Actually, an eBay member who wants to remain anonymous can register with eBay using phony information, a free, untraceable e-mail address, and no credit card at all. It’s done all the time by scammers, paranoid eBay members who want to hide their identities for privacy reasons, or even by honest eBayers who think they need a “throw-away” account to use for testing purposes, or, perhaps to use the Ask Member a Question feature without risk of their real e-mail address ending up on some spammers mailing list.
EBay wants to have as many members as it can, so signing up has been made as easy as possible. From the company’s standpoint, it makes little sense to scare off potential paying customers because of some minor detail such as requiring positive identification. Certainly, this breezy attitude about sign-up allows scammers to slip across the border along with honest customers, but eBay has other ways of dealing with that unfortunate event.
One safeguard is to classify members into two different categories. buyers and sellers (or buyer/sellers, if you want to be more accurate.) The chief difference is that buyer/sellers have been verified in some way, using one of the processes I’ll describe shortly. Here are the chief differences between the categories.
Buyers. These eBay members can only bid and buy items, with no restrictions other than those imposed by negative feedback or other eBay sanctions that can get them kicked off the venue for malfeasance. The only requirement to sign up is a valid e-mail address from an e-mail service that eBay doesn’t classify as a free account.
That means that no-cost e-mail accounts from Hotmail, Yahoo, Bigfoot, or other similar services (particularly those that are web-based) cannot be used alone to register with eBay. Those e-mail accounts can be created anonymously, and eBay wants to filter out unidentified users as well as it can. You can still use those accounts to register, but eBay will ask you to also provide your credit card or debit card information. Supposedly, that extra step will block scammers who are using anonymous e-mail accounts.
The big loophole is that eBay must be aware that the account is an anonymous e-mail account. The company does keep tabs on all of the better-known free services, but you’re free to use an obscure e-mail service, or simply ask a friend (or even a total stranger) who owns a domain to give you an account. As long as eBay’s system doesn’t flag it as a free account, you can register with no other forms of identification.
Of course, so can scammers. That puts eBay in a difficult position. It wants as many potential buyers as possible, and doesn’t want to place any roadblocks in their path. Buyers attract sellers, and sellers are the folks eBay makes its money from. Buyers who are hooked on eBay often become sellers, too, so eBay makes it very, very easy to become a buyer, with hardly any identification required. Working in eBay’s favor is the fact that the majority of scammers are sellers. Requiring only sellers to identify themselves lets eBay grow relatively unfettered, while providing a modicum of filtering of the worst scammers.
Sellers. If you want to sell on eBay, things become more interesting. You can become a seller when you register for the first time on eBay, simply by providing the identification information requested. Or, if you’ve had a buyer account for some time, you can “upgrade it” by entering the ID information and qualifying as a seller. When I began on eBay, I registered a half-dozen accounts as buyer-only accounts because I wanted to reserve certain eBay IDs for myself before someone else snatched them up. I made a few purchases here and there using each ID to build a modest amount of feedback. When I was ready to begin selling with a particular ID, all I had to do was provide the identification info, and I was set.
To sell on eBay, you must identify yourself in one of two ways. The most common method is to provide eBay with your credit/debit card number and your checking account information. The process takes only a few minutes, and your confidential information is about as safe as it is anywhere else on the Internet. Millions of eBay sellers have provided this information, with very few adverse effects.
However, perhaps you don’t have both a credit card and a checking account, or you’re reluctant to give this information to eBay. You can still provide eBay with satisfactory proof of identity by using the ID Verify system, which is available to residents of the United States and its territories. There’s a $5.00 fee, but you should earn that back on your first eBay sale. The fee is applied only if you successfully complete the verification process. If you change your mind or are unable to complete the session for any reason, you aren’t charged a cent.
The only catch is that you must have a credit history to use ID Verify, because the Verisign service that provides the verification uses one of the major credit bureaus to double-check your information. Using the data about yourself that you supply, ID Verify will ask you to confirm your name and date of birth, and some other financial information in your credit report, such as the monthly payments of several of your credit accounts. You’ll need to supply your home (not work) address to pass muster. The process is not a credit check; ID Verify doesn’t care if you’re 90 days behind in all of your payments; it simply wants you to verify the amounts of the payments to establish your identity. You’ll learn more about ID Verify later in this chapter.