I’ve seen a recent uptick in obvious margin trading scams in Jita lately; this is pretty typical for the period shortly before/after an expansion hits, due to the increase in market activity. Let’s explain how these scams work!
As you can probably guess from the name, it’s based on the Margin Trading skill, one of the most useful skills in the Trade category. Let’s start by discussing how this skill affects market orders:
- With Margin Trading untrained, when you put up a buy order for an item at X isk, the game immediately removes that X isk from your wallet, and puts it in a “market escrow” account. When the market matches a seller with your buy order, it transfers the X isk from market escrow to the seller, and the item goes directly to your inventory.
- With Margin Trading trained to 1: When you put up a buy order for an item at X isk, the game removes 75% of X from your wallet, and puts that fraction into the market escrow account. You keep the remaining 25%, for now. When the market matches a seller with your buy order, the game checks to see if you still have the remaining 25% of X in your wallet:
- If you have at least 25% of X in your wallet, it removes that 25%, and adds it to the 75% in the market escrow. The seller gets X isk total, and you get the item.
- However, if you don’t have that 25% of X in your wallet, then the trade is canceled. The seller keeps the item, and receives no money. Your buy order is removed from the market, and you forfeit any market fees you paid to create the buy order. The 75% that was put in market escrow is returned to your wallet.
- With Margin Trading trained to 5, it takes it to an extreme: The market forces you to put 24% of X in market escrow, and takes out the remaining 76% from your wallet when the buy order is filled.
Now, what happens when you have Margin Trading and you put up a buy order for multiple copies of an item? It’ll put the amount for 24% of the complete order (X items * Y isk/item) in escrow. Players can sell to that order in smaller increments; for each sale, it’ll use the market escrow account to pay the full amount for each sale it makes, up until the market escrow is empty. Once the market escrow is empty, further sales will try to source the full isk for each sale from your wallet, canceling the order if your wallet’s empty.
This feature becomes important when you combine it with a feature of Eve’s market: When you create a buy order for an item with a quantity of more than one, you can set a minimum quantity. Players wanting to fill the order have to deliver it at least Y items at a time.
Now, let’s discuss how to scam using this skill!
The basic Margin Trading Scam uses two characters — let’s call them the Supplier and the Purchaser. The Purchaser character needs to have Margin Trading trained to 5, obviously; the Supplier has no specific requirements, although having the Trade skills trained up and good standings helps. Here’s the steps:
- Pick an item to do this on. You’re looking for the following characteristics:
- Not much market activity on it — or something you can afford to buy out
- The item needs to be easy to stockpile.
- The existing market activity on it doesn’t have any large-quantity sell orders (>= 200 units)
- Stockpile 500 of that item on the Supplier, as cheaply as possible. (If it’s a slow/cheap enough market, you can just buy out the market. I did a video guide to this for an alliance once; when I did it, I used a meta-3 passive targeter for my example, and I was able to buy out every copy of that item in Jita, Rens, Amarr, and Dodixie for less than 10M isk.)
- On the Purchaser, you place a buy order for 1,000 of these items at some ridiculous above-market price (say, 20 times the current price). Set the minimum quantity to 240 units. When you put up the buy order, it will remove 24% of the isk needed to fill that entire order from the Purchaser’s wallet. IMMEDIATELY transfer all of the isk in the Purchaser’s wallet to the Supplier.
- Using the Supplier, you sell 240 units to the Purchaser’s buy order. This will empty out the Purchaser’s escrow; the buy order should stay up (now asking for 760 units), and 240 of Supplier’s items will be handed to the Purchaser. Trade these back to the Supplier.
- Using the Supplier, you now create sell orders for the 1000 items, at a price that’s significantly above the market average. You want to stagger it out, and make it look like some people were competing for price at some point. Only do 20-50 units at a time, so that they have to buy from a bunch of different sell orders to make the 230-unit minimum. Set varying amounts that are somewhat believable — say, 100ish at roughly market price, 50 at a bit above market, 50 at twice the market price, 20 at five times the market price, and so on. Make it look like there’s actually some competition in this market, plus maybe some guys looking for a typo by having a few items at ten times the item’s value… you get the idea.
- Go around, advertising in various channels, that the Purchaser must have been playing while drunk, and put an extra zero in their buy order.
Eventually, a mark is going to stumble across your advertising, looks at the market, and exclaim: “Holy shit, they did put in an extra zero… I should abuse their mistake!” The mark buys all of Supplier’s items, bundling them together in order to make the 230-unit minimum, and promptly tries to sell it to the Purchaser. The game tries to complete the sale, but the Purchaser has no isk in the wallet to finish the escrow; the sale fails, and the buy order disappears from the market.
The scam is now complete: The Supplier has just divested themselves of their inventory at a huge markup over the market price, and the Purchaser has lost only a tiny market fee. In some cases, the mark may not have even realized what happened; they might think that the buyer had logged on and fixed their mistake at the last second.
(Note that the minimum quantity isn’t even technically necessary to make the scam work; it’s a safety measure to prevent someone from cancelling your order prematurely by selling you 1-2 items that they had spare. The profit in this scam is primarily from getting a mark to buy from your overpriced sell orders, so it’s useful if your buy order stays up for as long as possible.)
There’s some improvements that you can do on this scam to make it less obvious, certainly. In particular, picking more random numbers for your buy orders is useful, as long as you remember the magic number of 24% in market escrow. Putting sale orders in another station, or using Item Exchange contracts instead of sale orders, helps as well. There’s also quite a few supplements you can add to this scam. Two of my favorite add-ons/variants:
- Have the Supplier set up a buy order for the item at well below the market price. If the mark isn’t paying attention (or isn’t aware of the underlying mechanics), they might chalk it up to lag, and try to sell the items a second time, when the first buy order disappears. If it matches their sale with the lower buy order and they accidentally click OK without noticing, then you’ve doubled your profit: not only did you sell some trash to a mark at an above-market value, but you then bought the trash back from them at below market value.
- Have the Purchaser put up a buy order at Jita for some obscure, rare module — Officer mods are ideal — at an absurdly high price. Empty the Purchaser’s wallet; then, take a ship, fit that module to it, and put it up on contract at a “firesale price” that is still far more than the mod’s worth. The mark buys the ship off contracts in the hopes of stripping it and selling your mod to your buy order… only to find that your buy order fails.
So, given that this type of scamming exists, do I think that Margin Trading should be removed? Nope. Margin Trading has an absolute boatload of legitimate uses; it’s responsible for a large amount of the depth in market PvP today. In particular, it allows you to do a huge amount of arbitrage on a limited nest egg, and is responsible for a lot of the “I turned my newbie 1M isk into 1B isk through trading” success stories in Eve. It wouldn’t hurt to add a warning or indicator, but the skill’s fundamental mechanic is great, and should be left in the game. (And besides, how often is it that you get a significant game-changing benefit out of a long skill train?)
That said, if you take nothing else away from this post, it should be this: If you see a item with low volume and an absurd-looking sell order with a minimum quantity, it’s almost certainly a scam. Remember, TANSTAAFL. If you’re thinking “I’m going to make some free cash by exploiting this player’s stupid mistake,” you’re probably making a stupid mistake of your own.
(PS: Believe it or not, the Margin Trading skill actually reduced the amount of scamming when it was released; in beta, there was no escrow at all, and ISK was only removed at time of trade execution.)