How I Sold A Piece Of Paper As A GPU For $1150

How I Sold A Piece Of Paper As A GPU For $1150
Image: Alex Walker (Kotaku Australia)

Earlier this year I sold a piece of paper as a GPU on eBay, and the bids went all the way up to $1150 for what must be the most valuable piece of A4 I’ve ever touched. How did we get here? I’ll take you through the process.

It started with an innocent enough proposition. Around January this year, I felt that my trusty PC could do with an upgrade. My CPU is excellent, but a GTX 1050 Ti just doesn’t get close to cutting it for any AAA release these days. I turned to the obvious places, hoping to snag myself something that would do the equivalent of adding racing stripes to my rig. But instead, what I found was a world filled with nothing but ‘sold out’ signs, and ‘pre-order’ signs.

If I’d paid any attention at all to the tech world I would’ve known what I was in for. But I didn’t, I was naught but a pleb, with a second-hand PC that needed stepping up.

I scoured all of the sources I could find, trying my best to fight against the GPU shortage and find a card that would work in my rig at a price that didn’t make me want to shoot myself in the nuts. It quickly became apparent that I was never going to be able to find anything in a traditional store.

After a solid while of checking back on these sites, it became apparent that I’d have to turn to second-hand, or resellers. I was hesitant, because I’d seen what had happened with PS5’s and Xbox Series X’s at the end of last year, but I’d told myself there’s no way this could be that bad.

I was very, very wrong.

GPU’S on eBay

gpus
A shot of an RTX 3070 listing taken at the time of writing, where the card is marked as the “#1 best selling product” on eBay in the computer graphics & video cards market. The RTX 3070’s original Australian MSRP is $809, but this listing is retailing for $1999, more than double the price. Image: Kotaku Australia

If you pop onto eBay and look up RTX you’ll find every card possible, at absolutely insane prices. This isn’t news at all. But it is incredibly frustrating. The case in point for this has to be the RTX 3060 Ti. A card with a MRP of about $US500 regularly sells on the marketplace for more than $1500.

There’s also a push from people to raise the general price of the cards, as you can see with some absolutely insane listings.

Having a look at the cards on offer, there was a couple of things I was noticing again and again, namely that resellers would bid on other cards. A group of about five accounts popped up at the start of every new listed item and would pretty much instantly double the prices of the listings. At speeds that felt beyond the capabilities of any rational human. I suspected bots.

Looking at ways to confirm my suspicions I put up a listing for a Nvidia 3060 Ti *PAPER EDITION*. I filled it out with the specs of a normal GPU, and put the following as its description:

Image: Supplied

“This ad is an attempt to combat bots, don’t bid if you want the actual card, listing is for an image only, delivered via email as well as A4 print of image sent to physical address,” I wrote.

Feeling this would be enough to ward off any human from bidding, I felt comfortable letting the listing go live. Instantly I was inundated with messages about the listing, some authentic people just asking if I could sell now, and some asking, very earnestly.

Image: Supplied

An excellent question, the answer to which we soon found out was that it’s not illegal, but it is frowned upon.

I was also asked, “Do you even have a 3060 Ti to sell?” which seemed a bit redundant; I’d tried to make it as transparent as possible how this was a fake listing.

Responding honestly to people I hoped would avoid getting any real bids caught in my bot net.

Still, without any doubt, the listing was reported. This didn’t stop a number of bids going on the non-existent 3060ti. A full list of bids can be seen below. This is where I knew I’d found something of real interest where the same names were bidding against themselves. Multiple times in a row.

The fishy smell had turned sour, and was overwhelming me.

gpu
A shot of the bids on the “graphics card” — you can see instances where the same seller has bid multiple times. IDs have been blanked out for legal reasons. Image: Supplied

An important distinction to make: when you put a bid in for an item, you can set a max top bid, and any competitive bids would automatically be overcome by your top price. I thought perhaps this was what had caused these multiple bids to occur. However, digging around it is instantly apparent this is not the case. eBay states “automatic bids will not be included in this list”. So, as far as eBay was letting me know, every one of these bids was a bonafide customer, eager to take my wares.

Image: Supplied

Now, after a tense week, where I honestly felt like I’d be carted away for fraud at any minute, my Paper Edition 3060 Ti sold — for a ridiculous $1150.

This is the exact result intended by the accounts that faked my bids all the way up to 2.1 times the card’s genuine value. All for a piece of paper openly acknowledging it wasn’t the real deal.

The eventual top bidder was a reseller account that never paid, and never responded to my messages about why they bid on the item. A day later, the same account took down a listing for a 3060 Ti with a ‘buy it now’ price set at $1500, marginally higher than what they’d bid in the fake auction I’d run.

I felt vindicated by my experiment, but deeply saddened by the experience. The rotten smell had now become a truly bad taste.

eBay’s Response

I reached out to eBay to ask what they thought about my experiment, and the company redirected me instantly to their policies.

“All listings on eBay.com.au have to offer a physical item or a tangible service. Listings that are blank, or don’t offer a tangible item or service, aren’t allowed because they can cause confusion for buyers and increase the risk of fraud,” eBay said when contacted.

Having a photo of a product broke these rules, and I was told that listings would be removed, and users punished for putting them up. What the punishments entailed exactly, I couldn’t find out. But I never encountered any punishment for my supposedly fraudulent listing.

The main piece of info I received about this whole process was that eBay’s Money Back Guarantee would always ensure that if a wildly different product arrived to the item listing, a buyer could return the item for a full refund. But what happens if that description perfectly matches the item sold? That’s something eBay didn’t cover in our limited interactions.

Another thing that eBay didn’t touch on was the multiple bids, sometimes against themselves, that drove the product price up. All I was told, again, was that ‘automatic bids’ aren’t counted in a bid list. This doesn’t stop the fact that even now you can see the same thing happen on almost every listing for GPUs.

An absolute horde of bids from the same few accounts, which, when you look into them, almost exclusively bid on GPUs or computer components and have next to no rating. They’ll also never win the items they bid for. It’s a deeply frustrating occurrence, but the kind that anyone searching for electronic parts is well accustomed to.

Looking at buying a GPU?

With that experience wrapped, what can you actually do if you want a GPU? The sorry answer, I’m afraid to say, is that short of selling both kidneys for a mid-range graphics card, there isn’t a whole lot to circumvent the shortage.

Nvidia has openly acknowledged that the shortage is only going to continue, superconductors aren’t being made any quicker, and prices for GPUs are only getting higher and higher.

At a time when Nvidia have just announced they made an absolute killing with sales of their crypto-specific cards, this is an absolute punch in the guts to gamers worldwide. A possible solution might exist with AMD cards, which are vastly more competitive these days, and AMD’s FSR might be a DLSS killer for getting your games to look excellent and run well.

If you’re absolutely set on a 30-series RTX GPU, Falcodrin is a Twitch account that runs constant checks for genuine sales and will let you know if they’re vastly overpriced or not. They’ve also managed to do excellent work in sniffing out when the cards will go on sale allowing you to hop in a queue for a hopeful purchase.

But, again, bots will scrape these websites clean of any drops in minutes, so it’s a crapshoot.

If you want an immediate fix, the 3080 Ti and 3070 Ti coming out for sale soon will be your absolute best bet for a reasonable price-to-output ratio if you can find whatever golden shop will sell a 3070 Ti at its $959 MSRP instead of joining the global price hike.

Whatever your solution, short of tearing your hair out, burning your pc, and committing to gaming exclusively on a GameBoy Advance, or playing chess, we wish you the absolute best of luck.


Rian Howlett is a Hong Kong-born Australian writer, comedian and actor whose work has appeared at Man on Many and Happy. You can follow him via Instagram, on Twitch, or add him on Facebook if you’re over 40 and want to 1v1 him in a comments section.