I've been buying stuff on eBay for over 10 years. I've bought probably 1,000 items and have rarely had a problem. There are plenty of reasons to be careful on eBay but I don't often buy big ticket items (I think the most expensive thing I ever bought was a TI graphic calculator for about $80) so potential losses are low. In those few instances where the item wasn't as advertised, or was defective, I've not had much problem getting my money back. Recently, I had three problem auctions which goes to show that even an experienced eBayer can have problems if he isn't careful. None of these items were very expensive but I thought I'd use them to illustrate the issues you might have even when buying low priced cards.The Cliff Politte card above was advertised as a "1998 Cliff Politte Bowman's Best Autograph". Bowman's Best Autograph was a 10-card insert in the 1998 Bowman's Best set. But this isn't one of the insert cards. Instead, it's a regular issue card that Cliff Politte autographed (presumably). The seller didn't seem to understand the distinction between a Bowman's Best Autograph and an autographed Bowman's Best card. Where did I go wrong? If I had looked up the set on Becket.com, I'd had seen that 1) Cliff Politte is not included in the insert set, and 2) the Autograph insert has a seal of authenticity on the front of the card, which this card is clearly lacking. It was clear in the photograph of the card in the listing as well that it didn't have a seal. But I didn't know either of those things when I bid on the card. Now I only paid $3.49 for it and decided it wasn't worth trying to get a refund (the seller said he'd give me a refund if I mailed it back to him). I really don't think the seller was trying to cheat me, I think he really didn't know what he was selling. I just got this card last week but had an earlier similar problem.
The card above is from the 2001 Bowman Heritage set. It is one of a 50-card insert set called "Bowman Heritage 1948 Reprints". I had just bought the whole set from my local card shop. When I was cataloging those cards I saw that there was also a "Bowman Heritage 1948 Reprints Autograph" insert set. I looked on eBay for one and found this card. I bought it for $8.50. When the card arrived, I found that Beckett lists these cards at $50 for each card in the set. I first thought that I'd gotten a real bargain but I was suspicious. Beckett.com lists 13 cards in the Autograph set, and all the players are different than the 50-card set. So what I had was just one of the Reprints which was autographed by Bobby Thomson. I had less to argue with the seller as he represented this card as "2001 bowman heritage-1948 reprint-signed BOBBY THOMSON". So I misread the listing in this case. The seller claims that Thomson signed this card in front of him 4-5 years ago and the signature does look like other Thomson autos I found on-line. I bought this card last September. My problem, just as with the Politte card is a lack of homework on my part. I should have looked up the set first.
This card is a 1998 Bowman International card of Roger Clemens. It was advertised as a Bowman Chrome International. If I had looked closely at the image in the listing I would have seen that the card was not a Chrome card (there's no Chrome under the Bowman logo). I emailed the seller and she instantly refunded my money. As with the Politte card above, I think the seller didn't know what she had here.
So I guess I'll boil this down to my 3 rules of eBay shopping for baseball cards:
1. Look at the image closely for clues that the card is what is being advertised. This doesn't always work as often the images are crappy, but it's a place to start.
2. If it's advertised as an autograph card, and it's the factory auto that you want, check on Beckett.com for an image of the card and a complete listing of the set
3. If you've got doubts, ask the seller specific questions, like "Is this a factory auto, does it have a Topps seal of authenticity"?
There are apparently a lot of fake jersey and patch cards out there. These are usually big-ticket items which I just won't buy on eBay.