Last year I discovered a horrible and ugly truth about figure-collecting: some people bootleg them. I know; I had the same reaction. Bootleg? I have a bootleg copy of The Last Airbender on DVD, you say (if you’re Abed from Community). There are known bootlegs of popular video games and even the hardware they allegedly run on! But figures? Who would bootleg a piece of PVC plastic? Apparently, it happens, and it’s something I’m now ever-vigilant against. You might say hyper-vigilant, since I’ve stopped using eBay entirely to purchase figures and I tend to shy away from Amazon now. What happened, you might ask? What figure scarred me so deeply that I’ve lost my trust in the internet?

Boa Hancock happened.

I’ve always wanted a good Boa Hancock figure. She’s a character from an anime and manga that I’ve never seen or read called One Piece, but her character design is interesting, and this bikini figure caught my eye the day it was announced. Elegant, busty, curvaceous, I was hooked. Unfortunately, she was also quite expensive, hovering above $100 on Amazon and eBay—which were, at the time, my online stores of choice. I hadn’t yet attempted to order from an import site. Well, much in the way I eventually acquired Mercy, I came across Boa here on a complete eBay lark, and one listing was quite a bit cheaper than the rest—at just $50, Boa appeared to be on sale. If you’re thinking this was too good to be true, you’d eventually be right. I used a $50 Visa gift card I’d just received and bought her, sight unseen and seller uncontacted.

She took forever to arrive. When she finally did, I excitedly opened her box (which appeared legit) and was puzzled by what I found.

While Boa’s sculpt was largely the same as production and review photos I had seen, she just felt off to me. Tiny purple paint splotches dotted her exposed midriff. She wouldn’t fit onto her base. Her face was an ever-so-slightly different shade than the rest of her body, making her appear a bit ghostly, with dead eyes. Most alarmingly, her sculpt was in two pieces: everything from her ribcage up, and everything from her ribcage down. These two pieces were not fit together properly. I didn’t know what happened. It was recycling day, so I’d thrown the box away. I agonized over these bizarre inconsistencies. I had no rationale to explain them away.

I took pictures and sent them to a figure-collecting colleague at Nintendo World Report, Andrew, who informed me that my Boa was a poorly-made bootleg, and that One Piece figures are at a higher risk of attracting bootleggers than most. I was crushed, but he also gave me some excellent tips as to how to avoid this in the future. I contacted the eBay seller and made my accusation: that he had sold me a bootleg figure. He did apologize and refunded almost all my money (I couldn’t return her because the box was long gone, of course). I immediately took Boa down from my dresser. I took a hard look at some of my other figures, too, those that I’d bought on Craigslist. I discovered that my “version” of the Max Factory Kasumi was also a bootleg, for the same reasons (bad paint job, improper molding). Both of these blights were tossed into a “donate” tub and I never saw either one again. Good riddance!

So even though I clearly got lucky with Mercy, this experience with Boa left me cold to eBay, even though I know what to look for thanks to my friend Andrew. I almost gave up internet figure-shopping entirely, and almost a year went by before I decided to dip my toes back in those waters. When I did, those waters were Amazonian, and my quarry was Satellizer el Bridget. That clearly worked out very well, but now new venues have opened to me: MyFigureCollection has become an excellent and potentially singular resource for me, and thanks to Asmodeus, I have successfully ordered a figure from an import proxy site—though we’ll have to wait until February to make sure everything really does work out.

So for those of you new to the hobby, I offer a few tips. First, if you’re using eBay, never go with the low selling point. If a particular listing is significantly cheaper than every other listing, it’s most likely fake. Don’t throw the boxes out, and don’t buy from people who say that all sales are final. Don’t be afraid to pre-order figures when pre-orders become available, even if it’s through a proxy site, because when they hit the secondary market, the price will inflate significantly. If you have to use eBay or Amazon, use Amazon, but be aware that the same paranoia applies, just less so. If you have the motivation, start up an account at MyFigureCollection and keep your eye on the ads section. New figures are being thrown up there every few hours, and there’s a good chance that you’ll find what you’re looking for by doing a search. MFC users tend to sell their wares at or near cost, so you’ll usually be getting a great deal.

There you have it–my tale of woe. I’ve been lucky ever since, having followed these rules. Do any of you have bootleg stories? I’d love to hear them in the comments!