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Online, no one can hear you cry

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They took this pretty seriously at the supplier and asked for all the details, which we provided. Then their crime unit moved in, and we waited for the storm.

Four months later, checking vendors on the auction site, the same vendor was offering the same products under the same terms and conditions at the same price.

It's a problem, yes; but fixing it is not cost-effective, it would seem. And when you buy a £20 item and it just never shows up, the admin costs of getting anybody in authority involved are proportionately even more prohibitive. "Nobody cares," in short.

When you do get ripped off, several remedies that worked a year ago may turn out not to work any more. The law on online purchases is: "Use a credit card" - because if the product is not delivered as specified, the credit card will place a charge-back to the retailer, plus a £35 fee. But credit card companies have become wise to this.

Who'd have credited it?

A year ago, if you bought online using Paypal, having charged your Paypal account up first, the credit card supplier would see this as a credit card purchase. Today, more and more of them are getting out of it by claiming that all they provided was "a cash advance".

What's the law on this? "If you get an answer out of the Office of Fair Trading, then you'll do better than we have," said Perry at e-Victims.

There's no sign of things improving. Perry exposed many of the scams which regularly occur on eBay. When in doubt, of course, a big corporation should always shoot the messenger and, right on cue, eBay suspended his account. Yes, Perry did exaggerate the problem, but anybody who works in the crime area will confirm the problem is real.

I have a question for eBay: if you are out to help reduce crime, fencing (dealing in stolen goods), and scams, one thing you could do is accept credit card payments. Why won't you? And why won't you work with consumer-help groups like e-Victims?

I'm not saying this would solve the problem overnight, but I am suggesting that it would help your image a lot if you stopped doing things which are inevitably going to be perceived as crook-friendly. And it's not just eBay - it is probably just the most prominent.

I'm not suggesting anybody is doing anything crooked at any of these "auction" sites. I am saying that they face a real PR problem if they don't make it a lot more obvious that they are aware of the scams and prepared to be whiter than white about how they clamp down on them. ®

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