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46. Profit from your junk on eBay

By Mark Alberstat

Dear Mousepad,

I would like to get involved with bidding and buying on eBay. How do I go about it? How do I recognize a reputable seller? How do I ensure my financial information is secure? Would you please outline some pointers on how to make sure I've made the winning bid? Thank you.


L. Wells, Bayside

Would you believe a local man took a sports poster that sat in his attic for decades and sold it on eBay for more than $15,000? Amazing but true. Stories like this are what make television programs like the Antiques Road Show and Bargain Hunt popular.

Although few people have items as valuable as that poster, on eBay you can turn your attic or basement clutter into cash.

Armed with a few basic pieces of information, a couple of established accounts, and, preferably, a digital camera, you can get your items posted, viewed, and sold.

eBay, founded in 1995 in San Jose by Pierre Omidyar as a marketplace for goods and services, really took off around 1998 when Meg Whitman became involved in marketing the company.

The rest is Internet and business history. In fiscal year 2000, eBay sellers had record sales of $5.5 million with more than 22 million registered users.

If you intend to buy or sell on eBay, you must first establish an account. It is an easy process, with straightforward fields and forms to fill in. From the opening page or, click sign-in and then also the register button on the left-hand side.

The next screen contains a variety of personal information needed by eBay to later invoice you. Once the forms are completed you have to agree to the terms and then confirm the registration.

Once registered you can bid and sell. Everything imaginable has and will be sold on eBay, within reason.

Some items are not allowed up for auction and others have been removed by eBay for being in contravention of their rules, regulations or ethos. There is a long list under user help for items prohibited for sale, including firearms, alcohol and lock picking devices, to name just a few.

When you find an item you want to bid on, you can see the seller's eBay name and also the location of the item. If you are bidding on 40 kilograms of bricks and being sold from Arkansas, and the description states that the winning bidder pays shipping, you can be assured you will be in for quite a few dollars more than the basic selling price.

It is often a good practice to e-mail the seller and ask what the shipping costs will be for a particular item before bidding on it. You may not want to pay $15 shipping on that $3 item.

Listed next to the seller's name is often a number and a coloured star. Click on the number to read the feedback other buyers and sellers have posted about this eBayer. These comments can give you a good indication as to the reliability of whom you are about to deal.

If you are bidding on an item, the description and/or the payment methods will explain how the final transaction is to be carried out. A lot of sellers use a third-party funds transfer company called PayPal.

To use this, however, you first have to establish your own account there. Once established you can have PayPal charge the amount of the auction to your credit card and the seller receives their payment from PayPal, never seeing your credit card number or any of the personal information needed to bill you, except, of course, a shipping address.

With this information in mind, you too can get in on the eBay craze and maybe even find that precious poster in your attic.

The Mousepad runs every two weeks. It's a service of Chebucto Community Net, a community-owned Internet provider. If you have a question about computing, email If we use your question in a column, we'll send you a free mousepad.


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Originally published 7 November 2004


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