Here is something I wrote in 2007 and was published in 2008 about Ebay In Autocar. It is worth sharing again because they promised to do something and they should have sorted it all out a decade later. The number of complaints about scam listings the behaviour of sellers never seems to decrease. They are a huge company with tremendous resources and they ought to be able to make fraud far more difficult. The impression users get is, they don’t really care. It is up to users to report any concerns, but the sheer number of scam listings, V5 trading and attempts to defraud potential buyers is astounding. Yes, this was written a decade ago…

Ebay, what’s not to love? It’s clever, undoubtedly compulsive, certainly enjoyable and where else can you read such detailed vehicle descriptions and see so many pictures? It’s impossible to ignore the auction site if you are looking for a car, not least because just about every vehicle you can imagine (911 Turbo), and several you can’t (Beford fire engine with limo conversion – agenuine entry) could potentially become yours. However, like a lot of used cars Ebay isn’t perfect and you have told us in no uncertain terms. That’s why we decided to take your concerns to the very top.

Jody Ford is the head of Ebay Motors and Debbie Hofmeyr runs the Trust and Safety for the whole site in the UK and they’ve agreed to answer your questions.

One recurring theme from Autocar readers has been that you could bid on a car without actually seeing it, which is surely a bit mad. Alistair Inglis told me that he would “always want to see the car and drive it, poke at it’ and negotiate face to face. Kee Law thought that, “there is too much of a commitment when you bid.”

“It’s always in the buyers interest to go and check the car out and seller”, says Ford. “The sheer volume of information in the ad is the best guide to the quality of the car and the honesty of the seller. Some of our sellers put over 90 pictures detailing every single scratch and back that up with pages of scanned service records. We have the statistics to prove that sellers who provide more information are far more likely to sell their cars. Along with the feedback system which allows buyers to read what others have said about them and the RAC vehicle and data checks there are plenty of resources that the buyer can use as well as their own common sense.”

It’s hard to disagree as being a bit dumb is the fundamental root of most problems, when buyers are just naieve or ignore the obvious warning signs that there is something wrong. However, it’s all very well to say that there are safeguards in place, but if you fall in the love with the seller, pay for all the checks and even drive the car, it can still be sold to the highest bidder. Of course, the new Ebay classified ad format addresses some of the issues and allows you to buy in a more traditional manner. Ford reckons though that the auction gives you time to think about your potential purchase and is a vital part of the ‘fun’ of bidding on Ebay. What isn’t fun though are the scam listings, especially when it is your own car that’s up for sale.

I was sent possibly the world’s longest internet forum thread by the 350Z owners club with the comment, “I thought you might find this thread of interest to show how little notice Ebay takes of regular punters’ complaints.” It did make depressing reading as several owners had the complete text of their adverts and all their pictures pasted into various Ebay listings. When they got in contact with Ebay to ask them to remove the offending bogus adverts, not much happened. Reader John Skipper has also sent me several obviously scammy ads with classic cars at unfeasibly low prices and even traced the copy and pictures back to the original adverts to warngenuine sellers. “Unlike you, Ebay did not want to know when I tried to contact them!” And here is the major problem with Ebay according to many of you, there simply isn’t anyone to talk to or moan at.

“I recommend that people use the Safety Centre link,” said Debbie Hofmeyr. “We want people to come with us with evidence and then we can do something about it.” I have to disagree and say that the experience of our readers is that they get very little response at all. Also the cycle of standard email question formats you have to endure is debilitating. Hofmeyr says the online video takes you through the process, but I counter that it simply isn’t good enough. Even a disinterested call centre in India would be preferable to no response, or a standard email, which at least makes them laugh. Hofmeyr fights back though stressing how important a good customer experience is to them, “In 2008 we are looking at trialling different forms of support.” Sadly she won’t go into details but hopefully they will find some spare cash (out of their global $4.9 billon profit) for some phone lines.

Ford and Hofmeyr both stress that with 10m listings on the site as a whole, weeding out the scams isn’t easy and they do rely on the Ebay community to bring dodgy adverts to their attention. All the more reason then for them to listen to complaints and also realise that this isn’t some south Californian hippie commune, it’s a business. And a business if it is to remain credible, can’t afford to associate itself with anything illegal.

Malcolm Rixon Technical and Licensing Manager for Autodata is a reader who in his professional life is concerned about the illegal sales of car repair and maintenance software. “A great deal of this counterfeit and copied software finds its way into dubious repair establishments which could raise consumer repair and safety concerns.” So without really trying too hard the night before I met Ebay, I found a long list of obviously copied manufacturer CDs. This character had set up a shop and cleverly got around Ebay’s own restriction on multiple sales by listing each CD as a separate item. Here was a grubby little bloke offering pirate discs even more blatently than if he was at a dodgy car boot sale.

Hofmeyr then told me about their Bureau Programme where they have developed partnerships with some 15,000 companies to tackle the growing problem of counterfeit goods. Even so, she stressed that the feedback was probably the best guide to finding out whether the seller sold copied goods or not. However, that was not the point because he had an impressively high feedback rating of almost 5000. Everyone was obviously happy with their knock off CDs, but how could Ebay allow this obviously illegal practice to continue? It isn’t good for their image and makes buyers who want to genuinely trade in an honest environment feel uncomfortable.

Both Hofmeyr and Ford said that investigating such cases wasn’t that straightforward and making snap judgements could be difficult, yet this person had been on Ebay for over two years. Both senior executives refused to go into details about investigating wrongdoing because Ebay understandably do not wish to help fraudsters. All Hofmeyr would say is that, “if relevant and applicable we will suspend or restrict the account and have over 2000 people working to stop fraud worldwide.”

Well they are not doing a good enough job. However, the day following our interview the dodgy Del Boy I’d pointed out could no longer be found on the site. The shop, or rather his virtual open suitcase, had been erased from Ebay. Well done. But it shouldn’t have to be that difficult. I told them that what you want from Ebay are the iffy sellers and scammers chased away and much better customer service. And you know what? Jody Ford agreed that those were their key priorities. Throughout 2008 they are going to make significant improvements to seller verification, tackle account takeovers and make sellers work harder for you.

So if your experience isn’t any better by the end of this/next year, please let me know and I’ll go back and see them again.