Is Someone Gaming Warren Buffett's Charity Auction?

Bids jumped north of $2 million in less than 24 hours, which is weird

This article is from the archive of our partner .

Warren Buffett's annual lunch auction already resembles a high stakes game of chicken between two eBay users. In less than 24-hours, user o***r and s***l ratcheted up the price of lunch for eight with the investment wizard at Smith and Wollensky to $2,000,111.00. (The stars indicate confidential user names as mandated by the auction's terms and conditions.) The proceeds of the auction go to the Glide Foundation, a non-profit serving victims of poverty in the San Francisco Bay Area.

In past years, the price of sharing a steak with Warren Buffett soared well above those on the restaurant's menu. Last year, the auction closed at $2.6 million--a healthy chunch of Glide's $17 million operating budget--but this year's quick jump is unprecedented. The opening bid of $25,000 placed by o***r less than an hour after the auction began at 7:30 Sunday night, jumped to $100,000 with a bid from s***l an hour later that was immediately outdone by o***r previously placed to $1 million maximum bid. The pattern could mean one of two things. Either bidder o***r really wants to have lunch with Warren Buffett, and GLIDE will reap more than usual. It also seems possible that bidder o***r might just be gaming the price up, a practice known as "shill bidding."

As past lunches with Buffett have been the most expensive charity auctions on eBay, the level of security on the auction is maxed out. Prospective bidders must pre-qualify before they're able to submit bids, and shill bidding is strictly prohibited. It's unclear exactly how deep the bid approval process goes; according to the online form only an address, telephone number and eBay username are required to apply. And the company administering the auction sounds serious about how they'll "treat cheaters, saying they reserve the right to seek remedies and damages to the fullest extent permitted by law against non paying bidders or any individual who compromises the integrity, proper conduct and/or reputation of this auction event by placing fraudulent bids or any type of activity that may be harmful and detrimental to the outcome of this auction."

There would be little reason to cheat one's way into the lunch, except for the love of charity. The winner who shells out millions is forbidden from broaching one topic: what Buffett plans to invest in next.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.