Scalpers love sites like eBay, because it means they have somewhere to peddle their ill-gotten gains. But it looks like eBay is becoming a new battleground against scalpers and their bots, with fake listings that look too good to be true — because they are. That bargain Nvidia GeForce RTX 3090 you’re about to buy isn’t a graphics card at all. It’s a picture designed to confuse bots.
Selling pictures of in-demand products is nothing new. We’ve already seen scammers attempt to sell photos of the PS5 for outrageous prices, and that’s exactly what’s happening here. So you need to be careful and make sure you don’t get scammed.
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A lot of these listings are being put up with the intention of catching bots. If scalpers spend thousands of dollars on photos, which are completely worthless, the logic is that they won’t have that money to spend on genuine GPUs.
Take this listing, for instance, which currently has over 5 days to go, and has already clocked up 14 bids. Scroll down to the bottom of the page, and you’ll see that the listing is actually for a hand-drawn image of the 3090, not the card itself. Another listing, which has amassed over $1,400 in bids at the time of writing, promises a high-quality photo of the card, and not the card itself.
Several of these listings warn humans that they should not be bidding on this stuff, and that it’s designed to catch bots. These tricks are not restricted to the 3090 either, as this listing for the Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 shows. In spite of a clear photo of a printed picture, and other warnings from the seller, it’s still amassed 23 bids, totaling over $1,000.
There's more going on behind the scenes
The creator of one of these listings spoke to Tom's Guide, and explained part of what's going on here. This lister never intended to let their auction go to completion, and the listing had more to do with personal curiosity about how RTX 3090 auctions are being handled.
That's because hosting your own auction is the only way to see exactly who is doing the bidding. There may be other users out there doing exactly the same thing, particularly since a number of these listings are coming from accounts with high feedback scores.
In this case, there did seem to be one real person caught up in the bidding, as their account has a solid transaction history. Everything else seemed to be coming from bots.
The lister explained that there are two different kinds of bots out there. The first are the obvious bots working for scalpers, which are buying up as much stock as they can. The second kind are the "whitehat" bots, which are artificially inflating prices to the point where ordinary people can't afford them.
That way, ordinary people can't fall victim to any opportunistic eBay scammers, while scalpers waste their time on bots that "win" auctions with no intention of paying.
How to avoid getting scammed
Whether these listings are designed to trick bots, or up there for reasons of personal curiosity, they are still technically scams. You don't want to go through the hassle of winning a picture, rather than the actual GPU you were expecting. Your best option is to not bid on any fake listings in the first place.
The main thing to remember is that if a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. The RTX 3090 has a $1,499 MSRP, and is basically impossible to find. So any listings under that price are automatically suspicious. More so if they’re quite close to ending.
The second thing to remember is to check the listings' title and description for any indication that it may not be a real product. A lot of the descriptions I’ve seen are fairly upfront about that fact in the description, even if the rest of the listing suggests that it’s a brand new and unopened graphics card.
The title may also contain clues that this isn’t meant for legitimate people, such as claiming it’s a print, image, or something of that nature. One listing we saw even referred to the 3090 as a “jpegedition”, though it doesn’t have any bids right now.
If you do think that you’ve fallen for a scam and bid on a dodgy listing, try and cancel your bid. eBay has instructions on how to do this, so read through them and do everything you can. In a worse case scenario where you can’t cancel your bids, and you end up winning, don’t hand over any money. Message the seller and tell them the situation, At best they will cancel the sale, at worst they will send you nasty messages. Either way it’s better than giving them your money.
Your best bet to avoid scams is to ignore all the aftermarket sites altogether. Not only does that make it harder for scalpers to profit from their actions, it means you're not at risk of some random seller scamming you for an entire month's salary. So make sure to check out our guide on where to buy Nvidia GeForce RTX 3090, and keep your eyes peeled for legit restock news.