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Auctions Online

Mr. Modem’s Top Ten Tips for Online Auction Safety

1. Understand how the auction works and what you’re bidding on. Some sites just list items for sale without verifying that the merchandise exists or is described accurately. If there is anything in an item description that gives you the heebie-jeebies, ask questions and keep asking questions until you’re satisfied with the answers you receive or you decide to walk away.

2. Check out the seller. Look for a “feedback” section on the site with comments about the seller from other purchasers. Remember, though, that comments might be planted by the seller. The Better Business Bureau Online may have additional information. Listen to your own inner voice: If you’re the least bit suspicious, don’t buy.

3. Get the name and contact information of the other party to your transaction. The name, street address (not P.O. box) and/or telephone number can be helpful in checking somebody out or following up if you experience a problem. If a seller refuses to provide that information, don’t purchase from them.

4. Don’t assume all claims about merchandise or value are true or that photographs are accurate. Print out and save descriptions and any photos to document any claims made.

5. Document delivery, returns, warranties and service before paying. Get a commitment for a definite delivery time and insist that the shipment is insured. Print out a copy of or otherwise document the return policy and any warranties that may apply.

6. Pay by credit card if at all possible. Never send cash. Ever. Paying by credit card allows purchasers to dispute a charge if the merchandise fails to meet representations.

7. Use an escrow service. For a small fee, an escrow service will hold the buyer’s payment and only sends it to the seller upon the buyer’s receipt and approval of the item purchased.

8. Look for insurance information. Some auction sites provide insurance for buyers up to a certain amount. Other sites provide links to third-party insurance programs available. Read the terms of any insurance policy carefully. Specific limitations and restrictions usually apply. Both and eBay offer free bidder insurance up to $250, and they make third-party escrow services easily available.

9. Report any problems immediately. If difficulties occur, notify the auction site. Sites want to know about sellers who don’t deliver or misrepresent their merchandise.

10. Use common sense and be informed! Getting caught up in an auction buying frenzy is easy to do. So be sure you really, really want that lava lamp before bidding. Know something about what you're bidding on, or get help
from someone who does.

To paraphrase an old adage applicable to today’s online auctions: You make your bid, you lie in it.

What to Do if a Problem Arises

It’s easy to let your mind run wild and believe that fraud abounds in online auctions, but that isn’t the case at all. The reality is that the majority of sellers and buyers are honest people who deliver on their promises. According to eBay, only one auction in 40,000 ends with a reported case of confirmed fraud. So be careful, but don’t be paranoid.

If you decide to ignore my advice and elect not to use an escrow service, if you wind up getting burned or even scorched by a seller who vaporizes after receiving your money, all is not lost. There are a number of things you can do.

1. First, contact your bank or financial institution to determine if your cashier’s check or money order has been cashed. Ask your financial institution what options are available to you if the check has not been negotiated.

2. Notify the seller by e-mail and certified (return receipt requested) snail mail that you’re going to pursue this with the appropriate legal authorities if he doesn’t return your money by a given date and time.

3. Report the incident to the auction site. Provide names, dates, your auction number, and any relevant information you have within your possession.

4. If your transaction took place via U.S. Mail, go to your local post office and fill out a mail fraud form and request an investigation.

5. Report the incident to the National Fraud Information Center at and the Federal Trade Commission at

6. File a complaint with your state attorney general’s office.

7. If your local newspaper or media has a “Consumer Advocate” who investigates cases of consumer fraud, be sure to explore this avenue, as well.

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Top Ten Online Auction Scams

According to the Federal Trade Commission, the top ten online auction scams are:

1. Misrepresentation. Simply stated, the goods purchased are not what they were represented to be. Value, authenticity or the condition of an item may be overstated.

2. Non-delivery. The merchant takes your money and the goods never arrive.

3. Failure to pay. Using fake money orders, bounced checks, stolen credit cards, etc., the buyer obtains the goods and leaves the merchant holding the empty bag.

4. Shilling. Artificially inflating the price of an item through the use of phony bids from fictitious user IDs to drive up the price.

5. Bid shielding: Phony users run up the bids to scare off potential buyers. The actual bidder then retracts the higher bids, getting the item at a much lower price than he would have otherwise.

6. Piracy and counterfeiting: The sale of pirated music and software or counterfeit art, fake jewelry or gems, and forged collectibles.

7. Digital fencing: Selling stolen merchandise online.

8. The old buy-and-switcheroo. The buyer gets the merchandise and returns a similar item that has been damaged (or a fake) with the claim, "It isn't what I expected." The seller refunds their money, and is left with broken and or phony product.

9. Fee stacking: Fees, usually related to shipping costs, are added to the cost after the sale has been made.

10. Shell auctions: No merchandise exists. The sole purpose of the auction is to get money or credit card numbers from unwary buyers.

Online Auction Web Sites
Yes, the renowned online book retailer has an auction that’s ground zero for used-book sellers. Other categories are also available.

Auctions on the Net
A free service that provides auction information, auction sites, and auction listings. Search for specific types of auctions, view auction sites by categories, find out what’s new and what’s popular in online auctions today.

Auction Oddities
If you've ever visited an auction site and wondered to yourself "Where's all really ugly stuff?" do I have a site for you. This site scours the Web each day for people selling such exquisite little gems as macrame/Fresca-can hats, fighting rooster ashtrays, and paintings of religious figures on scooters. What’s not to like?

Update Pro
Keeping track of several bids placed in multiple auctions on eBay can require a lot of work. This free software can take some of the drudgery out of that process. It provides a single grid from which you can monitor all the eBay auctions you specify.

Action Watch
Provides buyers with tools to manage participation in multiple auctions, tracking bids and merchandise. Sellers can use this service to gain greater exposure for their products.
An auction search engine that helps buyers quickly locate items available in more than 300 online auction sites. Searchable and sortable by category, price range, length of time available.

Listings include auctions, barter, collectibles, escrow, exchanges, price comparisons, shipping, software vendors, trading, wanted, and more.

Disturbing Auctions
Dedicated to the most bizarre items found for sale on Internet auction sites -- truly tacky stuff that people really, honestly, believed that someone would buy. If you’re looking for a Dean Martin Hand Puppet or a “Crap-Throwing Monkey,” this is the site for you!

The leader of the online auction phenomenon. If you can’t find it anywhere else, try eBay. More than 4 million items for sale at any given time, in 4,300 categories. EBay is currently in talks with major U.S. television networks to develop a TV show that would feature auction-style bidding.

Escrow American
Think of these folks as your personal online middleman. Internet auctions and classified ads are a great way to buy or sell goods, this service can provide you with a safe online environment to complete your transactions.Once the buyer has completed their portion of the transaction, this service places the funds in escrow pending delivery and approval of the merchandise.

GoTo Auctions
Browser more than 9 million auction items in more than 400 online auction sites.

Internet Auction List
Links to auctions of every type -- both online and offline.

Strong Numbers
Known as “The Blue Book for Auctions,” here you can locate the current market value of a particular piece of merchandise. It scours auction sites, looking for the price histories of everything from cars and electronics to cameras and collectibles.

Tradenable Escrow Service
For sellers, this service collects funds beforehand so you are guaranteed that funds are available for payment prior to shipping merchandise. For buyers, it’s a great way to ensure you get what you expected. Click the Tradenable icon on a merchant's site, or go to the Tradenable site, register and initiate the transaction.

Named as a Bidder's Edge Trusted Auction site -- an auction site at which buyers can make purchases with confidence. uBid is also an AOL Certified Merchant.

Yahoo! Auctions
Second only to eBay, Yahoo has more than 1 million auctions daily. Well-designed and easy-to-use site.

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