Use other people's spelling mistakes to snap up a bargain

How typos can save you a fortune on eBay

Updated: 

AM6K5F keyboard with the letters of the word ebay on it

Canny online auction buyers are saving themselves a fortune by bidding on items most users never see. The reason? Because the person placing the listing has made a mistake.

When buyers search, for example, on 'Nintendo Wii', for example, a listing labelled 'Nintedo' won't appear. Searching for a few spelling variants of common items can throw up items with few or no bids.


Doing all this yourself can be pretty time consuming. But there are several websites that take the hard work out of it by automating the process. One such is Fat Fingers.

"FatFingers.com was an idea that I had whilst looking for a mountain bike on eBay. I noticed a seller buying items cheaply that had been misspelled and then reselling them at a profit," says founder Mike Sheard. "I wrote a small bit of code to automatically generate some misspellings of mountain bike and found lots of results. So I turned it into a website for everyone to use."

The site shows listings from other countries, as well as the UK: right now, for instance, there's a sapphire and 'strling silver' ring available that has a current bid of just over one dollar - plus $6.99 for international shipping.

But there are several other sites offering a similar service. Missing Auctions, one of the largest, has a particularly easy-to-use interface. Others include Typozay and Auctionbloopers.

Some people - like the vendor that inspired Mike Sheard - even make a living by buying such items and reselling them at a profit, a business known as eBay arbitrage.

It's important to check the vendor feedback before snapping up a misspelled bargain. As with offers of Nigerian wealth, misspellings can sometimes be a sign of a dodgy vendor. But be wary of relying on ratings alone: as eBay points out, high ratings can sometimes be easily bought.

"Check what the feedback was for - if they've bought twelve postcards for 10p, or twelve 1 cent ebooks at auction, they will have a positive rating of 12 for as little as 6 pence cost to themselves," it points out. One positive feedback buying a high-value item is better than 50 bought this way."

Be wary of items in a one-day auction, or where a stock photo is used.

Some categories are particularly dangerous - particularly mobile phones. If the phone comes without a box or charger be careful - and if the listing says it's blocked, run a mile: it's almost certainly stolen.