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eBay moves against prank bids

The leading online auction house will soon require customers to register their credit card numbers before placing bids of $5,000 or more.

eBay said today that it is cracking down on prank bids in high-profile auctions.

The leading online auction house will soon require customers to register their credit card numbers before placing bids of $5,000 or more. Those who afterward make prank bids will be suspended from the system.

While participants may have to sacrifice some of their privacy in order to make high-price bids, the system is not much different from the methods offline auction houses have used to authenticate auction bidders, Gartner Group e-commerce analyst Rob Labatt said.

"It will weed out the people that aren't serious," Labatt said.

Earlier this year, bidding for the Year2000.com domain reached $10 million on eBay. But all of the top bids for the domain turned out to be either pranks or were subsequently withdrawn.

A similar episode happened last year, when users bid up the price on a new BMW sports utility vehicle to $500,000, or more than 9 times its retail price. Many of those bids also turned out to be hoaxes.

In examining past prank bids, eBay found that many of them were placed either by people who didn't have credit cards or who would have been discouraged from placing such bids if they were required to submit their credit cards, company spokesman Kevin Pursglove said.

The new requirement is meant solely to discourage prank bids. eBay will not charge customers' credit cards for the amount they bid, nor hand over their credit card number to sellers, Pursglove said.

"We want to send the message that bids are now binding," he said.

In addition to prank bids, eBay also went through a rash of bogus auctions last year with people auctioning off everything from 500 pounds of marijuana to an unborn baby--to eBay itself.