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How Can I Buy Coins on eBay Without Getting Ripped Off?

Aug 17, 2007
EBay is the topic of many conversations in the coin collecting community. Amongst the collector community is the question of can I buy coins on eBay without getting ripped off. The answer is unequivocally YES. The caveat is to proceed with caution. In this article we will explore the things to look for to find honest sellers so that you can protect your self. Here are several tips to keep you from getting ripped off and bidding on auctions that are with worthy sellers

User Feedback: While it seems obvious you want to deal with someone who has a high user feedback, the fact is that this area can be quite misleading. How? Many people who buy coins and then feel ripped off are for some reason reluctant to leave negative feedback for fear they will also receive negative feedback. When looking for a reputable coin dealer on eBay, feedback ratings can be a useful guide, but dig a little deeper. A dealer/seller with 10,000 positive feedbacks does NOT mean s/he is a good dealer. Read the feedback. Not just the negative feedbacks but the positive as well. Many positive feedback entries will have underlying negative information in them that could clue you into how the dealer treats others or the quality of the merchandise s/he sells. For example, a recent positive feedback entry for a seller stated: Grading seems off mark but happy with deal and easy to work with CO. Thanks. Another positive feedback for a different seller stated: Not quite as expected but OK for the price. These particular dealers have thousands of positive ratings but the ratings are rife with negative connotations in the positive feedback. Check for statements such as slow shipping, not packaged well, not like picture, not as described, etc.

Dealer Business or One Time Seller: Is the seller you are looking at a long-time eBay seller or someone that is trying out eBay to sell their inherited collection? Actually, this area may not make much difference as there are some long-time dealers who I think are crooks while I have been able to pick up some good deals from new sellers. But beware, short-term sellers/new sellers may be looking to unload some junk, take you for your money and then not deliver.

Shipping Policies: Some sellers will attempt to hide the shipping cost and will ultimately overcharge for shipping for extra profit. This of course is disguised as Shipping/Handling. All sellers will charge for shipping and handling, it is the degree to which they will charge. For example, I have seen sellers charge $7.00 for shipping a $2.00 penny with insurance being extra Always pay close attention to the shipping charges as well as the method of shipping. Some dealers will only ship UPS adding significant cost to you. Generally speaking, insurance is not included in many transactions. Please note, it does cost dealers for the packing materials, trips to the post office, etc. Many dealers will look to handling charges to offset some of the fees they have to pay to eBay. Sellers can pay anywhere around 10% of the selling price for listing fees, transaction fees, final valuation fees, etc.

Return Policies: An important factor to determine before bidding on an auction is to read the fine print, especially return policies. Return policies vary from no returns at all to full return privileges. Some sellers will offer you the option to return an item but will NOT reimburse shipping charges. If you bought a $2.00 coin and paid $7.00 for shipping, you are out the $7.00.

Assigning a Grade: Many dealers will suggest a grade for the coin they are selling. It is easy to overgrade a coin, as you always hope for the best. Some sellers will make statements such as "It looks like a MS-65 but I am not an expert." Others will make a statement such as, "I am not a coin grader but it looks good to me." Another good one is stating they are of average circulation. Average circulation means many different things to many different people. Average circulation for Barber Halves means they are all in AG-3 or so while average circulation for Franklin Halves would indicate they should be a higher grade as they are less worn. Be wary of these descriptions. It is unfortunate, but many so called uncalculated coins selling on eBay are AU-55 or AU-58.

Graded Coins: Most people feel safe when buying a graded coin. The feeling is that since it is graded by a third party, I should be getting what I am bidding on. NOTE: All grading companies are not created equal. There are some sellers on eBay that sells tons of coins that are graded MS-70. If you really research the feedback on these items you will find out that in the opinion of many of the buyers, many of the coins are no where near MS-70. If you research further, you will find out the seller is the person/company that also is the grading company.

Contacting the Seller: If you find a coin you want and the auction does not end for a few days; try contacting the seller for more info. Do they respond quickly and with the information you want?

Item Description: Read the description over and over to look for the slightest deception. For example, when buying bags of wheat cents, a common statement is "unsearched by me". That's great. Maybe his buddy searched them, or he bought them as searched. I would stay away from that item. Also, match the description to the picture. People do make mistakes. If you see a picture of a Morgan Dollar with a mint mark of "S" but the description says it is a "CC", contact the seller. If you do not get a response, stay clear.

Photos: If you are buying a valuable coin, do not consider buying it unless there are clear pictures, for both the observe and reverse. Yes, this applies to even PCGS graded coins. A MS-66 graded Walking Liberty Half might sound like an absolutely beautiful coin, but if it has ugly toning, maybe it is not the coin for you. Be wary of any high value coin that does not have clear close up pictures. A trick of many bad dealers is to intentionally have pictures that are slightly out of focus or at a bad angle to hide certain scratches or abnormalities.

Dealer Memberships: Many dealers will lay claim to belong to various clubs and organizations. Many of these claims will not guarantee that the dealer is honest. I can claim I belong to any club I want. That does not mean that I actually belong to it. Additionally, membership in many clubs does not require anything more than an email address. On the other hand, if the dealer claims to be a member of ANA, that could be better as ANA dealers are bound by a certain code of ethics.

Buying coins on eBay is a risky business, but by using these tips, the risk is no more than buying coins from your local dealer or by mail order. There are crooks in the coin profession at all levels. You must be on guard at all times to protect yourself and by exercising caution, you can be assured you are getting and paying for what you think you are.

As always, happy collection!
About the Author
Keith Scott has been a collector for over 30 years. His website has US coins for sale. He also writes Coin Collecting Articles for fun. Visit his websites for a history of US coins, metal market updates and news about your favorite coins.
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