by Lloyd A. de Vries
Vol. 35 - Let's Be Careful Out There
An article last year in the Seattle Times detailed how thousands of Amazon.com customers were left without the Christmas gifts they ordered (DVDs of TV programs) when a third-party seller apparently took the money and ran.
The company, mygreatchoice, had a nearly perfect feedback record on Amazon until then.
Feedback, whether on Amazon or eBay or another online sales site which acts as a broker for sellers, is one way to gauge the reliability, but it's only one way.
Are the sellers from whom you're considering buying stamps and covers members of the American Philatelic Society?
Those who are should say so in their listings, either with a graphic or in the text.
If you are about to spend a significant amount of money and what is significant is up to you you may wish to confirm that membership status. After all, as the frequent fake messages from eBay trolling for your personal data show, anyone can steal and use a logo.
Some dealers are listed in the "Dealers" section of the APS Web site. But not every APS member selling online has registered as a dealer with the society.
If the person isn't listed on the Web site, you can contact the APS by telephone at (814) 933-3803, extension 0, or by e-mail at email@example.com to not only verify the membership, but also whether there are any complaints against that member. You can also go to the APS Web site, www.stamps.org, and click on "Services" on the top of any page. Then, on the left side of the page, click on "Member Services," the seventh item on the list. On the next page, the top item is "Membership Verification;" fill out the form and request a verification. (No, you can't access the APS member database yourself.)
"Anyone can fill this out and submit it. There is no requirement that the submitter be a member nor is there a charge for this service," then-APS executive director Bob Lamb told The Virtual Stamp Club last year.
Other philatelic memberships may also help indicate a seller's standing in the community, although I believe the APS enforces its code of ethics more seriously than other groups do theirs.
Two more caveats: Even established stamp dealers can go bad, and have. Nothing is fool-proof, nothing is guaranteed.
And just seeing a membership number is no guarantee that it's valid. One philatelic society (not the APS) that requires that dealers at its convention be members found out that one man was putting a membership number that wasn't his on the bourse contract. He'd let his membership lapse; no one checked for several years.
Not all spam is malicious phishing from malcontents hoping to destroy your finances and your computer. Some comes from stamp dealers too cheap or lazy to use other means of advertising.
It's obvious that there are lists of stamp collectors' e-mail addresses available for sale or being traded among dealers.
Even though I've written that it's a waste of time, I've asked one particularly aggressive "spamatelist" from Pakistan to take my addresses off my list. And I was right: the request was ignored. In fact, I may have given him a new address to spam.
Some of the dealers employing spam to advertise are established dealers I see with booths at the APS and Mega-Event shows, so it's not all "vest-pocket" dealers. These booth-holders are paying big money to be at those shows, so they can afford real advertising.
I don't buy from spammers.
I do recognize the difference between companies with which I've done business whom I have told I was willing to be on their mailing lists and the others. I'll also put up with an occasional mass-mailed inquiry from dealers with whom I haven't done business, or haven't done business recently.
There are plenty of free advertising opportunities on the Internet that don't involve spam: Usenet newsgroups like rec.collecting.stamps.marketplace, message boards like The Virtual Stamp Club's, e-mail lists and even those free Web sites that most Internet Service Providers give to subscribers.
But they're not as easy to use as pushing a single button and annoying thousands of stamp collectors at once, are they?
At first, I was sort of flattered: eBay was inviting me to become a power-seller, no doubt recognizing the superior quality of my first day covers, my sterling reputation in the stamp collecting community, and my strong moral fiber.
Not bad for a guy with fewer than 500 feedback points!
However, I took a second look at the message. It was addressed to an e-mail address that eBay doesn't know exists.
Then I got two more identical messages in rapid succession, each to another address.
It was a "phish," of course. A "mouseover" (holding the mouse cursor over the link but being very careful not to click on the link! and looking at the Web address that showed up in the lower left of my screen) yielded a URL that was not eBay's.
The goal of a "phish" is to get the recipient to click on the link and go to the con artist's Web site. Sometimes just arriving on the site alone is enough to strip important personal information from the victim's computer. Sometimes, the "mark" is asked to volunteer such data into a form on the Web site. And sometimes the site puts spyware and other parasites on the visiting computer.
EBay and its subsidiary PayPal always address you somewhere in their messages by your real name (or the one you have on file, at least). "Valued member" indicates a scam.
Even when my name is in the message from eBay or PayPal, though, I'm too suspicious to click on links in their messages. Instead, I visit their respective sites. If there's a problem with my account, I'll know soon enough when I try to log in.
EBay also says it duplicates all its messages to users in their "My eBay" sections. If the notification of account suspension, suspicious activity using your ID, or promotion to Power Seller isn't there, then it was bogus.
Virtual Stamp Club Home Page