Online Auction Tips

Online auctions offer a convenient way not only for consumers to find, buy, and sell a wide variety of items online, but also for scam artist to prey on consumers. Consumers should be aware of the problems that can arise if they do not exercise the same caution they apply to physical world transactions.

Consider the following points when participating in auctions online:

  • Most online auction houses only act as intermediaries between buyers and sellers during the bidding process and do not get involved in arranging for shipment and payment. Participating in such auctions brings greater risks because the auction houses will usually deny any responsibility should the transaction goes awry.

  • Online auction houses often will not resolve disputes. Consider using an escrow service.

  • Keep copies of advertisements, descriptions, or auction site printouts for any product you purchase.

  • Keep copies of any correspondence you have with a buyer or seller (including email).

  • Whenever possible, consumers should pay for their purchases by credit card, which offers additional protection in case of a dispute. If that is not an option, consumers should request that the goods be sent C.O.D. and should make payment by personal check or money order, which is easier to trace than cash or a cashiers check. Consider using an "e-cash" payment system, which may offer protections against fraud.

  • Consumers should do some homework before making a purchase. Check out the seller:
    • Check the "feedback" areas of online auction sites; often they are a good source for learning about other buyers' past experience with a seller.
    • If the seller is a business, check with the Better Business Bureau near the seller for any complaints.
    • If the product is being offered by an individual, obtain and verify real world information (such as name, address and telephone number) with the seller's local telephone company. Also, it may be a good idea to establish verbal contact with the seller prior to agreeing to purchase.
Because the Internet Bureau cannot mediate private disputes, we are unable to get involved when a consumer has an internet related problem with another individual. Consumers with this type of online auction issue may wish to discuss this matter with a private attorney. This office cannot represent individual consumers in court or give individual legal advice.
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