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Online Auctions

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The business of online auctions is booming. There are many Web sites that offer "space" for consumers to auction items of all kinds. Sellers benefit because a "bricks and mortar" store is not required, they can make more than they would with a garage sale or local classified ad and their items are have a worldwide market. Buyers also greatly benefit. The selection and chance to purchase at bargain prices make online auctions attractive to a broad spectrum of consumers.

There are millions of buyers and sellers participating in online auctions, and generally, problems are infrequent. However, to safely bid online:

  • Know the auction rules concerning complaints and disputes.
  • Understand the seller's policies. (If payment is expected in 7 days, you must pay within 7 days.)
  • Be aware of the payment options before you bid. (The seller may require you to use an online payment service.)
  • Check the seller's "feedback" (comments from others who have bought items from him or her).

Online sellers are required to follow federal truth-in-advertising regulations regarding items up for auction.

Is it safe to buy items from a stranger who is auctioning an item I want?

Yes. It is not common for a person to pay for item and never receive it. Online auction sites monitor their sellers (and buyers) and anyone abusing the system is (theoretically) banned from using the site.

TIP: Check the seller's "feedback" (comments from previous buyers) or rating to get an idea of the seller's reputation.

How do I pay for an item I purchased in an online auction?

Payment depends on what the seller specified in the auction listing. The seller may be willing to take a personal check or money order. Some are set up for credit card payments. Most sellers, however, use online payment services set up for auction purchases.

TIP: Always check the fees for using these services. Buyers should typically pay no fees or a nominal amount in order to send a payment.

Who do I complain to about a problem I am having with an online auction?

If your problem is with the seller or buyer, you should make your complaint with the online auction itself. If the auction is not resolving the dispute to your satisfaction, you can contact the FTC and file a complaint online.