Jump to content
Maestronet Forums

the use of shill bidders


Recommended Posts

I am new to this forum and have been observing Ebay for a year or so. I rarely have the courage to bid.

I have noticed some things about bidding that defy logic.

Some sellers seem to rely heavily on shill bidding. i.e. the same people bid over and over on their auctions in an attempt to "pump up" the end price. Often the bidders are new with no feedback. Often they bid on many violins and never win. But they always bid on the same seller's auctions. It seems that the seller uses the shillers to avoid the use of a reserve (which actually seems to put a damper on bidding), and to pad their price and avoid taking a loss? anyway, it seems they shill the bid up high, and then hope that someone poor soul will snipe or bid at the end. Often people pay way too much for really cheap, ugly, poorly repaired,poorly set up, broken, badly damged, and otherwise very unattractive violins...but they have lots of bids????...and sellers describe them as if they are nicer than they actually are. puzzling...

Then you have other violins that to me seem much nicer and of higher quality, (than the shilled violins) that get hardly any bids, until the end, and someone knowledgeable snipes them...and they seem to go more cheaply.

i guess some sellers are banking on the idea that if a naive bidder, sees a violin that has a high bid or lots of bids that they will automatically assume that it's a nice violin, and be willing to bid high. interesting. though this may not be the case at all!! I am learning.

i think also some sellers often will offer a liberal return policy, simply because they sell junk, or fraudulent items, so as to avoid negative feedback and fraud complaints, since the violins and bows will likely be returned by a knowledgeable buyer anyway. in the event that a buyer is not knowedgeable, 99 percent of the time!, the item is not returned.

any thoughts?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Replies 52
  • Created
  • Last Reply

Top Posters In This Topic

I have also suspected that some sellers have some shill bidding going on. But I don't agree with your statement about the liberal return policy. I guess in the case of truly cheap violins where the purchase price is $20 but the non-refundable shipping charge is $39.95, that might apply. But there are some sellers of high quality, higher-priced violins who offer a liberal return policy for all the right reasons, and as has been discussed here recently, they get few items returned and receive more bids because of the sense of security.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Many fraudulent sellers also offer unconditional returns, probably started out not doing so, and then decided they had to, to avoid neg. Often the return policy can be used to falsely gain a bidder's confidence, i.e. the wolf in sheep's clothing scam...where the seller is actively engaged in fraudulent activity, shill bidding, or any number of crazy scams. Just having a return doesn't guarantee everything on the up and up. There are wolves in sheep's clothing...

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Dee - There's no question that many sellers employ shill bidding. But you can usually see it, as you have, if you look at the bidder list. Also, sellers who use the "User ID kept private" option are to be avoided. To me that's a big red flag.

I've bought much more than I've sold on ebay, but when I do sell I offer a full refund, less shipping, simply because I really don't want to sell something to someone if they don't want it. And it's hard to be sure about what you're buying from photos.

Ebay can be fun, but it's not fertile ground for really good instruments. One might appear on occasion, but spending big money on violins you can't examine personally has a low probability of success, in my opinion. And most need significant work to be right.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Yes, one thing I've learned is you are perhaps more likely to do really well on ebay, by accident, than you are on purpose!!!

Does that make any sense?

i.e. you may think you are getting a really nice "blah di blah" and fine out it's just a lower grade "blah di blah", not what you thought it was, or even the dreaded fake label scenario...--- but by accident you may think you are just getting a standard run of the mill German strad copy, and it may turn out to be a nice hand made, better quality, German strad copy, with a surprise silver mounted bow to sweeten the deal?

Ignorance may actually be bliss.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

That's a good observation on the shill bidding. I've frequently seen just what you are talking about, but multiple bids by the same bidders with little or no feedback never show up to bid on my stuff.

One thing I have not been able to understand is multiple bids from a lone bidder when nobody else is bidding. All that would do is raise a proxy bid. So what's that all about?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hi, Im new here but I watch eBay (sometimes). My question is this, if everyone is so worried about fraudulent sellers, offering fraudulent violins, then why do you look?? Some say good deals can be found, some say good violins are fakes, some say fake violins are good, and damaged instruments are anyone's guess. I think the best thing to do is stay away from eBay, or learn how to pick out a good violin by asking winning bidders the reason why they bought the item. At times I see items offered that look like junk, but then again, one man's junk may another man's treasure. I also see items that appear to be very nice, and several bidders repeatedly make bids. Do you think that these people just might recognize that the item could well be worth the expenditure, and risk involved? It is the integrity of the individual seller that really counts.Just my thoughts.//

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Sure, it may turn out that a "fake" sounds okay, and that is some small comfort. But that is really beside the point. It is the "deliberate and calculated misrepresentation" that is so troublesome. Making false claims and intentionally misrepresenting an instrument is fraud.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Yes, I fully agree with you. There seem to be a few 'dealers' who appear to represent instruments with vague descriptions, and pictures that are just enough out of focus and kilter to make someone realy look hard. But, when a seller finds an instrument at a garage sale, or buys a complete estate and therein finds a violin or two, there just may be a fine and rare instrument or bow in the deal. Most of these situations, are totally innocent and honest descriptions, with accurate and truthful disclaimers forthcoming. These are the type sellers I would rather do business with. Honest sellers will do their best to present clear, well focused, close-up pictures which best show particular details they find to be interesting and helpful to the prospective bidder. Even bizzare, and unusal descriptions of circumstances as to how the item came to be auctioned can be useful to the prospective bidders.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm not talking about people who just happen upon violins and are making their best effort at describing something which they are not familiar with, or people who take bad pictures. I am speaking of deliberate fraud...which ironically often comes in the form of exceedingly clear pictures, and overly verbose descriptions, and all kinds of seemingly, sunny good intentions.

Shill bidding helps to create the impression that something is desirable when it may not be, or that something is of good quality when it is not.

If a seller says a student violin is a concert violin, and there are a lot of bids on it, then one tends to think, it may be a concert violin after all. Or, if a seller says a Chinese violin is Italian, and there is a lot of bidding, again, the naive bidder tends to think, perhaps it is Italian. And, if a seller says a cracked up, badly repaired piece of do do, is in excellent condition, and there are many frenzied bids on it, then, perhaps others will start to believe that it must be a fine treasure. That is what I am eluding to. Not innocent and well meaning Mom and Pops who find a fiddle in a barn. They are the least of your concerns.

Link to comment
Share on other sites


exceedingly clear pictures, and overly verbose descriptions, and all kinds of seemingly, sunny good intentions.

and sometimes those auctions are completely legit. The auctions I run fit that description except I hope they are not overly verbose. Verbose is adequate.

My violins are functionally repaired, adequately set up (for most), and really sell to the high bidder without shills. What some sellers don't seem to understand is that the market on eBay is strong enough not to need shill bidders.

Maybe I can explain what sometimes may appear to be funny business or manipulation, when its actually quite innocent. Neophytes often find an item they like and bid minumum increments until they are the high bidder. They then quickly outbid anyone who outbids them, often bidding many times before they lose the auction in the end to a sniper. I have received emails from discouraged bidders who bid early and often on multiple auctions of mine only to never win the item they wanted. I often will sell them a violin with a buy it now listing especially for them.

I also have customers who buy many violins from me. They keep trying out violins and might return one or two that they don't care for as much. I don't mind. Two of my customers have bought over 10 violins from me. Sometimes two or three within a few days. They certainly look like shills but in reality, they are teachers, buying instruments for their students, and want to have a few for them to try. Often they wind up keeping all of them or trading up down the road.

Regarding puffy descriptions: It is important to write a description that builds interest and desire for an item. If I were to describe a decent German trade fiddle as "a decent German trade fiddle suitable for a beginning student" I would have trouble getting a bid, especially when there are sellers selling brand new 'professional' violins for $29, with a bow and case. To describe an old trade fiddle as "having characteristics of fine handmade violins" is certainly a puff, but also walks the fine line of truth. And in comparison to the $29 professional model, the do have characteristics of handmade violins. I have found that when a violin quickly reaches a bid near its expected selling price, early in the auction, there will likely be no late bidding or interest. When something stays low until the last day, that is when it can really take off and bring a strong price. Running up a bid early, well before the end of the sale, is a sure way to discourage bidders. I start every auction at the same low price to encourage bidding. I like to see the price at about 1/4 of my estimate on the final day. That will attract the most bidders who will be active in the final minutes.

Finally, a return policy is a great way to do business. It encourqages bidding, results in a higher price, and keeps the seller honest. If I see one of my violins sell for too much money, I am concerned that it might be returned. I can write a description that will result in a particular price range regardless of the actual value of the item. I try to write a description that results in a fair price for a sale that will stick. A perfect example was a contemporary violin I recently sold. I wrote the description to result in a $500 sale. The violin sold for $455. The person who bought it was in my office when it sold. He played the violin and called a friend to bid on it. He is an expert and told me the violin is worth between $2500-$3000 or more. He won, I lost, everyone's happy (including me) and none of the eBay bidders recognized it for what it was.

Recently, a buyer bought an fairly expensive violin (for me and eBay). He had only bid on or bought one other item on eBay, and that was a violin, from me, 6 months earlier. He certainly looked like a shill bidder. He was delighted with his purchase and is enjoying it in Northern Alaska!

There are plenty of frauds in the violin catagory, but perhaps they are more likely found among those who do not have perfect feedback and offer a money back guarantee. I sold five violins last moneth for way less than they are worth. The customers are surely happy and I learned that December is a terrible month to sell fiddles on eBay.


Link to comment
Share on other sites

It is nice to have someone like you to make a report.

It is fun if you know what you are doing, a WIN-WIN

situation. I bought a violin for about $600 (not an ebay

special)but from an internet advertisement , it turned out it is exactly as described. The seller won, and I won too. I fixed the "new" violin to my taste.

I think in many cases the buyers don't know much about violins and have paid too much for them.(so called buyers' remorse). Many buyers have their ideas that

Italian names alone worths a fortune.

(There are great contemporary Itatian makers, of course.) This is why there are so many fake labels. I only know half dozen Italian names, outside of which you may just call them Smiths or Jones. What difference does it make to you or to me? One time I asked in a wedding reception party a young man who played violin, I asked who was the maker.

He couldn't say it but answered "Oh an Italian violin".

His rich parent paid a fortune for it.

Thank you.

Link to comment
Share on other sites


If a seller says a student violin is a concert violin, and there are a lot of bids on it, then one tends to think, it may be a concert violin after all. Or, if a seller says a Chinese violin /deee/


Hi Deee,

What is the difference between a "student" violin and "Concert" violin ?

Why we alway use Italian violin to represent "good",

Chinese represent "cheap"?

No too long ago "Japanese car" means "cheap" until Luxus

showed up in America.

I think we have to play a violin to know a violin. The look and its origin have no bearing to its tone quality.

Today an Italian violin can be made in China and finished in Italy. Or the other way.

30 years ago my Japanese violin teacher told me that there was million dollars Japanese made violin in Japan. I did not know any of this. You couldn't find it here was the problem. /yuen/

Link to comment
Share on other sites



If a seller says a student violin is a concert violin, and there are a lot of bids on it, then one tends to think, it may be a concert violin after all. Or, if a seller says a Chinese violin /deee/


yuen said:++++Hi Deee,

What is the difference between a "student" violin and "Concert" violin ?++++

Violins HAVE to be somehow classified/named to be discussed. If you don't name them or describe them in some way, you can't refer to them.

a student violin is GENERALLY a lower grade, lower quality violin than a concert violin, perhaps built slightly heavier to prevent cracking, etc.

+++++++++Yuen said"Why we alway use Italian violin to represent "good",

Chinese represent "cheap"? "++++++++++++++

You said that. Chinese violins are everywhere, they have flooded the market, thus, they are generally the least expensive instruments available, you said cheap. Many if not most are of excellent make for mass produced violins (not all are mass produced, again you must generalize to discuss). Most are better made than the bulk of German trade violins made years ago. In general they have good sound and are a great value. But if a seller says a Chinese violin (inexpensive) is Italian (expensive), the obvious motive is not to insult someone or demean anyone's sense of national pride, it's to make money.

the point is...ON EBAY... people deliberately misrepresent, lie, bull@hit, what ever you want to call it, for profit. The temptation to do this is great, and it's easy to do, and anyone can do it. It doesn't matter whether a seller has good feedback, bad feedback, no feedback at all, or no return policy, or yes return policy....it doesn't matter.

there are fraudulent sellers who have been active for 2-3 years with perfect feedback. they even offer an unconditional return policy.

conversely, there are honest sellers who have many negative (HUNDREDS)feedbacks. Notice i said honest, not good, not efficient. are they committing fraud? not necessarily. do they have poor business practices, perhaps.....slow turnaround? SURE. but not necessarily fraud.

please understand, that is my point...YOU ARE SAYING DON'T OVER GENERALIZE ABOUT VIOLINS. I AM SAYING DON'T OVERGENERALIZE ABOUT FRAUD ON EBAY. It comes in many forms, shapes and sizes, and those who commit fraud, are clever, and are exploring every angle, every possible scam and scheme, and are usually a few steps ahead of the unwitting public.

EBAY'S FEEDBACK SYSTEM is a joke. it can be extorted, bought, and sold. it is RARELY the whole story. It is in no way a perfect indicator of a seller's intent, credibility, or integrity.

Link to comment
Share on other sites


EBAY can be a lot of fun. It's a great way to connect with like minded people around the world.

A HEALTHY DOES OF SKEPTICISM not cynicism... will help. If something looks too good to be true, maybe it is. maybe not, but keep an open mind, to either possibility.

Maybe that is why people continue to use ebay... that, despite all the rampant scams, schemes, fraud and predators--- when you least suspect it...you may happen on to a gem, meet exceptional people, and even have your faith in humanity restored! at least for a moment.

Link to comment
Share on other sites


I think we have to play a violin to know a violin /yuen/


We should try it before we buy ,

unfortunately we do not take the advice.

Here are a few examples,

(1) A rich parent bought a violin for the daring daughter to learn play.

(2) A collector thought himself expert has found a treasure.

(3) Got it from e-bay without trial period.

(4) Found a stolen instrument on a street.

(5) Pawn shop special

(6) broken instruments.

(7) Put all faith on one label


PS. To say a violin is "good" you need to play it first,comaparing it with other. It is likely take a few hours. If you have not done that then the violin is of unknown quality. Fancy wood was chosen before it was made, (so not a good indication of quality)but for the sake of

sale. A honest luthier will tell you that he/she can not be sure how good thier next baby will be, by a good "chance",it will turn out to be as good as the last one.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Here's a lighthearted summary of the


(1) THE DUMPERS: Also known as "Poopers". People who only sell problem violins. junk--- BADLY DAMAGED, GARBAGE, WITH HIDDEN PROBLEMS. They generally are lazy...don't bother to put in labels, write good descriptions, or take recognizable pictures. They like to sell fractionals without revealing the actual size of the violin. They often use disclaimers. People who buy their stuff are politely referred to as "Pooper Scoopers", or "Sanitation Workers". The sellers USUALLY play dumb. Some offer return, some do not. Some of these are shillers as well.

(2) THE FAKERS: Also known as "Workaholics", or residents of Long Island (just kidding). They busy themselves, inserting false labels, messing up varnish, stamping bows, taking pretty pictures, etc. Many out of new york area. Some on the west coast. Very many out from Germany. A few in Quebec, and some are even sprouting up in the heartland!! THESE people are a complete enigma. They work around the clock, just to be dishonest--- it would be simpler to be honest. But it might kill them. People who fall for their schemes are often referred to as "Chump Change", or "Spending Money", also sometimes known as "Cod Mollies", or "Mud Puppies". The FAKERS may or may not appear to be knowledgeable, and will often allow returns. They also take part in shilling and dumping. They often use disclaimers.

(3) THE SHILLERS: Otherwise known as the "Pad-the-Bid" scheme. IT WORKS WITH BOTH NEW AND VINTAGE INSTRUMENTS. This type generally, but not always, play smart, act knowlegeable, and often appear, honest on first glance. Most allow returns. They prey mainly on novice bidders. Some of them are dumpers and fakers also. (see above). Some utilize 3rd party bidders, some are "Do it Yourself-ers". Their victims are often referred to as Shad", "Chum", "Happy Campers", "Passengers", and even "Loyal Subjects". Often unaware they have been "had".

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Big problem:

You don't know it is bad, until you have tried it for sometime (different bows, strings, different bridge, players). Would you be so kind to give a violin that much of "Chance"?

I know you have a strong view. I respect


For the sake of discussion, the trade German violins are known to have thick tops. Why?, I saw your post gave a reason. I have another (my guesswork only), thick top violins are for heavy built players only. They do every bowing in a heavy ways. We should let big fellows try them. It may be of their taste. Who knows? /yuen/

Link to comment
Share on other sites

You are obviously a kind man, who tries to see the good in everything. that is admirable. I am not saying these fraudulent violins are not "good", but what we are discussing here is fraud on ebay, the intention of a seller to do bad, deceive, mislead, or otherwise "rip off" bidders.

The purpose is to educate unwitting bidders, so they don't have to fall for the usual scams.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

  • Create New...