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December 14, 2021

Would you donate to eBay "panhandlers"?

The soup du jour around MSN Money these past few days has been holiday scams.

We reported on the disheartening rise of seasonal cons last week, and just today, fellow contributor Gordon Powers let us in on a particularly disturbing scheme targeting seniors across Canada.

But as we’ve come to learn, the most ambiguous scams are sprouting on the Internet, where – really – who’s to say what is real and what is fraud?

MSNBC has the story of the latest tug-on-your-heartstrings online solicitation, eBay “panhandling.”

According to the piece, now nestled in among holiday-themed eBay auction listings are posts from families fallen on hard times, asking for any charity you might be able to give.

Consider this listing titled, “Family of four needs your help.” The description gets right to the point: a man from Grethel, KY, is asking for a donation to “keep my family living expenses up.”

“Back in January of this year I was hurt at work,” the post reads. “I have worked 21 years of my life and when something like this happens you are thrown to the side … I have a wife of 18YRS and two kids … a 12 YR old and a handicapped son … so your donation would be greatly appreciated.”

Because of eBay’s selling guidelines, many of the listings have to exchange an item or product for the donation money, though in most cases that item is something inconsequential: a crappy e-book; used coupons; a worn-out mp3 player.

In some instances, “sellers” will send a hand-written thank you note for any donations, some of which (based on other listings) will go to car repairs, medical bills and food for a holiday dinner.

“Please contact me if you are willing to donate a present for my kids,” writes one U.S. woman on another listing. “If you do not have time, I made a ‘buy it now’ in another auction for presents.

“I would love to see them have a nice Christmas.”

Now, as you might imagine, this new wave of solicitation has stirred up a healthy controversy over whether the gesture is appropriate on eBay, and even whether the claims for charity are real or not.

There is, of course, no way to authenticate whether these listings are from scammers who could easily post fake pics and create phony tales of sorrow. Some are most definitely real, but if you’re looking to make a legitimate donation, how can you really know for sure where your money is going?

“eBay is a marketplace, not a place for someone to put up pictures of their family … and BEG for money,” one eBay source told MSNBC. “It just cheapens the marketplace when such things are allowed to occur and takes away from some really good charity auctions that are sanctioned and within eBay guidelines.”

What do you think? Do you buy the legitimacy of eBay’s charitable listings, and would you ever think to use such a medium to donate?

By Jason Buckland, MSN Money



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Gordon PowersGordon Powers

A long-time fund company executive, Gordon Powers now heads up the Affinity Group, a financial services consulting firm. Gordon was a personal finance columnist for the Globe & Mail for many years, has taught retirement planning...

James HaversJames Havers

James is the senior editor of MSN Money living in Toronto. He has worked for the Nikkei Shimbun (Tokyo),,, Canadian Business and other publications. Havers turned to journalism after teaching overseas.

Jason BucklandJason Buckland

The modern-day MC Hammer of money, Jason can often be seen spending cash that isn’t his with the efficiency of a Wilt Chamberlain first date. After cutting his teeth as a reporter for the Toronto Sun, he joined the MSN Money team with...