Thursday, December 19, 2013

How to tell a Costume Scam on EBay

 This Tumblr post going around today reminded me of this old tutorial that might still be of use.

Ebay can be incrediby cool. You can find amazing costumes and accessories at super low prices, and one of a kind pieces that you'd never get anywhere else. But it can also be incredibly risky, especially when you're talking about custom costumes. What you see is not always what you get, and sometimes you can get nothing at all. Here are some tips for buyers to prevent being taken for a ride when buying costumes on Ebay.

The first step is to look at the costume and read its description. Make sure you're 100% clear on what it is you are buying. Is it a one of a kind costume, or is it a commercial factory make? Are you bidding on a completed costume, or will one be made for you? What size/sizes are being offered? Are they just numbers, or are measurements included?

There are also some specific things that costumes should include when they are legit. The first is pictures. Pictures of the actual costume. Not pictures of the movie/tv/comic actor/actress/character in the costume. If the only pictures are from the media then you have no idea what you'll actually get. One person's idea of a perfect replica can be totally different from someone else's, and I've seen places where people say something is an 'exact copy' when in reality it's barely the same *color*. If the seller is legit you should be able to email/question them for pictures of the costume that they've made, or at least pictures of another costume they've made, and the closer to the costume you're bidding on the better. I would stay far away from anyone who can't show you pictures of at least *something* they've made themselves. They may not be scammers, just overenthusiastic newbies, but there is no way for you to judge their skill level, replication ability, or their ability to complete a project and mail it off on any kind of deadline.

Pictures can have another tip off. You should do a little research and make sure the picture displayed is actually of a costume made by the seller. There are many instances of people on ebay taking pictures of costumes from museum displays or from other sellers and trying to pass them off as their own. A few tip offs are white manequins (most museums use high-quality manequins with heads, sellers will usually have a headless dress dummy), blurry areas on pictures that may have been watermarks that have been removed, or few angles and details. There are a couple of ways to research this. First, find a costuming group, either on yahoo, a message board, forum, or other way to communicate, then ask them about the auction. These communities can be smaller than you think, and a lot of the people can recognize the real thing or one-another's work, especially if it's the same picture. Another way is to email the seller and ask them for more angles or a detail shot of something on the costume. If the seller really owns the costume, they should be able to get you shots of the back, embroidery detail, or inside lining.

While we're talking about contacting people, there are some other tip-offs you can use to signal warning. You should email the auctioneer and ask a question before bidding. Pay close attention to their response, because this is the seller at their best. If they are brusque, rude, or sparse in their contact it will only get worse when they've already got your money. Especially beware of a "How dare you question me!" attitude. Another thing to watch is a seller who waits until the last day of the auction to give you a reply. They're probably stalling time, waiting until you can't ask any more questions to answer you in order to force you into a bid.

Drama in the description can also be a 'bid-now' tactic. Stories about how someone got cancer, had their house burn down, must go visit someone before they die, etc. are usually just emotion tuggers, encouraging you to buy without causing the seller too much stress or pain. If the seller is a scammer they will continue sending you the heart-rending emails as they take you for a ride, using the excuse as a reason the costume won't be delivered on time, and playing on your emotions so you won't ask for a refund until it's too late. Look critically at what's described. If there are more words on the seller's pain than there are on the costume, then they're selling you a sob story, not a product.

Also, be just as cautious with sellers who have one costume, but will, off ebay, make you a copy in your size. Off ebay sales aren't covered by the buyer protection, and they may have not made the costume in the auction themselves. I would suggest you agree on a price, then have them set up an ebay auction with a buy-it-now option at that price for you to buy, just for your protection. Also, credit cards have more buyer protection than checks and money orders, and tons more than paypal's instant fund transfer from your bank account.

When you are talking about a custom-made costume you should also be super-aware of the time frame for delivery. No one can complete a screen-accurate replica in 24 hours, but a too long time frame is just as bad. Worse, actually, because they are probably delaying until it is too late for you to get a refund for non-delivery. Look up ebay's refund policy, paypal's refund policy, your credit card company's refund policy, and whatever else applies, and be sure things are in that time frame. As of writing this article paypal only gives a buyer 45 days to file a nonpayment report. That means that if a costume is to be delivered in two months by the time you know it's not there you won't be able to file a nonpayment.

Also, look up the buyer's other items, and feedback from just completed auctions. Have they put up 8 other auctions for costumes in the past week, all to be delivered in a month or two? Probably a scammer who has no intention of delivering anything, or, again, an optimistic maker with no reasonable idea of his/her own limitations. Another tipoff is a seller with little or no feedback. Someone with months or years of buying history may just be new to selling, but someone who created an account in the last few days is a big warning. If they have 10 or 20 sales check out their feedback. Note who bought from them, and who else they bought from. Scammers often create three or four selling accounts in different fandoms, this one selling Star Wars costumes, that one selling Harry Potter, a third selling Pirates of the Carribbean, etc. Then they create three or four buyers and a few auctions, using the buyers to buy the items for a buy-it-now price. Fake buyers always leave great feedback asap. My favorite was a buyer who got a custom costume in her size made and delivered from the east coast to her home in the west coast in 28 hours. Think logically about what you're seeing on the feedbacks, and read them, don't just note whether they're positive or negative. Also, if the person is an established ebay buyer but this is one of their first sales, check their buying feedback. If sellers say they're a little slow with payment or sparse on email contact and information they'll probably have problems shipping your costume out on time or keeping you informed in emails.

Other unreasonable expectations to look out for: tons of detail and expensive fabrics the seller could probably not afford for your price (i.e.-10 yards of silk in a dress for $50, or thousands of hand-sewed beads for that price). If you're confused as to what's reasonable, again, ask around. Go to a few costuming and sewing communities and ask what the going rate would be for the product. Go to a few fabric stores online and see how much the fabric being used costs in raw form. Asking around can get another benefit as well - some sellers use 'buzzwords' or technical language to throw you off, but they don't really understand what it means. An experienced sewer/costumer can tell you when the auction seems off because the seller is confusing in their terms. Again, just think about what you're seeing. If it seems like a good deal, take it, but if it seems way too good to be true it probably is.

I also have a personal policy to always get package tracking on anything I buy that seems like an investment. Any seller worth their salt should be more than happy to give you package tracking if you pay for it (and some for free). Package tracking does more than reassure the seller that you got your package. It also provides the seller, and you, with proof that the package was mailed, and a way to get your money back if it disappears in route. Without package tracking a scammer can claim they sent the item weeks ago and you can't prove different. Remember, Ebay and Paypal make their money on auctions completed and sellers pay the auction fees, so Ebay and Paypal will often err on the side of a scamming buyer in order to keep the seller around and paying their auction fees, so have proof of everything you say.

And finally, look out for my pet peeve. Any seller who says they make things out of "silk and/or satin" really doesn't know sewing, fabrics, or their craft well enough to produce a costume for sale. The phrase "silk and/or satin" is used only by novices who don't know fabrics well enough to know that what they're saying is like calling a pie "apple and/or baked". One describes what it's made of and the other describes how it's made. So let's not use that term anymore, ok?

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