eBay Has Lost Its Mind

I suppose it is difficult maintaining a platform like eBay in a world of ever more sophisticated security intrusions.  But last night eBay went over the line, at least for me, making the platform so secure that I could not use my account.

We have an enormous pile of stuff we have tagged to sell on eBay, but just have not done it yet.  Yesterday, I convinced my son to do all the selling work on eBay in exchange for a revenue split.  As we sat down on his computer to sell the first item together so he could learn the process, eBay refused to let me use my account because I was on a computer it did not recognize or had not used before  (we'll forget for now the basic creepiness of eBay tracking me well enough to know I was on a new computer it had not seen me on before).

It turns out the whole confirmation process is keyed to the phone number I put in when I started the account.  The problem is that I was an eBay early adopter.  I have had an account for at least 12 years.  In trying to remember the phone number, it was probably not my home number.  That made it either a work number from 4-5 jobs ago or else a fake (remember, in 1997 eBay was just another little startup -- I may well have given it a fake phone number).

Anyway, the first verification process involved a phone call.  Whoever owns that phone right now is probably pretty confused.  The second involved an online chat.  I verified my name and account user name and address and all kind of other details, but apparently we just could not get past the agent's need for me to verify my 12 year old phone number.  She started trying to give me hints - like the area code and the last digit.  I told her that unless she gave me all 10 digits, we weren't going to get there.

We never did get the account opened on my son's laptop, he never did learn how to use eBay, and I guess I will still have a big pile of unsold stuff in my garage building up.  At some point I will find a computer eBay recognizes and I guess put in a better phone number, but all momentum with my teenage son is lost  (you know how that goes).

Update: So I did the logical thing, I found a computer that eBay would let me use with my account and changed my phone number in the account page to my new number.  Unfortunately, when I went back through the account verification process back on my son's laptop, they still wanted me to be able to come up with the old phone number (that number was x-ed out in the account page so I couldn't just look it up).  Somehow they have come up with a process that appears to be keyed to the phone number you used when you created the account, fine for relatively new users but a broken process for some of us with 12-year-old accounts.  Eventually, by the way, after about 30 minutes I was able to come up with some piece of information that they accepted and I got access to eBay on that computer.


  1. Brian:

    you know how that goes

    On my third teenager now. Oh boy, do I.

    I suppose it is difficult maintaining a platform like eBay in a world of ever more sophisticated security intrusions.

    Based on the details .. the real problem is not security intrusions but an organization too big to realize the mayhem it is inflicting on users.

  2. Michael:

    I'd bet it's the MAC address in the chip on the network card that is the problem. I use Mac filtering to prevent people from using my router at home.

    Come to think of it, my bank does this. I usually use a single system for banking, but if I use another system on my network, the bank's system asks a verifying question and then asks if I intend to use that computer in the future to access the site.

    It sounds creepy, but it's no more creepy than having a home address.

  3. Captain Obviousness:

    Make a new account...

  4. Frederick Davies:

    Welcome to the club! In my case I just could not convince the idiot at the other side of the phone that sending confirmation e-mails to my old e-mail address (which I had deregistered 8 years ago!) was a waste of time, and that my account's e-mail should be changed to my new one. Give up on them; there are other Internet auction sites.

  5. Anonymous:

    Michael, web sites can't see your MAC address.

    What it's detecting when you try to log in is the lack of a previously-stored cookie (which probably keys to a database holding all this info) which indicates when and from what IP address and what user names you last logged in.

    My bank does the same exact thing, and the only purpose it serves is to ensure I have to have all the log-in information written down or I'll never get back into the account.

  6. Roy Lofquist:

    Yard sale.

  7. Bob Sykes:

    Town dump.

  8. Anne Cleveland:

    Hi there, I can empathize with you. Last nite i tried to re-instate with e-bay after not having any activity of buying or selling in about 3 years. It was a nightmare. Despite the fact I write a blog all the time, I1m almost computor illiterate.
    It used to be rather simple to buy or sell on e-bay, I thought the difficulty was me but after reading your article to-day, perhaps it was not.

    Anne Cleveland

  9. EconGrad:

    My wife recently had an issue with paypal, in order to change the payment account she had to have the full account number of her previous account. She hadn't used it in years (since she was 16), and the bank wasn't willing to give her her old account number. Was a mess all over the place.

  10. Dan:

    I sympathize, because, I, too, have had troubles with EBay. For a long time, it had me mixed up with someone who has my name, and wouldn't let me bid on products because it was convinced I lived in the UK and that the products couldn't be shipped there! Eventually I got it solved, but it took a while. I too, am an early EBay user, having signed up in 1999.

  11. stan:

    I don't sell on ebay, but I agree with the new account comment. Can't you set one up for your kid?

  12. Not Sure:

    "I thought the difficulty was me..." - Anne Cleveland

    I've been selling on eBay for over 10 years, and I can tell you this, with not even the slightest hint of uncertainty: It's not you.

  13. Cilla Mitchell:

    Burn it to the ground. If you don't want it, nobody else does either.

  14. Michael:

    Anonymous: Your MAC address gets sent as part of a network packet. ISPs use it to manage what is on their network. Think about a cable modem. It doesn't have a user name or password. It simply sends out a DHCP request for an IP address. It's MAC address travels with the request. If the cable company hasn't listed the modem's MAC address with the DHCP server, the modem does get an IP address.

    eBay can do a similar thing. Warren send his user name and password to eBay over IP and the MAC tags along. eBay's server reassemblies the login in request using the IP address, drops the IP address, and sends on the user name, password and MAC for authentication. The process can increase security but can cause some hassles.

    MAC can't be used to track your location. It's like having a drivers license without your address on it. It lets you on the road but doesn't tell anyone where you live.

    As a side notes, MACs are why you can't go out and buy a DVR. Unless the cable or sat company registers the MAC on the network, it won't record.

  15. Esox Lucius:

    Ebay sucks now. It used to be great but I think they forgot what they were about. It's almost like they should rebuild from the ground up and start over.

  16. thebastidge:

    Actually, Michael is wrong. MAC addresses are not routed. The originating IP address is sent in the packet, the MAC address is resolved locally and discarded. The packet is rebuilt every time it transitions a router, and the MAC address of the next hop is resolved and inserted. Going out and going back.

    Anonymous is correct, the website is using cookies.

    Michael is partly correct about cable networks: they make IP address reservations based upon MAC addresses for the devices they give you as a means of controlling network access. This is possible because you are on a local LAN segment of you cable company's network. Your cable modem is a fairly specialized device, designed more for controlling access than efficient routing or anything else. The cable modem is a DHCP server, handing out IP addresses one the customer premises side, and it keeps track of IP address assignments/mac address mappings for devices in your home, translating all of these into a single 'outside" IP address for routing purposes. But you're incorrect that you can't buy your own DVR, or make your own. I just built my own MythTV DVR on Linux box a couple weeks ago.

  17. the other coyote:

    I agree ebay sucks now. Unless you have something that can be shipped cheaply through standard sized USPS priority mail boxes, and is unusual/appeals only to a certain segment of the collecting public, to where you need a nationwide market, I suggest craigslist. It's easy and fast. Just make sure you spell out your phone number and email address such as theothercoyote at yahoo dot com otherwise you will get spammed by Africans wanting to know if you'll cash a big check for them.

    I needed a pipe horse fence taken down and put it on craigslist as "free, you take it down." I had 3 people in my driveway within 45 minutes, and they took the whole thing down and hauled it off. Amazing how one man's weekend headache project is another man's treasure.

  18. Roy Lofquist:

    @ Bob Sykes

    That's Municipal Sanitary Landfill. Get with the times, man.

  19. Eric Hammer:

    I second the Craig's List recommendation. My wife had tremendous success selling nearly all of our used furniture the other year, pretty much emptying our house in about a month. I think she even turned a slight profit in the process.

  20. Chris:

    For anything bulky, I go to eBay to get pricing information and then sell/buy on Craig's list. I sold a bike for $225 in 2 hours from ad to cash.

  21. Dr. T:

    The post was ironic, because I am leaving eBay. The final straw was the new PayPal policy that charges you 2.9% on transactions (on top of your eBay listing fee and sales charge).

    eBay is remarkably unfriendly to sellers. I've only sold ~20 items on eBay. But, in early Augst, I had three buyers who didn't pay. Two wouldn't communicate and the third wanted to send me a money order (a violation of eBay policy). In each case, I had to wait two full weeks before eBay would let me relist the items. And, sellers are not allowed to give negative ratings to buyers, even deadbeat jerks that don't pay.

    With fees essentially doubled (eBay owns PayPal), rules stacked against sellers, and the PayPal fee for buyers, I don't see any reason to continue. I'm closing my eBay and PayPal accounts once my current sales are done. Strangely, Half.com (also bought by eBay) is run separately and still works well.

  22. Michael:

    If MAC address aren't getting tracked, I wonder what is. I wiped out my browser history and cache, got rid of all my cookies, checked the registry, gave new DHCP address to my router and rebooted and the bank still recognized my computer.

  23. Anonymous:

    And I've used a different browser profile on the same computer and had to go through the rigamarole of entering secret questions at my bank. I know that's simply a cookie issue for me, I've checked what it stores; yours may see your IP address in the same subnet and take it for granted that customers would complain too much if such a routine change were to trigger security measures.

    None of those systems are well-implemented, they legislation that forces banks to use them is brain-dead, and none work similarly enough to get used to, in my experience.

  24. Same here:

    Try re-establishing your account with them when you are using the same old computer, but your old email address and phone number are gone. They will only send an update to your old email address, which you cannot retrieve, and because they recognize your computer, they won't let you build a new identity. Pay Pal creates the same issue!

  25. charlie:

    You may be better off using ecrater, free to list and sell there. Ebay/Paypal is a rip-off when it comes to fees. If you haven't used the account for awhile, your feedback won't show up anyway - a potential customer will have to dig around to see if you had positive or negative comments. I didn't list anything for awhile, and I now show 0 feedback - although I've sold 200+ items and never received a negative. Don't know what Ebay's problem is, but they are out to shaft sellers. Hope one day a some viable competition slaps them off their high horse.