[kwlug-disc] Buying online

Rick rickm at golden.net
Sun Dec 14 17:31:43 EST 2008

"Kyle Spaans" <3lucid at gmail.com> writes:
> ... like Raul said, most
> of the eBay scam stuff can be avoided with some careful searching.

Ah, but first one has to be aware that such devices _can_ be hacked.
You can't find something if you don't even realize that you need to
search. It's like a Muggle trying to find the hidden gateway to the
Hogwarts train while at the London train station.

(And, for the record, I did have my money refunded once I went
through the PayPal claims system.)

A good example of Kyle's searching (and my "knowing" to search) happens
whenever my mother sends me ridiculous emails, the last two being:

   put Vicks VapoRub on your feet to relieve coughing
   enter your PIN-number backwards if a robber is holding you up at an ATM

In those cases, I know to check this out on the web. In particular,
you can just take snippets from these email chain-letters and,
invariably, you get a link to snopes.com in the top three hits.

However, two patches of personal ignorance gave me blind-spots that
blocked any awareness that I even needed to search out for a scam.

First, I saw this eBay scammer only had a _single_ negative
review on 1400 feedback from buyers. Indeed, only five of
us have, so far, left negative reviews about how the item is a SCAM/FRAUD:


Am I so smart to know something that hundreds of other people don't know?
I immediately assume that I'm not. And, in fact, I am not that smart ...
only lucky and stubborn. Read on!

Second, I had no idea that USB flash drives even had firmware that could
be overwritten. Indeed, when I tried to fill up the 16GB, I thought that
the file corruption was due to some old Linux driver. ... After getting
file corruption, I did some searching on how to get USB flash drives to
work with Linux. Only then did I stumble across search hits that said
USB flash drives had firmware and that the firmware can be hacked. Good
thing that I was using Linux and good thing that I routinely issue
google searches that are hundred-and-not-ten items long.

And, still, the feedback situation is not visibly improving. Even now,
more and more positive reviews are pouring in on this hacked USB flash
drive. 90% of the buyers are long-time eBay users with dozens, hundreds,
and even thousands of feedback. Many seasoned eBay users are getting
scammed and will only get file corruption in months or years from now;
Murphy will ensure that corruption willl happen at the worse possible time.
And, _still_, they won't realize the item is a scam and not simply faulty.
This is no simple fraud.

To be maximally helpful, I left this feedback:

   FRAUD! 2GB hacked to look 16GB! get PayPal refund,
    google: fake USB ebay review

Obviously, I concur with Kyle on doing careful searches ... and tried
to turn the tide of ignorance. Unfortunately, my warning has scrolled
off long ago. Unfortunately, only a few other buyers even think to
look here before leaving a review. Unfortunately, eBay doesn't provide
any mechanism to see all the negative reviews at once. eBay frowns
upon this negative-feedback feature of "toolhaus.org".

Anyway, while I was trying to figure out what was going on, I had sent an
email to the seller with _this_ webpages snippet in which I quote one of
the webpage guides:


   %% EXCHANGE OR REFUND.  ... OR, like the
   %% PREVIOUS set of 2GB drives, The seller will just "never receive" the
   %% return and never answer again, (HI BEUTYZONES!) especially after the
   %% paypal dispute time limit is up. DONT LET THEM STRING YOU OUT.. Lodge a
   %% dispute and eacalate in 10 days. Do not let the time limits slip by! If
   %% worse comes to worse you can offer to send it back AFTER a refund, and
   %% if THEY include $3-4 postage.. Remember.. its a fraud, not an
   %% error.. This time, I got a full refund in 3 days.. ON the SLIM chance
   %% that the seller had been fooled too, I left NO FEEDBACK, good or bad.

For the record, I did not change my negative review back to positive
... as the con-artist seller wanted me to. Even after I sent this email,
this sleazy con-artist was _still_ trying to fool me! I tried sending
messages to some of the other buyers who left positive reviews:

   Did you also buy a 16GB pendrive from kungfuchiuchiu? Myself and
   several other buyers have discovered these pendrives are FAKE. Mine
   produces fake/corrupt files when I fill it with more than 2GB. I
   opened the pendrive and googled on the chip number: it is only 2GB!
   Please test your item and, if needed, get PayPal refund ... for more
   help/instructions from eBay buyers, you can google on: fake USB ebay

But the only other buyer to respond was suspicious of me and wondered
how I "intercepted" his interactions with the seller. (And eBay limits
me to 5 messages per day, probably to avoid spammers). Indeed, there
are websites complaining about this situation and petitioning eBay to
do something about this ... but, so far, eBay won't.

So, Kyle, if you're saying that some searching is enough to uncover such
scams, then I have to agree with you. But I've bought around 20 items in
the past and I would carefully read the eBay feedback of previous buyer
... and had yet to ever been burned until now. So if you're saying that
it should be obvious (right from the start) that one _must_ do such
searches, then I cannot agree with you. This process has been a deep
learning experience.

And for the record, I did get my money back. Here are the last emails
from the scammer in which he/she is _still_ lying to me:

   Dear Sir/Madam,
   Thank you for your reply.
   If you need full refund you should send the item back,
   If it is inconvenience for you to send back.
   Could you accept partail refund?
   I am waiting for your reply.
   Sorry for all trouble.

After this, I went straight to a PayPal dispute with this terse

   12/11/2008 10:01 PST - Buyer: This is a fake USB flash drive. The
   eBay auction page says 16GB but this item only has a 2GB capacity. The
   firmware on the device has been hacked to report 16GB when it is
   plugged into a USB port. Files are corrupted when I load more that
   2GB. I have reformated and verified file corruption on two different
   computers. As instructed by the webpage below, I used software to
   verify that this flash drive only has a 2GB capacity. Also, I have
   physically inspected the unit and it has the Samsung K9GAG08U0M chip
   ... which has a 2GB capacity and not the 16GB that I bid for on
   eBay. My situation is identical to the situation described here:

Soon afterward, I left my negative feedback so as to warn others. And,
still, I get more manipulation:

   Dear Sir/Madam,
   Sorry to receive your negative feedback.
   I am regret to make you unhappy.
   If you don't send the item back.
   We can't get compensation from the supplier.
   In order to save trouble.could you accept refund and help us to remove the
   negative feedback.
   Sorry for that.
   Hope your kind understanding on this issue.
   I am waiting for your reply.

Then, even as the seller is _forced_ to give me back _my_ money,
it's twisted to sound like a generous present to me:

   From: "service at intl.paypal.com" <service at intl.paypal.com>
   Subject: Your PayPal payment has been refunded
   Date: Fri, 12 Dec 2008 23:53:13 -0800
   Dear Rick ...,
   leung kung chiu (kungfuchiu at gmail.com) has issued
   a full refund for your payment. 
   Message from merchant: Dear Sir/Madam,
   Sorry to trouble you.
   Christmas day will come.
   In order to save trouble between us ,I will refund to you firstly.
   Thank you for your help.

At a few points during this incident, I reread the eBay item page
... specifically on the "return policy" of "faulty" devices.  That page
is _so_ twisted/designed to trip people up. The few people who even
bother to test the device will assume that it is faulty. Then, most
likely, they will skip doing a return because the low cost doesn't make
the shipping fee worth while. Finally, those who do send it back will
have to assume that it is lost in the mail. To mail the USB flash drive
costs $3.75 at Canada Post ... but to have a registered letter costs
around $15. Without registering, the item can be "lost" en route ... and
I have no evidence that says otherwise when filing with PayPal.

There are so many layers to this incident. There is having enough
luck/suspicion to even test a device. Then, there is having enough
technical savvy to grasp ideas like "hacked firmware". Then, there is
dealing with a practiced liar through email. Then, there is simply
having experience with slick out-and-out con-artists. Finally, there
is the barriers put up between buyers ... who can't communicate when
a problem is found with a device.

Indeed, one must ascend through several paradigm levels to know what
types of items can be faked, to know how to search for faked item, and
to even know that the eBay feedback system can be "gamed". Then, if
the item is bought, to know to test the item and to discount the crooked
"return policy" and to avoid the "Jedi mind tricks" as this practiced
liar still tries to confuse.

As a sheer learning experience, I have experienced concentrated
lessons in chicanery ... lessons that years of ordinary experience
would not give me. In a sense, I owe kungfuchiuchiu at least $2000
for teaching me these skills.

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