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Consumer Alert: Going Once, Going Twice...Don't Get Sold On Online Auction Scams


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By Rachel Newman

I am an Internet shopper. When I tell you that I spend 3 hours a week shopping or bidding online, you can assume that I am just too embarrassed to admit the truth: which is about 5 hours more than what I previously mentioned.

The Internet is famous for making almost every task effortless for its users. It makes correspondence instant: I can email a pen-pal in Indonesia faster than I could dial a phone. It makes shopping a snap; I can buy a vintage dress off an online auction in less time than it would take me to get in my car to drive to a thrift store. Unfortunately, the internet has also made scamming eager (and unassuming) customers easier than ever before.

Internet auctions seem relatively simple. A seller posts an item, gives it a description, maybe adds a picture, and sells to the highest bidder. This is where more consumers run into a problem: payment and delivery. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), consumer complaints are most often the result of non-receipt of goods and delivering an item different than what was advertised.

So, how do you avoid an online auction scam? The good news is you don’t have to quit your online shopping addiction cold-turkey. The bad news: We suggest making your virtual world and reality meet. The number one tip from your BBB is to verify the seller. If you can’t make contact with the seller of an item outside of the hosting site, you should be cautious about doing business with them.

Here are a few other tips that are helpful in your travels through the world of online auctions:

· Check the seller’s feedback. It may not be the end all, be all of reliability, but overwhelming positive or negative feedback can be an effective measure for judging whether or not you want to do business with a seller.

· Research not just the seller and the product, but the terms of sale. You are far more likely to be pleased with your purchase if you know ahead of time if you know how much shipping and handling will cost, who pays for it and the seller’s return policy (just to name a few).

· Establish a top price before you ever lay finger to keyboard. Whether you are apartment hunting, buying a vintage car or bidding on a pristine-condition Chatty Cathy, consider how much is too much before you start a bidding war. If you know your spending limit, then you are less likely to feel later that you impulsively spent money just to win.

· Leave a paper trail. Using money orders, cash or debit cards leaves buyers without many options if they are scammed. However, if you pay by credit card or through a trusted third party like PayPal, you can file a claim against a seller and possibly recover your money if an item is never delivered or if it is not what you expected and the seller refuses to take it back.

· Check the BBB Business Reviews. If you are considering trying out a new online auction site, check the BBB Business Review or give us a call. We’d be happy to give you the skinny before you start bidding.

For more tips and information about online auctions, for both buyers and sellers, visit bbb.org or call (858) 637-6199.

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