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Maybe you'd bid for some tchotchke on eBay (EBAY), but you're worried about seller fraud. Now, Hartford Financial Services Group (HIG) and buySAFE, an Alexandria (Va.) startup, think they can make money by assuaging those fears. They've created a buyer protection plan for eBay auctions.

It works like this: Sellers fill out an online questionnaire, and buySAFE confirms their identities and assesses their financial stability and credibility. Sellers must also have a 98% positive feedback score from previous buyers as well as do $1,000 per month in eBay sales to get approval and use the buySAFE logo. The seller then pays buySAFE 1% of each item's sale price. "It's a reputation builder that can give you an edge," says Carolyn Berens, who sells collectible toys on eBay.

Plenty of other sellers think the same thing. Since the November launch, there have been about 6,500 buySAFE-bonded transactions on eBay, ranging from a $2.50 Henry Kissinger wristwatch to an $8,900 first edition of Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are. Chris Lahiji is tired of being mocked. After making headlines in this publication (BW -- Apr. 21) and others for reading thousands of annual reports and creating a virtual mutual fund at the tender age of 19, he recently scored a job as a portfolio manager of the Frontier Equity Fund (FEEPX) in Hartland, Wis. But that hasn't stopped the ribbing. "One guy I met at a conference was making fun of the fact that I can't even legally drink, and I manage people's money," says Lahiji, now 20.

Lahiji wants to be judged on his performance, not his age. So far, so good. Since he took over the small-cap fund in September, it has gained 19.2%, handily outpacing the 12.1% return of the Russell 2000 index of small stocks. Still, the fund's expense ratio is a stiff 5% of assets, down from an ungodly 44% last year. Lahiji agreed not to take a salary until the expenses come down even more. He's hoping that his returns and his connections with some wealthy families in his hometown of Santa Monica, Calif., will draw cash to the $1.1 million fund. His own family invested $94,000.

Lahiji's success so far might be dumb luck. Consider this: According to statisticians, it takes about 70 years to verify that a manager's performance is attributable to skill, not luck. Lahiji just may live long enough to prove he's not kidding around. The men's TEC (for Technology Enabled Clothing) Sport Jacket has 14 hidden pockets to accommodate a cell phone, PDA, digital camera, MP3 player, and ear buds (with channels to hide their wires), a small laptop, and more -- even the pockets have pockets. If you wear it fully loaded, you can probably skip the gym. Yet the three-button, no-vent styling looks up-to-date. The lightweight 50% wool, 50% polyester fabric has a nice feel and doesn't rumple -- our sample traveled several days in a mail bag. (In navy, even sizes 36 to 48 regular and 40 to 48 tall, $250 at scottevest.com.)


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