Commercial websites used to be a lot more chaotic and easy to manipulate than they are now. Back around, say, 2004, with people and businesses still figuring out the logistics of how to protect consumers from information theft and fraud, there were a lot of loopholes you could manipulate, particularly on a user-sourced site like eBay, if you were of that ilk.
Back then, I was of that ilk. I think it was specifically the web’s since-decreased anonymity that manifested that strain in me, as I’d never really been the shamming type before. The only thing I’ve ever stolen was a blue key from a hardware store when I was seven, and even then when I got caught, I began bawling. But in the more formative stages of eBay, ripping people off felt the same as pulling money out of air. The online victim had no face, no spirit. It was like a video game, which when you died, you could begin again.
My current eBay account is my fifth. Each of my first three were suspended, mostly from many small infractions over time. I don’t even think I meant to do it, at first — I’d post a listing for a comic book or some other collectible crap I’d had for years then, and because I’m lazy, never get around to actually putting the item in the mail. People would complain and leave me bad feedback, but if they paid by check or cash, a much more common practice before the rise of PayPal, there was mostly nothing they could do. eBay would only kick me off after my feedback rating got down into the 80th percentiles, which I could pad positively by buying things I wanted. Sometimes I’d even sell the same thing several times. When my account was canceled, I’d start a new one with new information. I became someone else.
Besides simply not shipping items, I also found I could make money by creating false value with common objects. I tried a lot of things like this, including selling fake autographs and used underwear. This was even better than scamming because people actually got what they paid for and no one ever knew. The internet allowed me to manifest a false aura for an object, creating worth from none. Sometimes I feel I actually earned this money; in some ways it feels the same as writing fiction, or even essays.
This went on for a while until one day I took a picture of a common black Sharpie marker and said it had been used by Justin Timberlake. I wrote in the item description that I’d been at a grocery store in Florida, or wherever the internet said he was living at the time, and that I’d seen him sign an autograph for someone with the marker, then left it behind. I think I remember admitting that I didn’t care that much about Justin Timberlake and that’s why I was selling the marker instead of keeping it for myself. The logistics make no sense, clearly, but still somehow the item sold for $28. The person said they’d like to pay by check.
The next week when I received the payment, I found along with the payment they’d sent a note. “Thank you so much for offering such a wonderful item for sale,” the buyer wrote. “The pen is for my daughter. She has Down’s syndrome. She is the biggest NSYNC fan in the whole world, and she is constantly looking on Ebay for memorabilia. She has pretty much everything by now, so when she saw this really unique item she got really excited. It’s really going to make her day. Thank you!!”
Jesus christ. I tore the check up. I think I tore the letter up also, and to be honest I can’t remember if I even sent the pen. I’d like to say I did, but I think I may have felt so embarrassed that I didn’t even want to send my lie out in the mail. I know it would have made her happy, but I couldn’t stand to imagine her holding this stupid marker I’d made a mirage of. Somehow thinking of her honoring that myth seemed even worse, like psychic damage I was prodding awake in the world: some silent thing that lurked without a body but now somehow had rubbed up against mine. I never lied about what an object was again, and for the most part, that was the end of my eBay scam era.
My fourth account I straightened up and played good. I kept the account for four years and maintained a 100% positive rating over 400 transactions. I shipped everything I sold the very next day, and only sold things that were real. Over that period I got scammed a few times and pursued the scammers and always got my money back, perhaps unfairly righteous about the necessity of fair service in a market where so much is based on trust. Whatever, I grew up.
My most recently cancelled eBay account was a product wholly of boredom. One day, after likely hours bored of clicking around online in search of entertainment, I impulsively put up a listing for myself: a way to waste some time, something new to look at and follow, which seems so often the only thing from the internet we need.
I got bid up to $347.00 in about an hour before the ad was taken down. A bunch of people liked it on Facebook. So that had happened. Oh, what fun. Immediately thereafter, I received this email from Ebay:
Your eBay account is suspended for at least one year for violating our policy. We take several things into consideration before we suspend an account, including account history and any previous actions. Listings of humans, human bodies, or human body parts aren’t allowed on eBay. In addition, sales of Native American skulls, bones, and other Native American grave-related items are prohibited under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act and aren’t allowed on eBay.
Almost an hour on the phone with customer service explaining that this was a joke, a scam played on me, produced no effect. Of course, I was still able to immediately set up a new account, though this time I had to call myself a business and jump through hoops to prove it wasn’t just me again, the jerk, trying to wreak another strain of havoc on online commerce. So far, I have six positive ratings.