Buyer beware: eBay auctions offer celebrity memorabilia at a premium

By on March 9, 2005

Would you ever buy a half eaten piece of French toast if you knew Justin Timberlake had eaten off it, or somebody’s soul if you had an official certificate? Would you buy planet Earth? It sounds outrageous, but plenty of people have on the online auction Web site Although these items are posted on the Web site, buyers beware, not everyone on eBay is legitimate.

According to its Web site, eBay got its start in September 1995 as “the world’s online marketplace that sells goods and services by a diverse community of individuals and small businesses.” EBay’s mission is to “provide a global trading platform where practically anyone can trade practically anything.”

Almost 10 years later, the eBay community includes over a hundred million registered members from around the world. EBay states that, “People spend more time on eBay than any other any other online site, making it the most popular shopping destination on the Internet.”

It is also the most popular Web site for scams. There is a feedback forum, which contains every member’s information, but the information is not always accurate. The words “Seller Information” could be the best words ever read before making a purchase.

The sellers’ information, located at the top of each items page, gives a feedback score based on how well the user came through with the sale. It lists not only the things other members were pleased with, but what they were displeased with. A members feedback score could determine whether someone buys from them or not.

One scam that plagues eBay is people selling a picture rather than an actual item. They claim to be selling an item, such as an iPod. The seller will use pictures along with a description of the item on a nicely laid out auction page. The scammer then slips in a statement like “you are bidding on the picture only, not the actual item” somewhere in the auction listing (usually in a very small, hard to notice font). The bidder does not see the picture only statement and proceeds to bid on the item. After payment, the buyer gets just a picture in the mail instead of the actual product. Always make sure you read the full description, including the small print before buying anything from eBay.

Another popular scam on eBay happens when the seller never sends the item. They take the buyers money and keeps the item. The seller will sometimes say that it may have gotten lost in the mail, or they won’t respond to e-mails when asked about the item.

“My friend bought a cell phone from eBay and when she got it, it was broken. She spent more money fixing it then it was worth,” Meredith Jiaconia, a senior diagnostic imaging major, said.

Although eBay is full of scams, there are plenty of legitimate transactions. People are drawn to eBay for a number of reasons. EBay has a number of items not available in stores, also it is convenient to purchase items off of the internet and buying them from eBay can help save money.

“I have bought little items from eBay because of the price, but I wouldn’t buy anything big,” Mel Coons, a senior mass communications major, said. Among the things Coons has purchased are t-shirts and books. “I have to worry about my credit card. It can be scary but every time I have been satisfied,” she said.

EBay is also known to sell strange items. In fact the Web site has a “Weird Stuff” section. Some of the odd things that have been sold on the site are singer Justin Timberlake’s half-eaten French toast, which sold for $3,154 after 40 bids.

Some strange items reoccur on eBay. Human souls are sold every day, even though eBay restricts its members from selling any human body, or part. Another reoccurring item is planet Earth. Originally selling in 1999 for $10,000,000 after 12 bids, it is being sold on eBay again. No one has bid on it yet.

EBay does in fact censor its members. When they catch someone selling, or acting in a way that is against its policies, it will ban the member from the site.

The types of people who buy these items “are a waste of space in society,” Coons said.

Celebrities have also gotten a taste of eBay. “The Tonight Show’s” Jay Leno sold a Harley Davidson motorbike signed by 64 celebrities including Ellen DeGeneres, Denzel Washington, Kate Winslet and Dustin Hoffman to benefit Tsunami victims. The bike sold in November of last year for $800,100, which was 47 times the buying price.

Steve Hartman from the CBS show “60 Minutes” recently sold a plain white wrinkled t-shirt on eBay. The celebrity dubbed his item “conceptual art.” The shirt was found in a men’s clothing store originally selling for $180 because the wrinkles don’t come out. Hartman put the shirt on eBay to see if anyone would buy it and sure enough it sold for $8000.

To check out the list of “Weird Stuff” eBay has to offer, visit, click on “Everything Else” at the bottom of the categories section and then click on “Weird Stuff.” You can also visit for a list of eBay’s unusual items from the past.


About Gabi Levine