In recent months there seems to be an upswing in the mainstream-media reporting of strange items selling for ENORMOUS amounts of money on eBay. These stories go pretty viral, and since the items involved are often video game related I usually have a lot of friends sending the links to me — so I’m pretty aware of it! This week, it was a defective Princess Peach Amiibo. Each of these stories, though, has failed in reporting a specific and important detail.
Let me explain.
The first time I heard of this happening was for a defaced, trashy-looking version of an ultra-collectible Nintendo World Championships cartridge. To put this in some context, these cartridges are rare and were given exclusively to winners of the 1990 Nintendo World Championships. Between 90-100 were made so, yes, these are valuable. On top of that, old-school gamers tend to be male and in their 30’s or 40’s, so disposable income is peaking and the nostalgia factor is intoxicating! Would you believe this cartridge was sold for $99,902??
You might believe it if you read an article with such an attention-grabbing headline that had you buzzing about what might be in your basement. At best, they were wrong, and at worst, they’re simply lying to you to get your click. What’s even worse is that these news stories influence others to sell their rare items and rinse and repeat.
Let’s be real, though; these items did not sell for the prices you see.
The crux of the problem is that these aren’t auctions taking place in person with an auctioneer and paddles and all that. These are eBay auctions and there’s an important distinction: fraud happens. As an Internet-based auction site, eBay has a unique problem where there’s money exchanging hands between strangers, item condition taken on faith from the seller, and the promise that the item will be shipped and arrive in the condition described which must be taken on faith by the buyer. On top of all this, a buyer could lie about the condition of the item and force the seller to refund the money. It’s very risky, especially when it comes to high-priced items. So, ask yourself, why would someone sell a $100,000 Nintendo cartridge on eBay and ship it? And why would you pay that money without having the item in your hands? Or vice-versa?
Well, clearly, that’s not happening. In fact, even if a sale like this did happen on eBay, clearly the seller would deliver it personally with the promise the buyer is authentic. (Perhaps an intermediary would be involved to confirm the sale as authentic, too.)
Another unique facet of these eBay auctions is that while the auction is still ongoing for these items, articles are already being written about them. People read these articles and share them around with their friends and, suddenly, the item itself becomes pretty darn famous! How can someone take advantage of that? BID ON IT! Yep. People will bid on these items with no intention of ever paying. Should they “win” the auction, all these articles are amended to name the winner and the price paid. FAME! So then what happens?
Well, they simply don’t pay. Perhaps they created a fake account to bid with and then deleted it. Maybe they claim their child clicked the button. Maybe they just say “ha ha!” and don’t pay. Who knows, really. They’re not going to jail or anything. The worst that can happen is their account gets banned on eBay. (It’s easy enough to create another one if need be.) These items almost always go unpaid for. And the media never does circle back to update us on the sale because they’re not investigating to see if the money was paid and, quite frankly, the new headline just wouldn’t be as sexy. (“Anonymous buyer unheard from, doesn’t buy legless Peach.”)
So, did someone really pay $25,000 for a $13 toy that was poorly constructed in a Chinese factory? Mayyyyyybe. I mean it’s possible. Unlikely, though. Almost definitely not.
No, it didn’t happen.