The following Articles (c) 2004 Krause Publications was published in CBG #1577 2/6/04

Mystery in cyberspace

CBG connects privacy-loving auctioner to Dupcak

He's an active dealer in highgrade Silver Age comics and sports collectibles, selling more than $5,500 worth in the past month on eBay. But with details of his transactions hidden by his use of eBay's Private Feedback and Private Auction options, mystery has swirled about him for three years. Some collectors have alleged he either is ' or is connected to ' a comics restoration artist famously convicted for fraud in the 1990s. Just as fervently, the dealer swears that he isn't ' on the Web and via e-mail.

That's been the controversy that's followed eBay dealer 'Comic-Keys' for more than three years. It's a controversy that's now over.

After a year-long investigation involving public records databases, conversations with past customers and federal and local law enforcement officials, tracking of online auction activity, and research into its own archives, CBG has confirmed that the mailing address given online by 'Comic-Keys' for his business is, despite his denials, connected to Daniel Dupcak, convicted in 1997 for scheming to defraud.

Dupcak's early activities. Dupcak, 50, had been active both as a comics and sportscard dealer and as a restoration artist during the 1980s and early 1990s, operating a business called Fantazia in Hartsdale, N.Y.

In a 1987 ad on page 472 of the 17th edition of the Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide, Dupcak described his restoration talents: 'Unerring cosmetic 'surgery' for you [sic] prized comics. Safe, inexpensive, and cost-effective quality craftsmanship.' Services listed included tape removal, deacidifying, pressing and spine-roll removal, page whitening, stain removal, split mending, recoloring, and wholesale restructuring of heavily damaged comic books.

As a dealer, Dupcak advertised regularly in Overstreet and other places, including CBG and its sister publication Sports Collectors Digest. Items in one ad ranged in price up to $15,000 for a Captain America Comics #1 in NM.

In one series of advertisements in the early 1990s, Dupcak's store announced the discovery of 'Eastern Color Uncirculated Books,' which he said originated from Eastern's Waterbury, Conn., printing facilities and warehouse. The ad represented that 'Eastern did the printing for over 50 comic companies (Atlas, Marvel, DC, Archie, Harvey, Fiction House, etc.) at these facilities between 1951 and approximately 1970.' Eastern stamped in-house copies with date stamps identifying these comics as 'Eastern Specimens,' the ad stated.

'The books are, in 99% of the cases the absolute finest available specimen.' Most are unimprovable, and like Mile Highs, are infectious to the condition conscious 'Mint Freak.' ' In his final ad in CBG, Dupcak offered such copies of Fantastic Four #1 for $10,000 and $8,000 each. But some questioned the authenticity of the pedigree and continue to do so. Steve Borock, who keeps track of pedigrees for Comics Guaranty Corp., today says that no such Eastern Color file copies ever existed. (See the sidebar.)

Other buyers complained that Dupcak had sold them restored comic books without informing them of the repairs. In 1991, Krause Publications chose not to accept any more advertisements from Dupcak.

Fraud conviction. By the mid- 1990s, Dupcak had partnered with Glen Beram in Wall of Fame, a sportscard store in Levittown, N.Y., that came to national attention in one of the earliest busts for fake memorabilia.

Karen Lutz, a special investigator in the Nassau County, N.Y., District Attorney's Office, headed a forgery investigation that found that Dupcak and Beram had sold more than $33,000 in bogus autographed goods between March and October of 1994. Lutz received sample signatures from Mickey Mantle, Frank Robinson, Ted Williams, and Carl Yastrzemski, in making the case.

Two days before trial, in March 1997, Beram pleaded guilty to two counts of petty larceny and was sentenced to 150 hours of community service and three years' probation. Dupcak, whom Newsday reported was also known as 'Carlos Seneca,' pleaded guilty to scheming to defraud and was sentenced to 90 days in jail and five years' probation.

Dupcak and Beram were further ordered by Nassau County Court Judge Jack Mackston to pay $33,010 in restitution to the 53 victims identified by District Attorney Denis Dillon.

Law enforcement officials auctioned the authentic portion of Wall of Fame's inventory on Jan. 21, 1998. Detective William Mack of the Nassau County Police Department's asset forfeiture unit told The New York Times then that comic books were among the top sellers, with an Amazing Fantasy #15 selling for $2,000 and an Incredible Hulk #1 selling for $1,400. The auction raised more than $75,000, more than covering customers' losses; Assistant District Attorney Robert Nigro, chief of the unit, said that Mantle himself contributed autographed baseball cards for more than two dozen children stung in the forgery scheme.

According to a criminal records search service, on Dec. 20, 2002, Dupcak plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge in Nassau County unrelated to collectibles sales. He was sentenced to serve three years of probation.

'Comic-Keys' on eBay. Comic-Keys began as an eBay member on Feb. 22, 2000, and since then has been a regular auctioner of high-grade Silver Age comic books, as well as some baseball memorabilia. In the three weeks before press time, Comic-Keys' auctions had fetched more than $5,500 on eBay.

Both the dealer's auctions and his feedback are kept private. In copy appearing with most of his auctions, Comic-Keys explained that his auctions are private 'to dissuade the 'Thrill/Joy-Bidders' that are generally attracted to books of this nature in these extreme grades, to preserve the integrity of the auction for the well-intending bidders, and to ensure bidder/winner confidentiality.' The dealer added that keeping bidders' identities private eliminates 'the incentive to place bids merely to bolster one's bidding status and 'Search: As a Bidder' record.'

As of Jan. 15, the feedback summary for Comic-Keys gave the following information: 1,047 positive comments from 586 distinct customers; one neutral comment; and four negative comments from four distinct customers. The actual comments cannot be seen, nor can it be told who made them nor how many comments came from Comic-Keys' sales and how many came from his purchases. Because of eBay's rules for Private Feedback users, the feedback number, which would otherwise be 584, does not appear next to Comic-Keys' handle universally on eBay. While eBay won't put that number on Comic-Keys' auctions, Comic-Keys provides that description on his own, in his auction copy.

The dealer provides in his auction copy an explanation for his negative feedback comments. 'Two negatives are entirely retaliatory in nature and were received by me immediately after leaving negative feedback for sellers whom I paid yet never received any merchandise from,' the dealer wrote in his auction copy.

CBG's tracking of Comic-Keys' activity on eBay found that the comics offered were almost never graded by CGC, although the dealer does use CGC terminology in his auction titles: An Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1 sold Oct. 19, 2003, was described as 'Qualified NM+ 9.6.' (While the Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide has adopted CGC's digital grades, 'Qualified' is strictly a CGC term denoting a comic book that CGC has graded with reservations.)

Comic-Keys does bid on CGC-graded and ungraded comic books on eBay, although comics won with that eBay handle do not appear to be a major source of inventory for the dealer; about one public auction a month is won by Comic-Keys. Some of the items Comic-Keys has bid on are, coincidentally or not, of particular interest to restoration artists: In the past month, Comic-Keys had bid on and lost auctions for a bound copy of Fantastic Four Vol. 1 #1-10 and an unused remainder cover from Avengers Vol. 1, #9, advertised as having 'plenty of room for trimming down to normal size if attached to a coverless copy.'

Comic-Keys is a member of Square-Trade, an eBay partner. It's a dispute resolution service that mediates on behalf of member dealers who pay a $75 annual fee. Square Trade maintains a page on its site for member dealers, listing their addresses and attesting that they are who they say they are. Comic- Keys keeps a link on his auction pages to a SquareTrade affidavit stating his identity as Richard Koos, as well as his Floral Park, N.Y., mailing address.

Allegations from the hobby. Over the past three years, customers doing business with Comic-Keys have raised the possibility that Comic-Keys either was, or was connected to, Danny Dupcak.

In Comic Book Marketplace #84 (Aug 01), columnist Michael Naiman wrote, 'The same 'reputable' dealer who brought you all those 'classic pedigreed books' is back in cyberspace with more of the trimmed, color-touched, and doctored beauties you know so well! After previously being run out of the comics business, he's surfaced again and is taking advantage of unknowledgeable comic collectors. After they buy his 'high grade' books, many have sent them off to CGC in the hopes of pyramiding their profits. To add insult to injury, he conducts 'private auctions' so that no one knows who is being swindled, and hence, cannot communicate with each other! Fortunately, CGC's eagle-eyed restoration department has detected the scam.'

CGC Primary Grader Steve Borock told CBG that, while the company had seen many comic books that Comic-Keys had sold to customers, Comic-Keys had never, to his knowledge, sent in a comic book to be graded by CGC. 'I wouldn't have signed him up as a dealer, if he did send a book in under his name,' Borock said, 'because I have heard too many bad things about him.'

Borock said that customers who had bought restored books from Comic-Keys were under the impression they were unrestored. 'This person used to state in his [eBay] ads that all of these comics are completely unrestored, and I think that person has changed it over the last year. He has sent e-mails out saying that the reason he has not had the books graded is because CGC hates him and they know they are his comic books. This is totally ridiculous stuff, but novices will fall for this and also they see this great grab and think that they can get an Amazing Spider-Man #1 in Near Mint for $24,000. I tell people after they call that, if it is too good to be true, it usually is.'

Borock said that many buyers of unslabbed comic books never know if the comic books they've received are restored. 'The problem I see is that novices buy these comics and nine out of 10 don't send them in for certification because they want to hold onto it to let the value increase. Even if only one person sends it in to CGC and gets his money back from this seller, he is still selling 9 out of 10. He also has a very high feedback rating because of that, and these people are going to get a very rude wake-up call when they decide to have the comic book graded.'

CBG spoke with a number of customers who had received restored comic books from Comic-Keys. All said the auctioner had given a full refund, once CGC had identified the restoration. This, Borock said, may explain the dealer's longevity on eBay.

'I think eBay is pretty good about protecting their Power Sellers, so, if this guy is refunding people's money, they are not going to say that there is a problem,' he said. 'He can plead ignorance and return the money. But, as I said, nine out of 10 people aren't going to get their money back from them because, by the time they learn the book is restored, he might not be around any more.'

The CGC message board itself became a hotbed of debate after postings appeared in which collectors claimed they had bought comics from Comic-Keys which had come back from CGC as restored ' and a member claiming to be Comic-Keys began posting. The messager, signing as Richard Koos (along with the name, state, and e-mail address given by Comic-Keys on SquareTrade), repeatedly and categorically denied any knowledge of or connection to Dupcak, beginning in the summer of 2002.

Using the handle 'Methuselah' in 2002, the messager, in his user profile, gave his occupation as 'Message Board Whipping Boy' and said his hobbies were 'comics, powerlifting, and answering false accusations from board members railroaded into believing I'm someone else.' The messager wrote he was 'at present predictably barred/censured/gagged by ' CGC from posting information pertinent to comics and from posting to answer false accusations of mistaken identity posed by board members.' Elsewhere on the boards, he described his occupation as nurse.

CGC Primary Grader Steve Borock recalled the fireworks beginning on his firm's message board. 'We had somebody who kept saying that he was not Danny Dupcak, but yet he would keep defending him. He came on under a few names and would kind of explode. He is incredibly knowledgeable about restoration issues, trimming, and the industry itself. He would say that CGC is owned by Diamond and [Steve] Geppi or the next day he would say it is owned by [Jay] Parrino and that CGC misses a lot of restoration to try to discredit us so he could make himself look better.'

The responses of 'Methuselah' were, in several instances, hostile and violent in their phrasing. When people who had bought comics from him would confront him on the message board, Borock said, 'He would go on a rampage again. In one conversation, 'Methuselah' threatened to twist his critic 'like a balloon animal.' To another, he responded, 'I'll be monitoring all your posts and analyzing every word, every nuance, even the grammatical structure. If I see so much as one 'i' not dotted, I'll be on your ass like a duck after a June bug and I won't let go. Remember that!'

The CGC webmaster clamped down on Oct. 3, 2002, writing, 'Perhaps you think a sound beating would prove your case in some manner. You're wrong. So drop it.'

CGC eventually barred 'Methuselah' from the message boards. 'I think finally he has gone away' from the forum, Borock said.

CGC retained all the postings of 'Methuselah' for future reference, having changed the handle to '**DONOTDELETE**.'

CBG connects Dupcak to Comic-Keys. In sifting the claims and counterclaims, CBG's investigation finally focused on evaluating one simple claim by 'Comic-Keys': that he is in no way connected with Daniel Dupcak.

Several findings point to a definite connection:

' CBG learned through a major public information search service that the Floral Park, N.Y., address given by 'Comic-Keys' on SquareTrade is currently a home owned by Rosemary Dupcak.

' A second public records search service, designed for use by law enforcement professionals, said that Daniel Dupcak's most likely address in 1998 was the Floral Park household. It further records that a Daniel S. Dupcak registered two vehicles with the State of New York at that address in 2002. Rosemary Dupcak has registered a car at that address, as well, as has Richard J. Koos. CBG also verified that the vehicles listed are, indeed, titled with the New York Department of Motor Vehicles.

The database further concurs that Rosemary Dupcak purchased the Floral Park, N.Y., home on May 1, 1980.

' A third search conducted by a firm that accesses official public records also named Rosemary Dupcak as the owner of the Floral Park home.

' An earlier public records search conducted for CBG by a fourth firm that does background checks gave the Floral Park street address as the 'most likely current address' for Daniel Dupcak. 'Possible relatives' for Daniel Dupcak also listed associated with that address were Angela Dupcak and Rosemary Dupcak.

' A fifth national locator database also gave Daniel Dupcak as a name linked with the Floral Park household. Richard Koos, the name given by Comic-Keys for himself on SquareTrade, is also given as 'another name listed at the same address' with Daniel Dupcak in the Floral Park house.

CBG acknowledges the possibility that there may be more than one Daniel Dupcak, but found no evidence to suggest this. Narrowing the search down, the middle initial 'S.' found in the motor vehicle record for Daniel Dupcak matches the known middle initial of the Daniel Dupcak charged in the Wall of Fame case. (While at Fantazia, Dupcak sometimes signed his name with the 'S' as a dollar sign, such as in some correspondence and in his ad in the Aug. 7, 1987 edition of Sports Collectors Digest.)

There is nothing in public documents to confirm that a Richard Koos does not live at the Floral Park address. Such a person might, indeed, live at that address and might be the seller Comic-Keys. But Comic-Keys' denials of knowledge of Daniel Dupcak are called into serious question: Why, then, does Koos live in a house public records say is currently owned by someone named Dupcak and has been home to a Danny Dupcak in the past?

Comic-Keys responds. In January, CBG conducted an interview in a series of e-mail exchanges with the auctioner Comic-Keys. On the subject of the controversy, the auctioner, identifying himself as Koos, asserted emphatically that he had nothing to do with Dupcak.

'I've covered this 1,000 times (and no doubt, I will cover it 1,000 more),' he wrote. 'Not Dupcak. Not Dupcak. Not Dupcak. Richard Koos is not Dupcak.' He said he had been hearing people make the connection since before he had sold his first comic book on eBay, when he was just a buyer. He rejected any connection with the name whatsoever: 'Not Dupcak, never Dupcak, I don't know from Dupcak. It's hard enough just being Richard Koos let alone someone else as well!'

When CBG asked why his mailing address was a home owned by Rosemary Dupcak ' and was associated with vehicles registered in Daniel Dupcak's name ' the auctioner responded angrily. 'Now, all is revealed and made clear. Your connection with Elrod Mah, your being a pawn in his sworn Vendetta (as he puts it) is apparent.'

Comic-Keys wrote that it was the first he had heard about the database information. 'I don't do database searches on myself or any other folks for that matter.'

He continued, 'What would you do if both Koos and Dupcak, supposedly the same person, both appeared in the same court at the same time? What high ground would you run for?

'The only problem I have is that when I tire of the malarkey and start civil libel lawsuits because folks want to write that Dupcak is Koos, it'll be pretty damn easy for me to win. Do you have access to medical records? Dental charts? Birth certificates?'

But CBG makes no assertions about the two being the same person; there is, in fact, evidence to suggest that Richard Koos exists and is associated with the address, as well. CBG's question relates to Comic-Keys' statement that he doesn't 'know from Dupcak,' something contradicted by the public records.

Comic-Keys said someone must have 'changed figures and facts' in the various databases. 'Thank you for the heads up on the database records being altered to fit the needs of whoever hacked it. I'll now start with the DMV [Department of Motor Vehicles] and make the necessary changes for complete accuracy.'

In a later message, Comic-Keys moderated his tone: 'Please don't get me wrong if I seemed harsh in my answer. I shoot straight from the hip. Speak my mind. You must realize that I am questioned needlessly, every day on this subject, and at times it is as tiresome as it is non-pertinent. Because folks have this innate hatred for Daniel Dupcak, they want to believe so badly that he is me, to give them a platform for venting their rage, that I must bear the brunt of their resentment.'

He acknowledged that he had posted on the CGC forum and that he had sold comic books as unrestored that later proved to have been restored.

'I've been credited with so many things that are untrue,' he wrote. 'Yes, I've auctioned books as unrestored that were returned purple-top [restored] from CGC. Who hasn't as a raw seller? But I am credited with things that I read about that I have no idea are about me. Then as I am reading, I see that they are talking about me, and I say to myself, 'What are they talking about? I never sold that book.' '

Transparency. Whatever the complete truth is about Comic-Keys and Daniel Dupcak, one thing the controversy does illustrate is the importance of information ' and that the option of Private Feedback on eBay makes it more difficult for consumers to find that information.

All public conversations about this and all Private Feedback auctioners by customers have to go on in outside forums ' simply because the information could not be readily seen on eBay's feedback page.

'Face it,' Comic-Keys wrote. 'If I did just 10% of what I was accused of, my feedback wouldn't be 1050-4, and those negatives have nothing to do with restoration. Slow shipment, and two from a seller that stiffed me and retaliated with negatives after I negged him.'

But, as long as the content of those comments, good and bad, cannot be seen without the editing of the dealer, this ' and any other Private Feedback-using dealer ' may pose more questions about his business than he or she intends to.

Behind the veil

Private Feedback can make buyers pause

Feedback. It's at the heart of what has made eBay work to the tune of billions of dollars a year. Any person looking to bid on an item can quickly see, not only what has been said about a dealer in the past, but what the dealer has said in response.

If a past complaint against a particular dealer seems out of the norm, the eBay user can cross-reference the complainer's past comments about others. That makes it easy to tell a crank from a person with a real problem.

And public feedback, combined with public auctions, helps eBay members ask each other questions about a dealer. Any winner of a public auction can be contacted through eBay's 'Ask a Member a Question' feature.

The Internet auction service offers vendors the opportunity to run 'private auctions,' and many do. Private Auctions shield the names of bidders ' but not their feedback ' from public scrutiny. eBay Senior Corporate Communications Manager Hani Durzy told CBG that Private Auctions are often 'used for high-value auctions where the seller knows that the bidders do not want people to know that they are capable of bidding these really high dollar values.' Other times, he said, dealers fear that competitors will cherry-pick their bidders lists and make their auctions private.

But what's less well known is that eBay has offered for years the ability to make feedback private, too. On the dealer's feedback page, eBay simply publishes a net feedback number representing plaudits minus complaints, as well as the percentage of positive comments, but does not show any of the comments, positive or negative. The number does not appear with the dealer's handle elsewhere in eBay, so it poses something of a promotional handicap.

One-sided stories. Choosing to have Private Feedback must be 'an allor- nothing proposition' for a member, Durzy said. 'It doesn't allow them to keep their feedback number private and it doesn't allow them to privatize only certain feedbacks and not others,' he said.

But it does leave the dealer free to characterize his or her negative comments in any way he or she chooses ' as has happened in the case of more than one comics dealer.

In his text description for a Sub-Mariner Comics #7 auction that ended Jan. 14, 'kwm333,' an occasional seller of Golden Age comics based in New York City, describes his sole negative comment as having been made by a dealer 'with multiple mail fraud claims, an ongoing Attorney General's investigation, and massive negative feedback. I'm still waiting for an item purchased more than a year ago!' But the actual feedback comments left for 'kwm333' are private and cannot be seen.

And all recent auctions by 'Comic-Keys,' whose alleged connection with fraud convict Daniel Dupcak is explored by CBG on page 36, contain boiler-plate copy about his feedback: 'Two negatives are entirely retaliatory in nature and were received by me immediately after leaving negative feedback for sellers whom I paid yet never received any merchandise from. Details by request.'

eBay on Private Feedback. Durzy told CBG that Private Feedback has been a part of the site since the early days of eBay.

'The genesis of it was as most things happen on eBay,' he said. 'The community came to us and said that they would like to have the option to make their feedback private. It is a choice that we offer all community members. They can do it when they register, turn it on and off, and more.'

Why would some sellers or buyers keep their feedback private? 'It could be that they have several negative comments and they want to privatize it,' Durzy said. 'It could be that they are overreacting to the occasional negative comment and want to see what happens when they privatize their feedback.'

But Durzy added that eBay's community has proven that feedback is self-regulating and that there are consequences to making your feedback private.

'What our community tells us is that they are wary about bidding on auctions from a seller with privatized feedback. If you are a seller, the consequence is a decrease in bidding activity,' he said.

'Feedback is such an important part of the trading experience on the site, and, if bidders can't see what other buyers have said about a seller and vice versa, they will be tempted to not bid or accept that bid. The community makes the decision. That is why we give the opportunity to 'unprivatize' feedback.'

Durzy said feedback is a means to an end. 'It is a means to make people feel comfortable about doing transactions with each other and a means to make people feel good about their experiences.'

Private Feedback ' from dealers who use it. While a number of general collectibles dealers, small and large, use eBay's Private Feedback option ' one of the biggest is Disney Auctions, which sells under the 'Disneyauctionears' handle ' it's difficult to find many individuals in the comics community who use it.

The comics dealer 'kwm333,' mentioned earlier, told CBG two factors had caused him to switch his feedback page from public to private.

'I was receiving death threats (seriously, alas) from a notoriously unscrupulous dealer from my home state who had recently fixed a high-end Golden Age key auction and whom I vigorously investigated and brought to eBay's attention. Needless to say, he was not pleased,' the Manhattanbased dealer said. 'At any rate, I thought it best to shield anyone I'd dealt with from any possible further misbehavior on his part.'

Also, he said, 'I was receiving (almost worse than the death threats!) a slew of unsolicited e-mails from all manner of individuals offering to sell me various books, from Golden Age key issues to Silver Age garbage to coverless Mads from the 1980s. And, based on the type of books they were offering, I could only conclude that they'd scanned my feedback and decided (except in the case of the Mads!) that I'd be a likely target/buyer for what were sometimes very questionable offers. I got tired of this, and, newly conscious of how open my eBay purchases/history were to anyone who might choose to scan my feedback, I decided to shift over to the private option.'

As far as how it affects buyer trust, the auctioner said, 'I've never received a negative from a buyer, and my relationships with other eBay members ' whether selling to, or buying from, them ' has been about 99.9% great.' Again, as on his auction pages, 'kwm333' attributed his sole negative comment to someone he believes to be a dishonest seller.

'I guess the last question I should address is whether I feel my Private Feedback discourages otherwise-interested bidders from participating in my auctions, and (I think) the answer is no,' he said. 'Other than a Golden Age Harvey wartime book seriously overgraded by CGC (they said it was a VF, but it had a 2-inch tear on the back cover!), I've always been able to sell books at or above guide when unrestored and, when restored, within the (very confusing) equations of value established by Overstreet in both the price and grading guides.'

A response about Private Feedback also came from 'Comic-Keys'; many of his comments about his reasons for using Private Feedback appear in the sidebar on page 39[see bottom of page for sidebar].

Private Feedback and the collecting community. The reaction of many collectors to Private Feedback on eBay is surprise that it exists. That's often followed by surprise that it would be allowed to exist, given how antithetical it seems to the open nature of eBay.

Several eBay dealers flatly refuse to do business with anyone whose feedback is private. 'There is no reason for a buyer to have Private Feedback unless they are hiding information,' said Rosemary Davis, owner of on eBay. 'I do not wish to deal with people who are hiding things. eBay is too anonymous already as it is ' why hide your past dealings on eBay? From my past experiences, people with Private Feedback have a large amount of negatives.'

The dealer who sells as 'Comicmanshipper' said people using Private Feedback had placed bids and not followed through on the sale. 'In many cases, I was e-mailed by other sellers telling me that they left the bidder a negative feedback for never paying for their auction, which is why the bidder made his feedback private.'

Comics Guaranty LLC (CGC) Primary Grader Steve Borock said he advises all novice eBay bidders to avoid both Private Auctions and auctions with Private Feedback.

'Those are huge danger signs,' he said, 'not that there can't be private auctions or Private Feedback for legitimate reasons. A legitimate reason for a Private Auction is that, if someone has a vendetta against someone else, he can't e-mail the bidders and say that the seller is a terrible guy.' But that, also, 'is one of the reasons that thieves use it,' Borock said.

Borock said that he has bought and sold comic-book art on eBay but has never seen the need to keep information private, 'even though there might be people out there who hate me solely because I work for CGC.'

The future of Private Feedback. Asked whether any of eBay's members had campaigned to get the Private Feedback option removed, Durzy said he was sure that 'at some point, somewhere, a request like that has come through the community message boards.

'What we have found is that we would rather be able to offer the option to the community and let them choose whether they want to privatize their feedback or not. If they choose it, what we have been told by them is that there really is no benefit to it. If someone chooses to privatize their feedback as a seller, what they will see is that it would tend to decrease bidding activity.'

Asked whether he, himself, would bid on an item offered by someone whose feedback was private, Durzy paused for several seconds. He finally responded, 'I would have some questions for the seller, if I found an item that was being sold by a person with Private Feedback, and would be slightly more wary.'

Private feedback: The official eBay line

While eBay makes it possible for users to hide the feedback they receive, it encourages its users to keep that information public.

'Your feedback profile is a valuable asset on eBay,' the company writes in its policies. 'Making your feedback profile public generates trust and increases the likelihood that other eBay members will do business with you. After all, you'd probably want to see another member's feedback profile before you bought from them.'

The firm warns users that, 'by making your feedback profile private, you may be decreasing other eBay participants' desire to conduct business with you. Please also note that while the text of the comments will be private, other members will still be able to see the number of positive, neutral and negative comments on your account.' Unlike its practice with the vast majority of users whose feedback is public, eBay does not print the 'net' feedback number next to a Private Feedback user's name.

Why does eBay permit the practice at all? The policy statement continues, 'eBay extends this option to members in part because we don't edit or alter feedback once it has been left. Comments are only eligible for removal per our Feedback Removal Policy.'

eBay offers methods of recourse

Whatever feedback option a dealer chooses, how does eBay handle a seller who is selling things not as decribed?

'It is a case-by-case situation,' said Hani Durzy, eBay senior corporate communications manager. 'First and foremost, what we would hope is that the buyer and seller would be communicating all through the process and would work out a resolution that is satisfactory to both parties.

'One thing we now offer is an enhanced PayPal buyer protection program. It is a benefit to sellers. If you are a seller of a certain level, you can offer PayPal buyer protection for up to $500. That is great peace of mind for any buyer, because a buyer can take advantage of that if the object they get happens to violate what they had expected.

'There are steps that we have put in place that are intended to limit that in the first place. If the two parties cannot work out a resolution, then there are processes in place where eBay will investigate and make a decision on what to do with the seller depending on what is discovered. It really is settled on a caseby- case basis.

'We will remove feedback, but only under very specific criteria. That is clearly stated on the site within the feedback policy page.'

Comic-Keys on why his feedback is kept private

In a January e-mail interview with CBG, 'Comic-Keys,' giving his name as Richard Koos, wrote about his reasons for keeping his feedback private.

'I think everyone who auctions expensive items on eBay gets their fair share of spam mails,' he wrote. 'My feedback was 400-0 when I decided to make it private. Even now, my feedback numbers are visible (1043-4), even though the comments and winners/bidders identities are shielded.

'First off, in my behalf, let me comment that I feel that I am unique on eBay,' he wrote. 'My feedback record is comprised of entirely raw and slabbed Silver Age comics (95%+ raw!) in high grade. Also, the average auction item I transact is well over $1,000, with many sales above $10,000. I do so while maintaining a Power-Seller status and SquareTrade membership.'

(An eBay partner, SquareTrade is a dispute-resolution service that mediates on behalf of member dealers who pay a $75 annual fee. SquareTrade maintains a page on its site for member dealers listing their addresses and attesting that they are who they say they are. Power Seller status is made available by eBay to dealers who: are active sellers for at least 90 days; run sales grossing at least $1,000 monthly; maintain a minimum feedback rating of 100 with a 98% positive rating; and 'uphold the eBay community values, including honesty, timeliness, and mutual respect.')

'Comic-Keys' wrote to CBG that his auctions and feedback were initially made private due to a winner of an auction receiving incessant spam mails from someone offering him comics at ridiculously low prices. 'He had asked numerous times for the spammer to cease and desist. He didn't. This went on for a while, and he stopped asking for the spammer to stop.

'The spammer became abusive and one week later sent a profane message along with a picture of two men engaging in a sex act that his 9-year-old child accessed accidentally, thinking it an e-mail from his cyber buddy! The spammer was using an off-shore anonymizer service. At that point, I made all auctions and feedback private. I feel it hasn't hurt me one bit.'

The dealer added that many of his 'high-rollers' enjoy their anonymity. 'Also, the Private Auctions protect the item from nonsense bids. With a private auction, there is absolutely no reason on Earth to bid on an item unless you really want it!

'Think of it this way,' he wrote. 'Heritage, a company that lets its employees bid, runs private auctions. I don't think it hurts them one bit. Sotheby's, Christie's, Mastronet, etc. ' these are all private auctions. Sure, there's bidders in the room that you can see, but do you really know who's on the phone bidding against you?

'Every store of quality merchandise that I can think of, from jewelry to Ferrari dealerships, does not make public their buyer's identity and information.

'I see nothing wrong with privacy in retail. The numbers of positive and negative are always there for review, anyway. Considering that I'm selling expensive, super-high-grade items that are not slabbed, and to some buyers that are very hard to please where grading is very subjective individual to individual, my record is incredible!'

CGC: No such thing as Eastern Color File copies

The Eastern Color Printing Company worked as both a publisher of comics and a printer of comics in the Golden Age and after. Its own titles included Famous Funnies, the first regularly published comic book, with editorial offices in New York City. Ron Goulart, in Comic Book Culture, wrote that Stephen A. Douglas was Eastern's working editor and production manager, editing nearly three dozen other titles for the company over the years.

But it's the titles that Eastern Color distributed that gained public attention years ago, when Daniel Dupcak, operating as Fantazia in Hartsdale, N.Y., advertised the discovery of 'Eastern File Copies.'

'Eastern did the printing for over 50 comic companies (Atlas, Marvel, DC, Archie, Harvey, Fiction House, etc.) at these facilities between 1951 and approximately 1970.' Eastern stamped in-house copies with date stamps identifying these comics as 'Eastern Specimens,' he wrote.

'The books are, in 99% of the cases the absolute finest available specimen. ' Most are unimprovable, and like Mile Highs, are infectious to the conditionconscious 'Mint Freak.' ' In his final ad in CBG, Dupcak offered such copies of Fantastic Four #1 for $10,000 and $8,000 each.

CGC Primary Grader Steve Borock told CBG in no uncertain terms: There's no such thing as an Eastern file copy. 'We learned this from research years before CGC,' he said, 'Publishers said that Eastern didn't keep file copies but, even if they did, they didn't stamp them. That stamp is not legitimate.'

Borock said that CGC has seen a few hundred of the copies in the last four years. 'Somebody would take these books, trim them, color-touch them, and then stamp, usually on the first page, 'Eastern Color File Copy,' with a fake signature on it. They were touted as file copies to people who had no knowledge. Basically, whoever was doing this was just a thief.'

Borock said that most of the fake Eastern file copies are Marvel comics, with some DCs. 'All are trimmed or color touched, mostly with stamps with a fake signature and a fake date. It is not where the comic book was printed. Whoever was stamping these just made up a fake stamp that said Eastern.'

Borock said CGC has not seen a Golden Age comic book stamped as an Eastern File copy. 'We have seen Amazing Spider-Man, Journey into Mystery, Metal Men, etc. Whoever was doing this was just greedy and they were able to trim the comic books really easily. They trimmed them to make them look as if they were in maximum condition when owned by the printer.'

When CGC sees a comic book stamped as an Eastern File Copy now, the issue gets a 'Restored' grade. 'The bottom line is that they are trimmed and color-touched, which would get a 'Restored' label,' Borock said.

'There was also a find from an Eastern warehouse of just covers, and people for years have been taking the covers off really beat books and putting these beautiful covers onto these really horrible interiors. It is usually fairly obvious, especially if it wasn't done well. It didn't behoove anybody to take the cover off a Mint comic book and put another Mint cover back on; it was usually old beaters.'

Borock was unequivocal about claims to non-existent pedigrees: 'This is a scam. The story goes along with the book. They can say, 'Hey, you wouldn't believe who owned this. It might have been Kirby's copy.' People love a story.'