Looking for more bids on items you sell on eBay? No problem, Husnaina from Pakistan will be happy to help. So will Beebackwriter and Wraith1986. If you pay them just $5 they’ll go online and place bids on your stuff to drive up their prices.
The services are advertised on fiverr.com, a site where random people offer all sorts of services for, you guessed it, $5. For the price of a soy latte Ronchellen will “write 400 kick ass words for your web content,” and Me4Hire will whip up a new Facebook cover for you.
There’s not necessarily anything wrong with selling personal services on the Web, but placing fake bids — eBay calls them “shill bids” — violates the auction site’s terms of services, and the issue is taken rather seriously. Members who violate the policy can be banned from the site. From eBay’s shill bidding policy:
“Members cannot bid on or buy items in order to artificially increase a seller’s Feedback or to improve the item’s search standing…Shill bidding is also illegal in many places and can carry severe penalties.”
It’s unclear just how widespread shill bidding is, but if it exists at all, it hurts legitimate buyers who wind up paying more for items they win at auction.
This type of paid fakery is hardly confined to eBay. A couple of years ago it came to light that some people, particularly politicians, were paying to inflate their Twitter follower numbers. Barracuda Labs, a security company, recently conducted a study meant to protect its clients from phishing and other Internet scams. The company found that “there are 20 eBay sellers and 58 websites where people can buy (fake) followers.” The average price to buy 1000 Twitter followers is $18, according to a blog post by Baracuda researcher Jason Ding.
San Francisco journalist Bill Snyder writes frequently about business and technology. His work appears regularly in CIO.com and the publications of Stanford's Graduate School of Business and the Haas School of Business at the University of California at Berkeley. He welcomes your comments and suggestions.