With an unsurpassed selection and being the single biggest numismatic marketplace in the world, eBay is one of the best resources for buying coins online. Regardless of the coin you are seeking to fill in that empty spot in your collection, chances are that someone on eBay is offering it for sale.
Unfortunately due to its popularity buying from a seller on eBay can be somewhat risky, as it can be with any online market. Scammers are still able to get away with their tactics despite eBay’s efforts to stop it happening. Given the huge number of transactions that occur on a daily basis, it is no surprise that some scammers slip through the cracks. This just means that coin buyers need to particularly vigilant when searching the website’s numismatic section, and be aware that there are many coins being misrepresented and over-graded there.
It is extremely difficult to distinguish the good from the bad when all you have to go on is a brief description and a couple of images.
I have successfully used eBay to buy and sell coins for my private collection for almost a decade. It is not surprising that I have managed to amass a significant amount of experience from my dealings with both honest and dishonest eBayers. I truly believe that with vigilance and suitable caution a coin collector can avoid being scammed by an unscrupulous eBay seller.
This is Part One of an ongoing series I am writing on eBay Best Practices, in which I am going to highlight some of the most common eBay misrepresentation scams and provide tips on avoiding them.
Over-grading is probably the most common scam seen on eBay. Of course one buyer’s opinion of a coin’s grade may be that it is MS-61 while the seller may feel it is MS-62, and that is only natural given that we are all human, and you as a buyer are very likely to give the seller the benefit of the doubt. Those tiny differences in grade are not of great concern. The over-grading scams I am referring to are the ones where it goes beyond normal differences of opinion and moves into the area of obvious scamming.
Too often lately sellers are representing their coins as high Mint State when they in reality Extra Fine and Abut Uncirculated coins. The Morgan dollar listings seem to be rife with this scam primarily because there is a substantial premium on uncirculated coins. In an effort to further hoodwink potential buyers scammers will enclose the coin in a 2 x 2 cardboard flip and endorse the outside with absurd claims such as Blast White Gem and MS++++ Proof-Like!
It is not uncommon for the seller to go one step further to try to justify their claims and that is to write an outrageous price on the flip, with the obvious intention of having the potential buyer believe that the price on the flip is what the seller originally paid for it.
A very large number of such coins have been cleaned, dipped and polished to make them appear to have a brilliant white surface and therefore be of a higher grade, but in reality they are still just circulated specimens. Surprisingly, given these coins are at best marginal AU, coin collectors are still buying them. You would think savvy coin collectors would not take the seller’s description at face value and judge for themselves based on the listing images. Even if they did do that images can be ‘doctored’ to make the coins appear better than they really are.
Be suspicious of any coins that have the appearance of being perfectly smooth. The seller has very likely overexposed the photo on purpose to the point where surface scratches and marks are not visible. A seller may also enclose the coin in a plastic holder that will conceal any imperfections just enough to have you believe the surfaces are smooth and clean. Look closely for wear signs on the high points of the coin’s design. If the photo does not allow minor design details to be seen you can be pretty sure that the seller is trying to hide something. Caveat Emptor (Let the buyer beware!).
In an effort to avoid being scammed in this way some buyers will opt to buy only slabbed coins and coins that have been certified and graded by a professional grading service. Sadly, there is room for misrepresentation within the slabbed coin market too, with some third-party grading services not be as ethical as others.
While some grade according to a set of strict guidelines others are not as professional. There are four third-party grading services that have earned themselves a good reputation. They are PCGS and NGC in the top tier, followed very closely by ICG and ANACS. They have become well-known for being consistent and honest in their grading practices. Unfortunately the quality of others sinks well below these four.
When buying from a seller on eBay I won’t give coins graded by any company other than the top four consideration, and yet will gladly pay full book price for coins graded by NGC and PCGS, and a slightly lower amount for those graded by ICG and ANACS.
Fortunately coin collectors looking to buy only coins that have been graded by one of the first tier grading services can now easily search eBay by Certification type. This greatly reduces the chances of having an over-graded slab turn up in the results.
The next scam I would like to touch on is the one where listings of supposedly unsearched’ bags or rolls of coins pop up, hoping to entice hopeful coin collectors into buying.
Here is how this type of listing typically works. The seller makes a claim that he has just come into a significant number of rare coins. Of course he supposedly knows nothing about coins or just doesn’t have the time to go through them all, and so his loss is your gain’. While there may be a distinct possibility of discovering a really rare find such as a pile of Wheat cents in a lot of unsorted coins, the reality is that it is highly unlikely that anyone selling coins on eBay is that lazy or that generous to sell a bag of coins without picking through them for the valuable ones.
That being said some of the larger, better established numismatic companies do from time to time offer rolls of coins, however finding a seller willing to allow keys and semi-key dates to leave their hands at a bargain price is extremely rare.
Just be aware when considering a listing that states it is for a roll or bag of unsearched’ coins that it is very likely that it has been thoroughly picked over and what they are offering is the dregs’. One of the cunning practices that sellers have recently begun utilizing is to offer a roll of coins that they state are one particular type, Wheat cents as an example, and then put a coin on each end that is perhaps Indian Head cents or Barber dimes.
Some very clever sellers have taken to the practice of showing the obverse side of a 1916 Mercury dime at the front end of the roll and a Denver mint Mercury dime with the reverse side facing out at the back end of the roll. This is designed to lure the prospective buyer into believing that somehow a couple of 1916-D dimes just happened to fall into a Wheat penny roll. Buyers will pay many times their actual value based upon this assumption.
Fortunately the majority of people selling coins on eBay are completely honest and worthy of trust, but if you buy coins from eBayers often enough you will undoubtedly have the misfortune to come across a seller or two who is only too happy to misrepresent their coins to try and increase their profit.
Future articles will go into some of the other considerations that are important when buying coins on eBay, such as evaluating a seller’s feedback score and avoiding counterfeits. My hope is that you found the information in this article to be of help when you next go shopping on eBay, and as a general rule it is wise to remember that what sounds too good to be true most likely is!