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Why don’t we have an online sale verification system?

Back when I published my column about online buying and selling, I jokingly called them “Laws”. These posts drew a mix of interesting opinions and even some hate. I really thought, at the time, that knowing some of the things I learned the hard way – might help you when facing the daunting task of online commerce. Today, we’re on the cusp of what seems like a revolutionary shift in this process. Soon, iOS7 will include a feature that blocks subsequent users from activation (if turned on), previously stolen devices are becoming easier than ever to track, and even Microsoft was interested in keeping users from reselling games (but they relented). It’s going to become harder than ever to resell your valuable stuff. So I ask, why is it that an independent body hasn’t been developed to verify online goods?

One of the largest challenges faced by those who would buy or sell online is trust. How can you trust the person that is about to buy something? How can you trust what they’re selling is in the condition they say it is, and not stolen? Our advancing ability to post online classified ads is not improving the relationships between buyer and seller. Even worse, it seems like manufacturers look negatively at the resale of goods – even though the process is an important part of recycling very expensive goods (so that new purchases can happen).

Yesterday the idea hit me – what if we had an independent business we could easily get to that verifies the content of the ads we post? Consider this, in practice: A person wishes to upgrade her phone and sell her current model. She writes up a basic ad and emails her ad link to the verifying body. She’s then given a number and an appointment date in the near future. Our example seller knows the value of building trust, so she heads to the local verification office with her goods and allows them to check it over for a small fee of $20. The phone is checked for condition, verified as not stolen, and online ad particulars to verified (to the serial number of this device). She then includes a link to the verification company’s report in her ad.

As a buyer, I look at the ad details, view the report, and immediately can trust that what’s said in the ad is legitimate. All of this ties to the serial number of whatever device is involved. Trust in the product is established and, presumably a sale proceeds smoother. As far as trusting the person, that’s a different problem.

There are already existing novel approaches to this problem. A phone-centric post-theft version can be found at The key to a database system like this have to be a fast and reliable way to search for a device you’re about to buy so you can better inform yourself about whether its stolen. More troubling, however, is seeing major carriers building a similar database (soon to be in Canada) of stolen phones only to disable them. If users can’t see or use this database, then they can’t help the community at large.

Given how product prices continue to rise and manufacturers offer little to no buy-back options, people are going to want to do everything they can to recover some of the money they shell out for these things. Online selling, like the newspaper classifieds before them, isn’t going anywhere, so why don’t we have anyone willing to take on the task of improving trust?