eBay M.U.S.C.L.E. Shenanigans


In the long-term I hope that Auction Watch #202 is remembered as a positive turning point in our tiny, little hobby.

It also serves as a perfect teaching moment for new collectors. For long-term collectors, it is a harsh reminder of very familiar shenanigans. What convinced me to create this “educational editorial” was something someone emailed me:

My tolerance for various Ebay behavior is higher than most. If I’m not prepared to buy something for a particular, I won’t buy it for that price. I rare get caught in the trap of spending more than I’m willing to spend. But this stuff seems so dishonest on so many levels that it really bothered me. Watching two of my friends go through it – really bugged the shit out of me.

The M.U.S.C.L.E. community is tiny. Bad things don’t happen in a vacuum. Those things affect our friends, or minimally, people we know.

We can’t control other people. We can only control ourselves. The only tool we have to protect ourselves is knowledge. If we, collectively as a community, are fully aware of certain types of shenanigans, then we can make informed decisions.

There are two recent circumstances that serve as excellent learning examples: (1) the M.U.S.C.L.E. tube; and (2) the boingelbes auctions.

1. The M.U.S.C.L.E. Tube

Original Tube Listing

Let’s explore what happened with the M.U.S.C.L.E. tube. First, it appeared and seemed to sell as a BIN for $100. Then it was relisted. Without any extra information experienced M.U.S.C.L.E. collectors knew this relisting was troublesome.

Inexperienced collectors should be aware of these signs:

  • Uncharted waters.
    • While M.U.S.C.L.E. collecting is a small hobby it has a long, mostly undocumented, history. Because of that history most collectors have a basic appreciation of what seems roughly appropriate as a sale price – even if there isn’t a perfect Price Guide. And when it pushes past that “appropriate range,” it is easily explained by the MRT. There are some items with so little sales history that an appropriate price/and or value is much more difficult to suggest. Some of these items would include: the Hauler, a Quik tin, a Pre-Pack, and especially M.U.S.C.L.E. tube.

      It is important to be extra cautious when in uncharted waters.

  • Flashpoints
    • There’s an important distinction between forgetting a problem and moving on from a problem. Completely forgetting about it opens the door to the problem coming back. Knowledge is always more powerful than ignorance – even if we move on.The tube has a flashpoint. When you combine the discovery, auction, and fallout it’s easily a M.U.S.C.L.E. flashpoint for an item like this one.

      Maybe another way to say it, “When there’s been ‘drama’ before be ready for ‘drama’ again.”

Relisted Tube Listing

The auction ended at $304.50. Seems like it should be the end of the story. It is not.

The original winner of the $100 BIN listing, Brian, was very upset. He had purchased the tube in the morning, but by the evening he had been sent an email from the seller (fbmasterpgm):

Hello Brian,

I am actually selling this for a friend and he said he received this at school back in the 1980’s as a prize; the only one.

Additionally, I mis-understood that he did not want this to go “but it now” for $100 but rather auction starting at $100.00. I’ve been talking to him to convince of the sale the way it is; however, I have had no luck as he states these are extremely rare pieces? I am not a collector of these. Unfortunately for me and you he states I must list this at auction starting at $100. I must send you a refund at this time. My apologies.

That is just the most convenient explanation. The seller is on the same side as Brian. But, unfortunately, there’s nothing he can do.

What an asshole.

Brian was justifiably angry. Instead of just stewing and complaining he jumped into action. He contacted eBay and explained the situation. They were powerless to get him the tube, but the seller’s actions were in violation of the “eBay code.” eBay told Brian that the “seller’s account would be effected,” while that didn’t bring any solace he was given some good news. Because the seller had stated the item was “out of stock” he would be in violation by relisting it. When the seller relisted it, and Brian won it, then the seller would have to sell it to him at the original $100 BIN price.

Brian contacted eBay again after he won the relisted tube. While Brian was on the phone with eBay, they also stated that it looked like the auction had fallen victim to “show bidding” (what M.U.S.C.L.E. collectors have always called “shill bidding”). eBay instructed Brian not to pay, and an updated invoice would be sent by eBay. The seller tried to ignore the new invoice and then cancelled the transaction because $304 wasn’t paid.

In addition to eBay, there were probably a lot of people, including Brian, that suspected shill bidding. Why did they suspect it?

List of Bidders
for the Tube

Bidders
Showing Automatic Bids

Look at the bid history. We know the winner (Brian, with the number 633). The t***c bidder with 131 is another friend of the site. But look at r***m( 6 ) and r***e( 25 ). Those are pretty new bidders to, literally, only be interested in the M.U.S.C.L.E. tube. M.U.S.C.L.E. collectors need to be careful.

The shockingly specific bids of r***m( 6 ).

The equally specific single bid of r***e( 25 ).

This tiny little M.U.S.C.L.E. pond is full of fish trying to poison their own pond.

Many times I have heard the defense, “If it was shilling, then wouldn’t the person have been caught?”

I would answer that question with another question, “Have you ever heard of The Argument from Ignorance logical fallacy?”

It says that something is false because it has not yet been proved true (or vice versa). That’s what every person that uses that defense hangs their hat on. It allows the defender to ignore all the highly questionable actions and suspicions.

Why can’t shilling be proved? eBay has a Shill Bidding Policy. And there plenty of consequences:

Violations of this policy may result in a range of actions, including:
◾Listing cancellation
◾Forfeit of eBay fees on cancelled listings
◾Limits on account privileges
◾Loss of PowerSeller status
◾Account suspension
◾Referral to Law Enforcement

But this policy can’t be practically enforced by eBay. It is a stop sign. The stop sign needs you to stop. eBay needs people to follow the policy. It takes no effort to drive through this stop sign; to ignore this policy.

It takes far less than a micron of effort for a seller to recruit an accomplice(s), which would make it nearly impossible to prove shilling. And only a micron of effort to create new accounts and protect your IP information – leaving eBay with no tangible evidence.

Shill bidding does not take an evil genius. It just takes evil that wants to sit comfortably atop its Argument from Ignorance.

As I was writing this, I was flipping between various emails people had sent me. Brian shared the name of the seller. I didn’t consider sharing it. But as I was flipping through emails I saw a familiar name pop-up. On January 23rd I had been sent an email by Peter Martell, also known as fbmasterpgm:

Just wanted to let you guys know I currently have a Nestle Muscle Pack Can and figures on eBay just FYI as some people may even just want pictures. Thanks.

I replied two days later (I’m on top of things) with, “Thanks. I certainly saw it. It is featured in the most recent Auction Watch.” On February 15th I sent another email to Peter:

Hi Peter,

I was told the MUSCLE tube auction never worked out, is that true? What happened?

If it didn’t work out, are you going to be listing it again?

Thanks,
Chad

Clearly I was playing dumb and fishing. As of writing this post, I haven’t heard back. Peter if you’re reading this, then we would all love to hear from you. We would like it even more if Brian could have his M.U.S.C.L.E. tube.

Looking at this entire situation doesn’t prove anything, but it serves as a crucial reminder of the shenanigans collectors can face collecting M.U.S.C.L.E. items.

2. The boingelbes Auctions

This tedious warning of shenanigans isn’t over. The shenanigans never end with M.U.S.C.L.E. collecting. That’s why collectors need to be open and honest with each other. If we, as a community, are aware of things, then we can make our own decisions with eyes wide open.

But is that just rah-rah silliness? Is that just the opinion of one collector with a M.U.S.C.L.E. website?

Could eBay wants sellers to be open and honest so there aren’t any misunderstandings? Let’s take a look.

eBay’s Rules for Everyone states:

Rules about identity

eBay members:
◾ Must be at least 18 years old
Can’t misrepresent their identities

Why does eBay have this policy? According to them:

eBay has this policy to help our members protect their personal information and to help members avoid being victimized by unscrupulous individuals.

Interesting.

eBay has another interesting policy. It is the Item Location Misrepresentation Policy. It states:

Sellers must be clear and accurate about the location their item will be shipped or picked up from. We don’t allow false, inaccurate, vague, or misleading information about the location of an item in the Item location field or description. When listing items for sale, sellers are expected to provide the city, state and country of their item so shipping charges and delivery times can be accurately calculated and communicated to buyers.

Also, if there is a location stated in the item description, it has to match the location in the item location field.

Make sure your listing follows these guidelines. If it doesn’t, it may be removed, and you may be subject to a range of other actions, including limits of your buying and selling privileges and suspension of your account.

And why do they have this policy?

Buyers should have complete information about an item’s location so that they can be aware of all the costs associated with purchasing the item. The item location must be clear and accurate.

This policy helps avoid any misunderstandings, unexpectedly high shipping costs for buyers, and longer than expected shipping times.

It sure seems like eVilbay eBay wants sellers to be open and honest so there aren’t any misunderstandings. Even eBay wants buyers to have all the available information so that they can make an informed decision.

Chuck (Zero on LRG) had made a purchase from boingelbes previously. The auction had listed the location as Lanoka Harbor, NJ. He placed his bids and, ultimately, made the purchase completely carefree because there was no information available that would make him cautious.

However, after he paid he noticed something:

Why is ‘arforbes’ infamous?

This suddenly made Chuck nervous because Alex Forbes is the real name of the infamous “arforbes.” How does one become infamous within the M.U.S.C.L.E. community?

That full saga is provided in the image to the right.

Absolutely every detail isn’t critical. One important detail is that knowing that M.U.S.C.L.E. is such a tiny community it is impossible to ignore or completely forget about anyone. Mr. Forbes was banned from the LittleRubberGuys.com message board in late 2009. Any member that is banned from the site has the exploits that got them banned documented. Again, because the M.U.S.C.L.E. community is so small, additional negative and/or strange interactions are added to the entry over the years as a warning to M.U.S.C.L.E. collectors.

It is interesting to note that Mr. Forbes presents his own perspective regarding his banning from LittleRubberGuys.com. Some would call his “perspective” a little white lie. Others might call it an absolute lie. Regardless of the label, it certainly serves as an instance of wanting to deceive people by altering the truth.

Like eBay, the LittleRubberGuys.com message board wants transparency regarding past instances – which allows collectors to make their own informed decisions. The truth may be harsh, but there can be no questioning of it.

When Chuck received his Purple #107 package from boingelbes it had a different return address. This time it was from Mr. Forbes, but once again the mailing zip code from the United States postage read 85306.

Both packages had been shipped from Glendale, Arizona. Both sold by Alex Forbes.

Bo Ingelbes Lanoka Harbor, NJ
Shipped from 85306

Alex Forbes Phoenix AZ
Shipped from 85306

Obviously, Mr. Forbes has a blatant disregard for eBay rules.

Why does this matter?

Perhaps Alex’s infamous arforbes actions are untrue. Maybe they are exaggerations of silly, youthful behavior of nearly a decade ago. However, the $7600 saga was only three years ago and even one of our dearest friends found it putrid.

Maybe he’s had to use different eBay screen names so he can more easily sell his wares. That’s probably true. But what is the harm in being open and honest? Buyers may not like the truth, but there’s no room for misunderstanding. Avoiding the truth only seems helpful if deceitfulness is advantageous.

Maybe none of these things matter. Maybe M.U.S.C.L.E. collectors should just move on. Maybe the past is the past.

But the boingelbes is essentially the present. This isn’t something from our distant past. Psychologists like to say that, “Past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior.”

If the past is peppered with lies and broken rules, even as small as boingelbes name and location, then it makes it much harder to decipher the truth. That’s why collectors need to be aware of auctions winners that drive up prices and, almost magically, disappear. Disappearing winners could be the truth or it could be shenanigans. Either way, what are Disappearing Winners?

  • Disappearing Winners
    • We can all agree that eBay is a nightmare. Anyone that has ever sold something has probably had a buyer that failed to pay. That’s why the Second Chance Offer exists. However, it’s somewhat uncommon. It is even less commonplace when the item is highly desirable. And it is far less commonplace when the price gets higher.

      That’s why M.U.S.C.L.E. collectors need to be vigilant and cautious. In this tiny little, well-connected community it is not terribly uncommon for mysterious, unknown bidders to drive the price of an item up – only to walk away after winning. Sellers then make the second chance offer; essentially controlling the price and driving it up until they are satisfied.

      This type of unscrupulous behavior sounds outrageous and unbelievable. Like the hyperbolic claims of frustrated losing bidders. But many collectors have experienced this specific scenario on high priced auctions. It never seems to happen on small lots selling for a few dollars.

Here are some situations that M.U.S.C.L.E. collectors shared. None of these situations categorically prove that Mr. Forbes, or any seller, is committing a scam. However, these instances serve as excellent examples of Disappearing Winners. They help to illustrate the eBay M.U.S.C.L.E. shenanigans that collectors need to be prepared to face as they collect.

Final Auction Screen from Salmon #116 Auction

Nick shared his odd experience. He is one of the fellow Fools and has closely watched some of Mr. Forbes listings as arforbes. He saw some figures listed again and again. Two figures especially stuck out in his mind: (1) a Purple #3; and (2) a Salmon #116

He remembered the Purple #3 being listed from the arforbes eBay account. It did not sell. It was then listed from the boingelbes. It received bids from the boingelbes eBay account, but Nick believes it was pulled down because the bidding did not go high enough.

Bidders List from Salmon #116

The same thing happened with the Salmon #116. Listed first as arforbes with a $100 price tag, then as a boingelbes auction. Nick bid on the Salmon #116 boingelbes auction. He had a maximum bid of $124. Thirty seconds before the end of the auction, currently sitting with Nick’s top bid of $60, the auction’s price jumped to exactly $100. Exactly what Mr. Forbes had wanted when it was listed under the arforbes account.

Nick was very curious because two of the bidders were h***c( 29 ) and i***r( 10 ). He suspects it is possible that one, or both, of those bidders is either Alex Forbes or helping him. Nick witnessed many bizarre things with the listings, but never had any definitive proof.

Then he bid on the Muscle men figures toy lot of 10 M.U.S.C.L.E. action figures + 4 pack + belt auction (which was featured in the Epilogue and credited as one of the nicest Clearance stickers ever). Nick was specifically interested in the Green #189 (which was in the 4-pack).

Final Auction Screen for Green #189 Lot.

List of Bidders from Auction

The bidding was at $33 when h***c( 29 ) jumped in. They went back and forth, but the winning bid went to i***r( 10 ) – Nick came in second. It is interesting that both these bidders are very focused on Mr. Forbes auctions (both the Salmon #116 and the Green #189 lot). The next day, Nick got a message from boingelbes. Apparently, the bidder had disappeared and, magically, he could have it for the greatly increased price. Interesting that a bidder so interested would magically disappear.

Nick questioned how the winner could just back out after winning. The message from boingelbes stated that the winner accidentally entered the wrong amount. This felt like a complete lie to Nick because the bid was the next incremental bid.

In that case, Nick felt that none of the bids from the winner should have counted. He never heard back from Mr. Forbes’ boingelbes account.

Why did Nick have suspicions? The specificity of bidding, mixed with utter inactivity of bidding.

h***c( 29 ) Activity

i***r( 10 ) Activity

Purple #107 Bidders

That must be an isolated event. It couldn’t possibly happen again within the same very narrow timeframe. Could it?

It could and it did. It happened again with the Purple #107 auction. Look at the bidding history.

There are two, unknown bidders (very unusual for M.U.S.C.L.E. auctions like this one), that drive the price higher than most would expect.

Looking at these bidders’ histories shows that they had no activity except insane bids on the Purple #107 auction. However, we see the return of h***c( 29 ) with the second place bid. The first place bid is from l***s( 459 ). This person is a total mystery. Their bidding history is very limited.

If I was forced to venture a guess, based on the limited information, then I would guess l***s( 459 ) is Abe. But that’s my guess based on knives, M.U.S.C.L.E. figures, and nothing else. I wouldn’t fall on the sword defending this wild guess.

Regardless of the identity of this bidder, again, almost magically, these “high rolling” bidders disappear.

Mr. Forbes contacts the third-place bidder (and apparently other bidders) with the following offer:

Initial Communication

Chuck (Zero on LRG), the eventually buyer, replied that he was interested.

Instead of being content with the $355, Mr. Forbes wants Chuck to cover the eBay fees.

Is this a fair communication?

Asking for more money is not a crime. A fair argument can be made that Mr. Forbes is aggressively negotiating. But is anything about the situation fair?

What are the chances that the top bidders magically drop out on these auctions?

As documented above, Mr. Forbes seems comfortable with little white lies. How can any buyer believe Mr. Forbes is telling the truth about these magically disappearing bidders?

These specific boingelbes auctions served as excellent examples of what could happen if a seller wanted to pull eBay M.U.S.C.L.E. shenanigans.

But shouldn’t eBay stop these kinds of activities? No. eBay has the power and they can see everything, but they don’t want to hurt their profit center. Punishing sellers (more than a tiny, tiny slap on the wrist) means eBay doesn’t make any money. eBay doesn’t have a product. They are a service. If people don’t use their service, then they don’t make any money. And everything rests on having sellers. eBay will never cut off their own cash flow.

The truth is that M.U.S.C.L.E. collectors will never know the truth. M.U.S.C.L.E. collectors will never know the truth behind Mr. Forbes or any other seller. eBay assumes people will stop at the stop sign. M.U.S.C.L.E. collectors can’t make people stop.

That’s why M.U.S.C.L.E. collectors need to stop at the stop sign, look both ways, and then decide, on their own, what to do next. M.U.S.C.L.E. collectors need to share information with each other, because that is the only hope for transparency. Knowledge is the only way to combat, and make informed decisions, when faced with eBay M.U.S.C.L.E. shenanigans.

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  1. #1 by Walker26 on March 8th, 2017

    It’s amazing how greed will effect people. Well said: “There’s an important distinction between forgetting a problem and moving on from a problem.”

  2. #2 by boingelbes on March 9th, 2017

    h***c ( 29 ) is Chuck, username charl-hatc, you know, the same guy who won the Purple 107 for you genius? Good job on your investigative skills there professor!

    First place on the Purple 107 auction was korean-elvis ( 459 ) a legit bidder who backed out of the auction due to reading scrambled stories like this on your site. Surely with a little more research you can find out who that is on your precious LRG.

    I’m truly honored that you still spend so much time writing about me after all this time though, it means a lot, really it does. Keep up the great work! You’re doing amazing things here and I’m sure your time is well spent.

  3. #3 by walker26 on March 9th, 2017

    This isn’t about Chad coming after you. This write up is about Chad protecting new collectors and giving them a fair warning.

    boingelbes :
    h***c ( 29 ) is Chuck, username charl-hatc, you know, the same guy who won the Purple 107 for you genius? Good job on your investigative skills there professor!
    First place on the Purple 107 auction was korean-elvis ( 459 ) a legit bidder who backed out of the auction due to reading scrambled stories like this on your site. Surely with a little more research you can find out who that is on your precious LRG.
    I’m truly honored that you still spend so much time writing about me after all this time though, it means a lot, really it does. Keep up the great work! You’re doing amazing things here and I’m sure your time is well spent.

    Purple 107 went for wayyyyyyyyy more initially than it should have gone. If you’re trying to say the first place bidder was legit, well I have ocean front property to sell you in South Dakota. I paid $250 for one years ago, so there is no way in this world, besides shill bidding, or you having someone bid for you, should have went for as much as you claim it did.

    Why the fake addresses? Why try to hide something if you don’t have anything to hide?

    1. Bidder entered wrong amount as you stated? Alex, you expect someone to believe that? (the 10 figures with 4 pack).

    2. Then you return again with second place bid on purple 107. Ok, you weren’t the first place bid, but AGAIN the high bidder disappears again on an auction you’re tied to. It’s very unlikely that an unknown collector picks up purple 107 without the community knowing who the winner is. Someone would know who the letters in Ebay belong to. Is there a chance I’m wrong, yes, but very unlikely.

    Both auctions finish with red flags and what ties both together? Your name. That is the reoccurring theme.

  4. #4 by Chad Perry on March 9th, 2017

    boingelbes :

    h***c ( 29 ) is Chuck, username charl-hatc, you know, the same guy who won the Purple 107 for you genius? Good job on your investigative skills there professor!

    Good to know. My ignorance/error doesn’t change anything. I presented all the available information and all of the information I was given.

    If any other misunderstandings ever come up, then please feel free to clear it up on UofM. I know M.U.S.C.L.E. collectors would appreciate it.

    boingelbes :

    First place on the Purple 107 auction was korean-elvis ( 459 ) a legit bidder who backed out of the auction due to reading scrambled stories like this on your site. Surely with a little more research you can find out who that is on your precious LRG.

    Did you lie about your identity? Did you lie about the item location? Yes and yes. That doesn’t appear “scrambled” to me.

    There is speculation, but it is based on the available information. Plus, when a person is caught in a lie it becomes difficult to decipher the truths from the lies. Being cautious and defensive, when dealing with a liar, becomes prudent.

    boingelbes :

    I’m truly honored that you still spend so much time writing about me after all this time though, it means a lot, really it does. Keep up the great work! You’re doing amazing things here and I’m sure your time is well spent.

    This sentiment, and your inconveniently lengthy email address, is lazy. Being passive-aggressive and trying to insult my parenting ability is the lowest hanging fruit. Not clever. Not funny. Not upsetting.

    It is unimaginative and unoriginal. You’re joining some illustrious company. I guess great minds do think alike.

  5. #5 by Lucas on March 11th, 2017

    Alex, don’t you ever get tired of being a liar?

    It seems like a lot of unnecessary work to have to keep all your fake stories and scams straight, and for what? A toy collection? Is that truly a good enough reason to act like a scumbag?

    I am sure that if you reply, your retort will be as meaningless as any of your other half-truths, but you know in your heart that you lie often, you have and continue to scam people, and you are just dishonest when it comes to your ebay sales.

    Deny it as much as you want, but we all know that you are a liar. It has been proven many times over. Even the few that defend you admit that you lie in order to rip people off. The only one that denies it is you.

(will not be published)

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