in particular the postscript appended thereto.

    Anonymous Coward (again),

    Had the same experience purchasing MS Office Pro 2003 (is everyone legitimizing their MS Office software? 2003 is better than the mishmash they have produced with the latest version!); I even got the PayPal boiler-plate message advising me that eBay had cancelled the auction some days after it had ended. Devious little lot aren’t they? Don’t you dare get in the way of “Noise” Donahoe in his efforts to recover that performance bonus that he has misplaced somewhere. Where on Earth did all these OEM copies of Office 2003 come from? Everyone and their dog seems to be selling them. Microsoft would have been smarter to have taken them back.

    Anyway, all is explained in the linked auctionbytes OP at <url></url>

  10. andrew.arthur

    Shills are nothing new

    Speaking as one who comes from an agricultural background I can say that shill bidding in real life auctions is rife too. A great deal of livestock, from horses and cows to dogs and chickens are auctioned. Land is often auctioned and when a farmer gives up the contents of the farm are auctioned right down to the junk in the sheds. Shill bidding at these auctions is very common and in fact a lot of farmers will go to an auction just to make sure their friends "get a good price". If someone should accidentally buy it they just put it up for sale again, saying it was a misunderstanding.

    The auctioneers know that it goes on but it is difficult to point the finger and say that someone was deliberately "bidding it up". The buyer may be perfectly genuine and it's possible that an action for defamation might result. It's up to the auctioneer's experience and discretion. But also it's up to the buyer not to pay "silly money" for things just to win the auction. This is very common among beginners.

    >>> The trick with any auction is to decide in advance how much the goods are worth and then drop out when that level is reached.

  11. killerdark

    feedbacks are to be expected at a later date

    The feedbacks that were received after ebay removed the items, is most likely because ebay was a little lazy and only removed the item from the seller profile. The receivers still had the item and could reply. Probably a filter in the page load. The database still had the data and linked to the buyers.

    I don't see what the point is anyway. The buyer is willing to pay that price. I don't understand why an influence can make a buyer pay more than he is willing to pay. The buyer decided he was willing to pay that price. Under pressure or not.


  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    And they claim exclusive rights to images you upload.

    Reading the TOS, you find they are not all smiles and chocolates. eBay was a great idea that got lost in its own greed and goes to great lengths to protect itself, which is why I'm not using my usual identity. (Not that they really give any portion of a rat's anatomy about me.)

  13. Philip Cohen

    Shill Bidding on eBay: a Case Study

    Sorry the link in the previous post is incorrect; it should be:

  14. Phil Koenig
    Thumb Down

    eBay average selling prices are WAY up, coinkidink?

    I read somewhere (maybe one of Philip Cohen's posts on AuctionBytes), that statistically, the average price on eBay auctions has gone up _precipitously_ over the last few years.

    I've noticed this myself. For example, I recently bought some APC UPS serial cables from an eBay seller, thinking I got a pretty good price, since I was paying right at the lowest range of prices paid for these items in recent auctions. (and these are an item whose value should be _declining_, not increasing, since most of the newer models either use a different cable, or forgo the serial connection altogether)

    Well the first problem was I discovered I had already bought a bunch of these a couple years ago, so I didn't actually need them. (ugh) But to add insult to injury, I paid ~$10 ea for the latest ones, and only about ~$3 ea for the ones I bought 2 years ago.

    It is examples such as these that really make me wonder if we're all spending a lot more than we otherwise would these days, due to shill bidding. Just because the final price is underneath our maximum doesn't mean that we got the deal we should have gotten. I mean, if that were the case, eBay should just immediately close all auctions at the highest proxy bid amount regardless whether there are any competing bidders or not. Somehow I don't think people would be too happy about that.

    I agree with all the other comments about the obfuscation of the bidding process at eBay. I've been using them since before their name was even eBay (it was at the time), and I have watched gloomily as the transparency of the site/system has progressively gone downhill in recent years.

  15. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

    The used-car salesman manages your auctions

    @You think all this is bad...

    "The other clever trick in ebay's anti-trouble toolkit is the disappearing auction. If ebay do decide that an auction might make trouble then it silently disappears - even if it has already completed."

    They will be in _very_ hot water if someone ever demands transaction logs in a legal investigation and these happen to have been "disappeared" (Where are Microsoft lawyers when they could be of use to society?)

    Does eBay not have any fiduciary duty at all?

  16. GremlinUK

    No skin off my nose...

    ... to say I'll never use eBay again.

    Once upon a time (around 2000), it was worth using. Now the bargains have gone and the place has such a diminished reputation that I feel I lose nothing by sticking to 'conventional' retail sites instead.

  17. sleepy

    That's life

    Conventional auctioneers take bids "off the wall", and shill bidding is also rife, and not easily prevented. You have to assume it will happen. But it doesn't force anyone to buy at a price they didn't set themselves.

    On the seller's side, if there is only one keen buyer, the item gets sold at an unreasonably low price. An extra problem with ebay is that reserve prices are effectively known at the time of bidding, so the bidding never gets started if you try to use a sensible reserve.

    Shill bidding isn't particularly nice, and it is something naive buyers should understand, but it can't make you bid more than you want to pay. And if you've got two naive bidders who would be taken in by shill bidding, then they will effectively shill bid each other up to stupid prices without any actual shill bids.

    Hence two tactics of experienced ebayers - putting in early very low offers on large numbers of lots, and sniping (bidding in the last seconds of an auction to avoid overbidders).

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    This is socialist nonsense. Ebay is not responsible for shills. Grow up.

  19. MarkMac


    You don't see why anyone would be influenced to pay more than their max? You have no experience of real auctions, or of human nature.

    I've lost count of how often I've seen newbies bid up on something by auctioneers taking competing bids from thin air or audience plants. People get excited, carried away, decide they really want the goods a lot - and suddenly they're paying more than its worth by a long chalk. A Dealer gives the auctioneer a nod and students buy the crap at high price, while the dealer waits for the good-condition example two lots later.

    Ebay is no different. Its bottom line depends on driving up sale prices so they've no interest in keeping out shills and sharks. Even blatant fraud often goes ignored, cf the ban on negative feedback. Why exactly is it forbidden to leave neg fb for a seller who sold fake goods or something without a CE safety mark, and why is it allowed for said seller to leave negative or false feedback about you if you dare complain ? Because eBay's money is made from sellers. Simple as that.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Nationalise it

    Nationalise ebay. Why not?

  21. Kevin Johnston

    @Simple Answer

    I think the whole thrust of this report is that although you could get the item at a price you were willing to pay, it would be at the maximum price because of the shill bids. It is possible that without those bids you may have got the item at the startpoint of your bidding which could represent a considerable saving. With any auction you are trusting the competing bids to be genuine bids but in 'real' auctions if it can be shown that the competing bids were false you have some recourse to reduce the cost you have to pay, this would not appear to be the case at eBay.

  22. largeduck

    Ebay... Auctions??

    I must complement all your collective memories here, I have not seen an actual auction on Ebay for ages now., just an never ending sea of Buy-it-now s.

  23. Philip Cohen

    Shill Bidding on eBay: a Case Study

    Hi Anonymous (just like eBay bidders) Coward,

    I have always used my real name; in the back of my mind I was always hopeful that they might use some of Donahoe's lost bonus money to buy me off; but apparently, they aren't even smart enough to do that! They really do think only of themselves.

  24. patricia013


    "Although we agree on most things eBay (let’s not continue to argue about the reason for the introduction of Hidden bidders”, let me just say that if eBay said it was for a particular reason, then you can be reasonably sure that it wasn’t),"

    Who said that Ebay SAID they were hiding bidder IDs because of second chance offers. My friend, it is you who does not understand.... I think I've picked up a smattering of Ebay knowledge in almost 11 years of constant selling on the site ;-) I'm not arguing about it....I'm simply stating fact!

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I've had one auction on Ebay that I'm certain was a shill bid, as this video card I was bidding on was run up by a user who placed 20 bids on it which seriously knocked the price up, and then never bid on or won anything again, I checked up on the user out of curiosity a year later.

    I've had a hate-tolerate relationship with Ebay since day one, as it's the only really useful auction site out there. I think anyone who's been on Ebay awhile has had at least one bad experience as a buyer or seller, and I'm actually in favor of sellers being unable to leave negative feedback on buyers. I had two "power sellers" who left me negative feedback as retaliation, one who sent me an item not even close to what I bid on, and the other accusing me of being a "slow payer" because I paid by a check mailed the next day. One of them positively gloated about how as a power seller people wouldn't even notice my feedback on him, but his feedback on me with about 80 ratings at the time made me look terrible. So if he tried that today.....well, too bad.

    I have a few simple things I do to avoid pain and grief on Ebay:

    I don't sell--I've done it, but after selling many personal items I later regretted just to raise money for something else, I decided it's better not to.

    I look anywhere else for something and only use Ebay as a last resort. If I do I just take Buy It Now.

    If Buy It Now is unavailable, I sit back, decide how much I really want to pay for it, and log it in a bid sniper. And yes, I think they're okay to use, especially for auctions that close when I'm at work or in the middle of the night. No last minute bidding, no buyer's frenzy, and so far I've spent a lot less.

    If it's broken or less than I expected, I just let it go, it doesn't happen to me very often, but then I look for low demand items rather than hot deals on brand new electronics. On the very rare chance I do bid on something expensive, I contact the buyer beforehand and talk a bit to get an idea what they're like before I commit.

    So far it's worked this way for over a year, and with a bid sniper I don't know or don't care if there are shill bidders out there, I just stick to my budget.

  26. Eddie Johnson
    Dead Vulture


    >> How on earth does the shill bidder know the maximum proxy bid placed by the "real" bidder? Even the seller doesn't know how high the proxy bid is.

    They nibble at it to find it. Lets say the item is currently at $12 with a bid increment of $.50. The shill bids 12.57 or some odd amount like that. The proxy bid then jumps to $13.07 normally, if it stops at $13 you know you found the other bidder's max. You keep bidding small amounts until you see the counter bid go up by less than the minimum bid. People planning to snipe an auction will typically do something like this, leaving the other person still the top bidder until the last moment but knowing the other person is topped out.

    eBay is a joke, nobody auctions anything there anymore, anyhow. Anything I look at is a Buy It Now and the price is typically higher than the cost at Walmart/WhateverCo once you add in the exorbitant shipping that is usually charged.

  27. Apocalypse Later

    so tax them

    You, not the government. EBay take a slice of the final value as their cut, and you (as the buyer) can get a big slice of that. Go to and register for an account (free, no charge ever), then use their link to access eBay. You will get 40% of eBay's fees on every auction you win. Takes awhile to come through, but I have had lots of money from them. You also get a cut on car insurance, mobile phones and so on.

  28. NogginTheNog


    That sort of 'nibble' bidding is one of the reasons I *NEVER* bid early on items, and certainly never simply enter my maximum bid. I always sit watching items I'm interested in and only bid within the last minute (if it hasn't already risen above my acceptable maximum price that is).

    I've long realised that if you bid early then all that can happen is that someone else then gets jittery and outbids you, so you've already raised the price when you didn't need to.

    Mine's the one with the downloaded copy of The eBay Song by Weird Al on the iPod...

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Reported shills many times

    I have reported blatant shill bidding to ebay many times. eg two users selling the same products and bidding on each others auctions. No reply and nothing was done.

    Ebay have no interest in stopping shills.

  30. Dan 21

    Seriously, WTF?

    "This underbidder...stopped his 'nibble' bidding at the point when he equaled the maximum proxy bid value of the ultimate buyer"

    Oh, really? How do you know the current bid of the ultimate buyer, Mr. Cohen?

    Oh, from the article! "(we know that because the genuine bidder’s bid did not automatically advance any further, and so this nibble-bidding shill did not even need to retract an “overbid” to reinstate the genuine bidder as the winner). "

    Except that you don't know what the genuine bidder's MAXIMUM bid was, only that the 'shill' you 'outed' bid from $50 to $200 in $5 increments, manually. Oh, and your own reseach shows that the 'shill' was the highest bidder for about 22 hours.

    You later reference as a 'shill' a simple bid of $20 on an item. Oh, but that person put bids on 17 different items and 80% of them were with the one seller. Whoop-de-frikken-do. That's not proof; that's not even evidence.

    Quit whining about losing actions on eBay. Quit whininig about paying more than you "should have" on eBay. Learn how the auctions work.

    @Reg: surely when you linked to his article, you could have mentioned TLDR? Obviously, you didn't read it, or you would have bitingly criticized his failures.

  31. Dave Mundt

    of COURSE Ebay winks at shill bidding...

    Try to remember that, like most corporations today, Ebay exists to pull as much money out of the pockets of consumers as is possible, with the minimal amount of work and expense on their part. It IS the capitalist way. There have been blatant examples of shill bidding since the inception of the business, and, their general response has been apathy at best. Years ago, I pointed out a number of likely candidates for that sort of deception...what did I get? A form letter back saying that they had investigated but found no evidence of such activity. This could be true, but, I doubted it then, and, doubt it now.

    As earlier posters have noted, the changes to "increase security" by making bidders and sellers anonymous has done little except make it harder to track possible abuses, and, to ensure that Ebay makes as much as possible.

    The only way to fix the problem now is for a mass exodus to an alternative auction site.


    dave mundt

  32. Philip Cohen
    Thumb Down

    Shill Bidding on eBay: a Case Study

    Hi Dan 21,

    I really don’t mean to offend but you are either one of that class of people commonly referred to as “idiots” or you are an eBay seller who is happily taking advantage of the obvious flaws in eBay’s proxy bidding system. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that you fall somewhere in between.

    You state that you have read my post, and indeed you quote the portion that explains how we know that the shill bidder knew that he had equaled the maximum value of the other bidder’s proxy bid. But, apparently you do not understand the logic of that statement. I will try to explain it more clearly:

    Whenever a bid is placed:

    if you are the first bidder, then, regardless of the value of your proxy bid, your bid will be displayed as equal to the starting bid set be the vendor;

    if there is already a bid on the item, and your bid is [i]less[/i] than the maximum proxy bid of the high bidder, then you will become the underbidder displaying a bid equal to your maximum proxy bid, and the high bidder’s automatic bid will automatically advance one increment (or part thereof) above your maximum bid;

    if there is already a bid on the item, and your bid is [i]greater[/i] than the maximum proxy bid of the high bidder, then you will become the high bidder displaying an automatic bid equal to one increment (or part thereof) above the maximum bid of the previous high bidder, who then becomes the underbidder at his maximum bid;

    if there is already a bid on the item, and your bid happens to be [i]equal to[/i] that of the maximum proxy bid of the high bidder, then you will become the underbidder and the other bidder will remain the high bidder, with both parties displaying identical bid values.

    Therefore, if the bids of the high bidder and the underbidder display as equal, that can only be because the maximum bids of both parties are indeed equal. I’m sorry, but I can’t explain it any better; if you still don’t understand …


    On the matter of eBay’s statement to Metz that a seller would never risk shilling:

    Here is a “Power” seller (123,000 feedback) who has a shill surreptitiously setting a “reserve” on his auctions.

    The shill is “l***n” and he shows up on many of this sellers auctions, as is recorded on his Bid History Details page at***n&eu=xHvLurom%2FzBqTU2Dk8djfuWH9Mq8NdW0m7CJBYoFkEI%3D&ssPageName=PageBidderProfileViewBids_None_ViewItemLink

    30-Day Summary: Total bids: 1277; Items bid on: 1117; Bid activity with this seller: 95% !!!

    Hello? The stats are so patently obvious. What can one say, other than, so much for eBay’s absurdly disingenuous claim that they have “sophisticated” tools for the detection of such activity; and, yes, there are fairies at the bottom of the garden, too.

    The real shame is that this activity (the surreptitious setting of a reserve) is encouraged by the eBay fee structure; no doubt eBay could design a fee structure that would remove the "need" for sellers to so behave; unfortunately, it appears that they do not have the intellect to understand the problem in the first place.

  33. stefan 5

    shill bidding is ok.

    i shill bid my ebay items and i see no dam problem with it. if i list an item worth a decent amount of money but its only making 99p and nearly ended your dam right il shill up te bid so that it sells for the real price. no way im letting items sell for ridiculous sums of money. if you think your gonna win a 60-70 quid item for 99p then your an idiot ...

  34. Simon Brown

    @stefan 5 - If you think your gonna win a 60-70 quid item for 99p then your an idiot...

    Apparently if I think my gonna win a 60-70 quid item for 99p then my an idiot... (well that's what you said).

    As well as being illiterate you're clearly incapable of reading - either ebay rules or British law. It's not whether or not you are going to shill. It's whether shill bidding is illegal, is fraudulent, is punishable (technically) by jail and therefore something that ebay should be preventing. Or whether the law should be changed to allow shill bidding, 419 scams, ponzi schemes and the rest and make it a free-for-all

  35. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Because it's all about me

    @Stefan 5

    "i shill bid my ebay items and i see no dam problem with it. "

    You see no problem in defrauding people? That makes you a ... am I allowed to use the c-word here?

    "if i list an item worth a decent amount of money but its only making 99p"

    So start with a higher reserve. Oh I get it. You want nice low reserves to bring in the punters before you fraudulently rack up the price.

    "your dam right il shill up te bid so that it sells for the real price. "

    In other words, none of your alleged auctions are actually auctions.

    "your an idiot ..."

    A perennial internet classic.


    "This is socialist nonsense. Ebay is not responsible for shills. Grow up."

    How is asking a company to abide by the same rules as us mere citizens socialism? If the charges outlined byy Philip Cohen are correct, then eBay is wilfully party to criminal acts. Why do you people insist on a political philosophy that puts businesses above the law?

  36. kurucu

    Wasn't against the term and conditions

    So basically, eBay's line is that they let the sellers off because they might not be aware it's against the terms and conditions. Well, it's clearly immoral and likely illegal, but hey, these people are probably the ones bringing eBay the most money at the end of the month, so lets not put them off too much.

    It just says "find an alternative auction house" to me.

  37. blackworx

    Of course they tolerate shill bidding

    It means more money for them.

    They are also really pushing this "offer your customers free postage" thing, which basically means the seller budgeting the postage in to their starting price, which in turn means eBay get more money from your sale because they get their final value percentage on the postage as well.

  38. Philip Cohen
    Thumb Down

    eBay's Q209 financials due out on the 22nd ...

    I think that most of us can agree that the people running eBay are a devious, disingenuous, unscrupulous lot. I look forward to the second quarter financials due out on the 22nd to see if their current insane policies towards both buyers and sellers are going to continue eBay’s journey down the drain. But keep a little sharp knife on the ready as there will be plenty of spin to peel off first before the reality of the matter is exposed.

    In my linked rant, I have tried to detailed all the unfair and devious practices that eBay has with respect to “buyers” (I think that eBay’s effective covering up of the criminal act of shill bidding after the fact is, surely, in itself criminal); maybe “Michael 2” could do the same exercise from the sellers’ point of view? And, Michael, which of the facts that I have presented, or the “hand waving” conclusions that I have draw therefrom, do you actually disagree with?

  39. Robert E A Harvey

    Then of Dieves

    I stopped using Ebay around the millenium, fearing the legitimacy or even the existence of some of the things I saw. How did tinpot traders come to have stocks of motherboards before the manufacturer's wholesalers? Where did they get graphics boards with 4 times the memory of anything on the builder's web site? How could one chap successfully auction a branded chainsaw a week at 25% of the wholesale price? Another Offer multiple instances of a fountain using a photograph from a local paper of a one-off product sold to a local stately home? who on earth sells puppies at auction, or indeed buys them like that? (at least that one seems to have stopped, at least on fleabay)

    I reported to ebay the multiple listing of Alfa Romeo service CDs which Alfa said were only available to main dealers, on licence, and not for sale anywhere. Nothing happened.

    I had huge volumes of paypal phishing the moment I created the account. It stopped within days of my closing the account. PayPal said their systems were secure. Right.

  40. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Are they actually shill bids though?

    I recently started using eBay again after a long break, because I found a good deal from a particular >manufacturer< using eBay to shift their remaindered stock.

    After my first purchase from them I've bid on a number of other items that they've listed, some of which I won, some of which I lost. For several months I only bid on their items. I have no relationship with the company whose products I've bid on, other than being a customer of theirs.

    The fact that a bidder is only bidding on one seller doesn't automatically make them a shill.

    That said, there are clearly shills out there; stefan5 for example ;)

  41. Joe 3

    So where do complainants go from here?

    They've been ignored by eBay, and that's unlikely to change.

    Shouldn't Cohen report his findings to the Office of Fair Trading, for example?

  42. Philip Cohen
    Thumb Down

    Shill Bidding: Yes, No, Maybe

    Joe 3, I have tried the local OFT (NSW) and ACCC (Australia); they quoted the “only a bulletin board” and “a contractual matter” respectively as excuses to do nothing. Admittedly, those responses were to an earlier more generalized submission lacking the detailed cases in my latest rant.

    It’s the principle that drives me, but you do eventually get tired of bashing your head against the brick wall. The information is all there in the auctionbytes post; anyone who is interested can use it to try to get action out of their local consumer affairs regulator: Good luck.

    Anonymous Coward, even eBay accepts that the two auctions, the subject of my case study, were shilled. However, not every circumstance, as you say, is unequivocal, particularly with the no doubt primitive tools that eBay use to investigate a report. Having said that, however, it goes without saying that we all understand that eBay will do nothing unless they are absolutely sure that shilling has taken place. Of course if eBay had a truly sophisticated shill detection algorithm as described hereafter, maybe the problem could be controlled by the big computer, which is the way that they like it; humans cost money; although they are cheaper in the Philippines.

    “To help identify dubious bidding practices in online auctions, we devised the Shill Score algorithm. The Shill Score is the first serious attempt to define and quantify shill bidding behaviour. A rating between 0 and 10 is given to each bidder indicating the likelihood that s/he is engaging in shill behaviour. The higher the rating, the more likely that a bidder is a shill. This rating is based on factors such as how many auctions the bidder has participated in, the number of times s/he has won, how quick s/he is to bid, what stage in the auction s/he submits most of his/her bids, etc. An individual can then determine whether s/he wants to participate in an auction depending on how high other bidders’ Shill Scores are. The Shill Score acts as both a detection and prevention mechanism for shilling.”

  43. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    There are still real auctions

    I buy old silver coins on eBay, and there are many genuine auctions in that area. I often get lots for less than my maximum bid, and less than the bullion value, too, so "shilling" in this category is probably just an old coin. I expect there are other categories, out of the mainstream, where auctions are still prevalent.

    As for sellers leaving you bad feedback, that has now been banned. The sellers don't like it much, but eBay are actually touting this to buyers as freeing them up to be completely honest in feedback, with no fear of retaliation from the seller. My bitch is that sellers often won't give feedback until you give it to them first. Once you have paid, you have done your bit.

    The last thing I sold on eBay was a SODIMM memory module that I had bought from some Hong Kong eBay dealer which turned out not to be compatible with my laptop. I got more for it than I paid and the buyer gave positive feedback too. There were other genuine auctions in that category, but, yes, it was overwhelmingly buy-it-now, and half foreign sellers. It is very easy to filter out the buy-it-nows; there is a tab for that on the search page, but doing that in many consumer categories will leave you with very few items.

  44. imposter
    Thumb Down


    Doesn't necessarily mean open bidding, there's a variety of different auction types, such as seal bid and (while I forget the name) one with sealed bids and the second highest bidder wins (this actually serves to protect the bidders from marklet distorting monopsonies and the like). The point I wish to make is that the practice of shilling makes the auction effectively a different sort of auction. It forces the buyer to effectively submit a sealed envelope and hope. the problem is that buyers don't see it like this, they might put a load of high proxies in at the same time and only (quite possibly, depending on their proxies and the item, reasonably) expect one or two to hit that value, and get a nasty shock. If people only bid what they're willing to pay it's fine. However it does remove the elemental of low demand creating a low price ( I know I have few competitors, I'll submit a low bid), a factor which in the long run would equalise price. The shill would remove the "consumer surplus" from the low price and appropriate it all for the producer, something which doesn't happen in a functional free market and so effectively turns a system from something which benefits both parties to something stacking in favour of the seller. Oh and grabs like that usually end up reducing the total benefit in the process too. Which in a dry and theoretical sort of way means benefit to various parties just dissapears while the seller distorts the market for their gain.

    However if this was all set out as the conditions it'd bother me less (the customers would adjust their behavior accordingly). The issue, to me, is that buyers don't sign up for a sealed bid with unknown numbers or bidders, but that is what they get and so effectively do not get the service they pay for. Which is fraud on ebay's part for knowingly providing a different service to what they promised.

  45. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I used to sell on ebay

    I would set the minimum bid i was willing to accept as the reserve. If it went higher than that well and good if not I still made the minimum profit I wanted.

    The issue is that reserve costs extra, so people put no reserve and shill it to the minimum they want.

  46. Jim Halfpenny

    Blatant and obvious

    Here's a cunning suggestion to eBay to improve their shill bidding algorithm. How about checking for bidders also selling the exact same items they are bidding on? Lots of people buy and sell items for a profit but I got stung, albeit very mildly by an obvious shill bidder on an inexpensive hand-made craft item. I can't see too many makers of handicraft items wanting to but said same items from other eBayer.

    eBay's response to my complaint? null

  47. Bernie 2


    Everyone goes through a phase when they first sign up.

    Firstly they auction of all their valuables for half what they're worth, then they spend £100s on useless tat that will end up packed away in storage boxes in a matter of months.

    You need to exercise plenty of common sense and caution with eBay, this would be the case with or without shill bidders.

    There's always going to be a bunch of people cheating the system. You therefore owe it to yourself to become an astute eBayer so you can avoid giving them any of your money. That way eBay is left with idiots scamming other idiots. And while I don't condone it, I'm rational enough to realise that we can't stop it with anything short of a draconian new rules and massive levels of scrutinisation that would only make eBay more unpleasant.

  48. Anonymous Coward

    As we know, eBay don't want to know!

    Not shill bidding I know, but just another example of their lack of customer support.

    I'm always reporting to eBay when things are not right. The latest is where a guy is setting a min price without a reserve. In ebay terms, 'Circumvention of eBay fees'

    I though that they would be interested but to date I've reported it 4 times by their system and 2 times by phone.

    The item has a title of 'Nibbler'

    In the description he mentions that you only get the whole machine when the price reaches £300.

    '"this is for a nut from a lovely little burfree nibbler READ ON fully working ,if the bidding gets to over £300 then i will throw the nibbler in with the nut :)"

    It's now been relisted for the third attempt, but ebay are not interested even though it could mean missed fees.

    Current Item number: 290330990408

    Previous Item numbers: 290329279010 & 290327610163


  49. Scott 51
    Thumb Up

    You all have options

    Dont use Ebay. Its that simple.

    One poster said ebay has no reason to prevent shill bidding as it promotes higher revenues for ebay. I agree 100%. Ebay is just as guilty as the shill bidder.

  50. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    My god! People still using eBay? Wonders will never cease

    Call me old fashoined, but this weekend I managed to spend a small fortune on clothes (all at amounts I was happy to part with) AND I had the stuff in my hand within seconds. Another bonus was being able to pick up, hold, feel and often put back items before I committed to a purchase. All thanks to an almost forgotten concept called ‘The High Street’.

    Its sites like eBay that are slowly breathing life back into our previously troubled town and city centres.

    Personally, I’m happy to let those with the stock offer me discounts, while the profiteering masses try to make as much as they can from some spuriously acquired or otherwise tired, unwanted crap.

    In previous experience I have come to realise two things;

    1) eBay sellers are nearly all bent (crooked, not gay)

    2) eBay bidders are tight-fisted, lily-livered, slack-jawed pikeys who can’t seem to make it out to of their own front door to purchase goods for a price that is, more often than not, LESS than the shite in the auction (after delivery).

    £15 UK delivery for a memory stick!!???? "HOW 'ABOUT NOOOOO!!!"

  51. Chris Evans

    Criminal Offence

    In the UK shill bidding is a Criminal Offence "Auctions (Bidding Agreements) Act 1969" occasional Shill Bidding is difficult to prove, but the criminals often get greedy.

    ebay's new 'private' bidding now make it difficult if not impossible for the general public to spot.

    I wonder if they report those they catch to the Police. IANAL but don't they have a legal obligation to inform the police?

  52. Stevie


    Never once have I bid on a shill and won one at eBay. The whole thing is a swizz!

  53. Joe 3
    Thumb Down

    @ Philip Cohen

    Re: OFT, etc.

    It's a real shame that the government agencies who are meant to stop this sort of thing take no interest. As far as I can see there's blatant dishonesty and conning happening on eBay, and eBay turn a blind eye at best or are complicit at worst.

    Perhaps the answer is for all of us to educate our newbie friends that eBay really is, in every sense, a "tat bazaar".

  54. Philip Cohen
    Thumb Down

    Consumer Affairs Offices

    Joe 3, You have to appreciate that the activity on eBay contributes some to GNP; that maybe why governments are loathe to put pressure on them; who knows. And then there is always the possible attitude that if not many people are complaing, then there can't be much of a problem ,,,

  55. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    I just thought...

    If shill bidding gets you banned, what's to stop someone from shill bidding an enemy/business rival's auctions to get them banned?

  56. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    @As we know, eBay don't want to know!

    Wow, someone at eBay must read TheRegister as it' s now been removed !


  57. Philip Cohen

    Attack a rival seller

    @Anonymous Coward,

    "If shill bidding gets you banned, what's to stop someone from shill bidding an enemy/business rival's auctions to get them banned?"

    Nothing, I guess. Once again it comes down to effective verification of users, or the apparent lack thereof if one does not sign up for PayPal. That's probably why many sellers expressing their views on the eBay forums use a separate "posting" ID.

  58. A J Stiles

    Oldest trick going

    Come on, people, shill bidding is the oldest trick going. And it can so easily backfire on the seller: if they sell the item to themself (or their confederate), they end up keeping the item and paying for the privilege.

    The solution is simply never, ever to bid even one penny more on an item than you'd be prepared to pay and not moan about the price. It's not as though there won't be another one along sooner or later anyway .....

  59. Stevie


    [AJ] The *trick* is to decide how much you want to pay, then use a sniping service. Of course, you have to pony up your eBay password...

  60. A J Stiles

    @ Stevie

    ..... or know a little bit about scripting, so the precious password never leaves your clutches. Bet there's even a perl module to do most of it for you.

  61. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Never again

    I used to spend a lot of time and money on ebay, but ever since they came up with the "SMI" "shilling Made Invisible" quite a while back, I have not used the site once. No buying No selling. Rarely research. I never ever will use it as long as they have that policy. I don't care if they do have 'buy now'. It is plain dishonest and ebay track record for the truth is non-existent.

    I also tell everyone I can that ebay is full of fraud these days, better to go elsewhere.

    Now they even hide the winning bidder ID,

    Crooked crooked crooked...

    Thanks to Mr Cohen for his dogged pursuit of this, and to the Register as well.

  62. Tom 106

    Another Scam to be aware of!

    In addition to the "shill", there is another scam, yet this time the scam is from the would be buyer.

    As a seller, you put up a mobile phone, or a laptop, or another piece of decent piece of electronic equipment for auction.

    The item is finally won buy a determined buyer, who may pay up and beyond £100's for the item. The seller post's out the item after receiving payment, and ebay take their share too.

    The buyer receives the item, and then puts in a dispute, claiming either that the goods were not as described, or that there is damage to the item, or that is does not function. Ultimately, ebay recoups the buyers fees back from the seller, and then the buyerr will either not return the item from the auction, but lay claim to have done so via standard post, or the buyer will return a duplicate which is damaged in someway to the seller.

    The seller in question no longer uses ebay and does not encourage anyone to use ebay because of the scam.

This topic is closed for new posts.

Other stories you might like