Investigating the Fake eBay Market for $25,000 Beanie Babies

Before there was the Pokemon gold rush, there was the Beanie Baby gold rush. Many families in the ‘90s bought Beanie Babies and put them in hard plastic containers or weird sleeping bags with the idea that, years later, they could flip them for hundreds or thousands of dollars.

Beanie Baby prices famously crashed, and for most people they are an afterthought. But a search through eBay’s recently sold listings is truly bizarre. Most supposedly rare Beanie Babies like “Princess,” the purple Princess Dianna bear, are selling for a couple bucks. But there’s also dozens of listings showing Princess and other Beanie Babies selling for outrageous sums: A Princess seemingly sold on June 30 for $25,000, an Iggy the Iguana sold for $15,000, Gobbles the turkey sold for $14,888.

What gives? Is this some sort of scam? Why are some of the exact same Beanie Babies seemingly selling for thousands, while others are selling for pennies?

What’s happening, according to Beanie Baby experts, is a quirk of both eBay and society at large. The vast majority of Beanie Babies are essentially worthless, but the craze of the 1990s and the seemingly high sales prices of certain beanies have led to a collective delusion.

Looking at the Princess Di bear sold on June 30 for $25,000, the listing shows the seller created an account in 2019 and has no sales history. The bear shows as sold, but then was relisted for $17,000.

So did this bear sell or not? With eBay, it’s hard to tell. If you modify the search conditions to show “completed items” as well as “sold items” then the $25,000 price tag returns with a line through it. This indicates that it didn’t actually sell for $25,000 but went for the best offer, which is a secret between the seller and buyer.

The only way you’d know this happened is if you clicked searched for completed items along with sold items. Just searching for sold items doesn’t show the strikethrough. There are thousands of listings like this. Supposedly rare Beanie Babies allegedly selling for tens of thousands of dollars, often by accounts with no sales history created in the last few months.

“I love eBay, but I also know how to use eBay because I’ve been using it since 1997,” Karen Boeker, who co-runs the website Beanie Babies Price Guide, told Motherboard. “If you know the rules, a buyer’s not gonna get scammed. A seller can get scammed very easily.”

Boeker and her partner Becky Estenssoro exhaustively detail the myriad scams and speculative auctions on their website and Facebook group. In a April 29 post, Boeker detailed how Curly, a supposedly rare Beanie, is showing up on eBay under fake listings. Boeker detailed how hard it can be to learn the truth of who is selling what on the site.

“Those are bogus. You’ll see somebody who lists a Beanie Baby for $14,000. They’ll have an accomplice buy it and then they’ll cancel the transaction…and it’ll disappear from eBay.”

“Those are bogus,” Schlossberg, a historian of Beanie Babies who runs the website Ty Collector with his daughter, told Motherboard. “You’ll see somebody who lists a Beanie Baby for $14,000. They’ll have an accomplice buy it and then they’ll cancel the transaction…and it’ll disappear from eBay.”

Legitimate Beanie Baby collectors have a theory. “Its’ either money laundering or bogus transactions,” Scholssberg said. “Otherwise it doesn’t make any sense.”

Boeker also runs a Facebook group for Beanie Babies, which is often filled with people who show up asking absurd sums for supposedly rare Beanie Babies. Their hopes are almost always immediately crushed.

“The Rarest Ty Beanie Baby I’ve Ever Come Across,” a recent post in the group announced above pictures of a white bear with odd shaped eyes and errors on its tags. “IT IS NOT FREE!!! SERIOUS OFFERS ONLY!!”

“Tag errors add no value as these were mass produced on millions of beanies,” the first comment said. “Current value $3 to $8.”

Boeker’s efforts haven’t stopped the deluge of weird listings on eBay. Ultimately, Beanie Babies were and are a mass produced plush toy that sells for a couple of bucks. “They were made popular by adults that speculated on them,” Leon Scholssberg said.

In the mid-1990s, Beanie Babies experienced an incredible surge in popularity. People bought up thousands of them and adults decided they might be worth thousands of dollars in the future. According to Scholssberg, an early guide to the value of Beanies listed projected values for the toys in the future. “They made all that stuff up,” he said. “They had no experience in plush collecting and absolutely no experience in Beanie Baby collecting…but adults saw that and said, ‘Oh I can buy this thing for $5 and in five years it’s going to be worth $300 or $700. They were just making these values up.”

This was the early days of the internet and eBay. Websites sprang up overnight, people sold Beanies on eBay, and local news covered the phenomenon. Then Princess Di died and Ty, the maker of Beanie Babies, announced it would release a commemorative bear honoring the late Duchess of Wales and would donate the proceeds to charity.

People thought the Princess Di bear would be a limited edition. Schlossberg said that was a misunderstanding. “The reason things went crazy at the beginning is because there was a misconception on the American market that it would be a limited edition Beanie and that there were only going to be 10 available at every retailer and that was the end of it,” he said. But Schlossberg said the bear was mass produced and Ty limited the amount of its initial shipment because it was struggling to keep up with demand.

The misperception that the Princess bear is worth a ton of cash is so persistent that Schlossberg’s has a lengthy article that painfully walks readers through how common the bear is. “Most sellers on eBay claim their Princess is ‘rare,’ but the sheer number of Princess Beanie Babies available for sale on eBay refutes that claim,” the article said. “On June 22, 2021, when the Princess values were updated for this article, there were more than 5,500 Princess Beanie Babies listed for either sale or auction on eBay.” As of this writing, there are almost 7,000 listings for the bear.

According to Schlossberg, the Princess Di bear frenzy got worse after one was sold at a charity auction for $16,000. “Of course when that got out, people thought that’s what the Beanie Baby was worth now,” he said. “Whoever bought that Beanie Baby would have probably paid $16,000 for a vial of dirt. They were looking for a tax write off.”

He said the value of the Princess Di bear never went above that initial high water mark of $200 or $300 immediately after it was released. “The reason why is eBay,” he said. “People found out how many of those things there were when everybody started listing them on eBay. The bottom pretty much fell out. And that pretty much happened for all the other Beanie Babies too, except for the first, second, and third generation ones which were actually rare.”

“They’re worthless. I was at a Goodwill the other day and saw a hundred early Beanie Babies for $1 each, no one wants them.”

There are a few expectations. From time to time, Ty produced limited edition Beanie Babies and numbered them. These were often limited runs for a small group of people, often employees of Ty. “With the exception of limited edition Beanie Babies….nobody knows how many of any Beanie was produced. Ty has never released that information.”

“It’s likely that 98 percent of the sellers on eBay selling Beanie Babies don’t know a thing about Beanie Babies or Beanie Baby values,” Schlossberg said. “They are just people that have seen Beanie Babies on eBay, they have some because they’ve gotten them from a parent who died, or they found a ton of them in the basement or attic. They think they’re valuable and they put them on eBay….they’re laughable.”

Motherboard editor-in-chief Jason Koebler has been trying to move Beanie Babies on eBay for months to no avail. “My parents have hundreds of Beanie Babies and are selling their house, so I’ve been helping them clean it out,” Koebler said. “We listed dozens of supposedly rare Beanie Babies on eBay for $3 each. Every single auction ended without a single bid. They were relisted three separate times. None of them sold. They’re worthless. I was at a Goodwill the other day and saw a hundred early Beanie Babies for $1 each, no one wants them.”

Another odd part of the puzzle is that many of the Beanie Babies allegedly selling for tens of thousands of dollars are also listed on the site by other sellers for reasonable prices. If anyone can jump on eBay and buy a Princess Di Beanie Baby for a few bucks, why would they spend $14,000?

Boeker said there’s more going on than just moving money around. As she pointed out, many of the high value listings are delisted and relisted dozens of times. More common, she said, is a phishing scheme where scammers list high value Beanies to create a fake market value, wait for other naive people to list their own Beanies at high prices, then swoop in with promises of paying.

She pointed out that eBay is an auction site and that it’d be weird for people to pay the initial asking price. “Why would someone come in and make an offer of $10,000 on an item that’s listed for $10,000?” She said, “because when they use the ‘make an offer’ feature, they don’t pay now. They just string along the seller and what they try to do is get their information via a text message or email. It’s a scam.”

According to Boker, she’s seen a number of variations on the scam. Some people are what she called ‘vigilant buyers,’ who make an offer with no intention of actually paying. “They just want to hurt, punish, or disrupt the seller because they’re sick of the rumors,” she said. There’s also scam buyers who send fake Paypal emails, a classic phishing scheme. Sometimes the scam buyer will overpay for the item with a fake credit card, then ask the seller to send a gift card returning the amount they overpaid. (eBay has recently stopped using PayPal, but for reasons that defy explanation, eBay does not force buyers to follow through with payment when they win an auction. Nonpayment on eBay is a massive problem for sellers.)

Boeker said she has tried, over the years, to talk to eBay about these various scams. “They don’t want to hear anything about it,” she said. “And then, look at what happened to Ida Steiner.”

Steiner runs the website EcommerceBytes with her husband David, a repository of scams with a particular focus on eBay. The couple filed a lawsuit in July alleging that former eBay employees tried to “terrorise, stalk, and silence” them. According to the lawsuit, eBay mailed the Steiners packages of live cockroaches, a bloody pig mask, and a funeral wreath. The Steiners also allege that eBay employees tried to break into their garage to put a GPS device on their car.

“eBay’s work to maintain the safety of its marketplace is a top priority and is always evolving. We regularly review and remove fraudulent listings and sellers from our marketplace,” a representative of eBay told Motherboard. “Buyers who receive an item which is not as described are entitled to a refund via oureBay Money Back Guarantee, provided the transaction is completed on the eBay marketplace.”

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