I was going to sell collectible books on eBay. I’ve got first editions and small press limited editions. I know how to pack books so they arrive safely, and I intended to price things just below market so people feel they’re treated fairly.

Fortunately eBay saw right through my nefarious schemes. They declared that I’m a scoundrel who will never be allowed to sell that signed Michael Crichton book. No one will explain why I deserve to be blacklisted. Is it because Crichton’s book Disclosure is lazy and badly written? Seems unlikely. Lots of people sell it anyway – the signed limited first edition is listed for sale between $75 and $375.

No, it was personal. eBay made it clear that I’m a threat and I must be stopped. You’re safe from the Bruceb scamming that I didn’t know I was going to do. Thank goodness!

There’s no moral to this story other than the universal truths of this century: (1) nothing is easy, and (2) we live in a very strange world.

Millions of items are bought, listed, and sold on eBay every day. It’s second only to Amazon as an online marketplace, with more than 180 million buyers, 25 million sellers, and 1.3 billion items listed for sale. eBay has an almost infinite number of product niches; I happen to be familiar with collectible books, a market that has exploded during the pandemic, so I know eBay is the first place to look for books sold by private sellers.

Twenty-five million sellers! I thought my odds were pretty good.

The requirements to sell on eBay are modest. Buy a few things to establish you’re a real person (not required, but recommended). Fill out simple online forms. Tie the eBay account to an active Paypal account. Create a listing and press the button. 

I pressed the button. Go! I was an eBay seller.

Twenty minutes later, eBay suspended my account.

This confused me.

Spoiler alert: that’s the end of the story. I’ll tell you the rest of the details, but the thrilling conclusion is that I am banned for life as a seller, with no explanation, no appeal, no mercy, period, end of story. Apparently it happens to lots of people. I liked this reply to a banned seller a few years ago: 

“Sorry this happened to you, all I can say is ‘Join the club . . . refreshments are located to your right, and please do sign in, we’ll be starting our orientation as soon as the others are kicked off and have joined us.’ “

Let’s add a bit of nuance – it may help explain why eBay banned me. Instead of a book, I chose an expensive piece of network technology for my first listing – a Synology DiskStation 1813+ network storage device with 12Tb of storage. It would cost you $1500 or more to buy a new one. Mine has been in service for a few years but it’s in perfect condition. I was going to sell it for $600, which is a steal.

eBay is suspicious of first-time sellers, and a first-time listing of an expensive tech device raises flags. All too often it’s one of two things: either the person claiming to sell the device is a scammer, or the naive first-time seller is going to be a victim when scammers circle around like wolves eyeing a weak sheep. eBay doesn’t deign to explain itself when it bans sellers, so I don’t know if the type of product played a role or not.

The eBay message arrived twenty minutes after I listed my item for sale, informing me that my listing “posed an unacceptable risk to our community.” My account had to be suspended to “protect our members.” I double-checked the Synology NAS. It didn’t look threatening. My heart was pure, my conscience was clear.

The next three weeks became humorous as I tried one channel after another, hoping to discover what the problem was and recover my account. eBay shut off its telephone support during the pandemic. Messages went unanswered. Support pages did not have any option to connect with the company. Chat sessions went around in circles. I tried again with a different account, only to discover that something triggered them to ban that account just as thoroughly.

I finally wound up in a lovely conversation with three different support reps in three different departments, over more than an hour and a half. They were very nice people who were completely unable to describe why I had been banned, why the ban could not be lifted, or what to do next.

None of it mattered. I pose an “unacceptable level of risk” to the eBay community. It is “in our mutual best interest to part ways.”

On the one hand, I’m sympathetic with eBay’s difficulty policing sellers. There are a lot of scammers in the world. It’s no surprise that there are active forums where people trade tips about how to create ghost accounts to sell on eBay, keep them alive as long as possible, then replace them when eBay finally bans them.

On the other hand – WTF, eBay? 

Keep an eye out. I’m going to have some stuff to sell at the Bruceb Store, as soon as I get around to creating it. Apparently I’ll have to do one-on-one scams, since I’m blocked from creating my criminal empire on eBay. Curses! Foiled again.

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