Luxury cars for $50! Homes for less than $100! How often have you seen ads offering great deals at government auctions? While you can buy everything from jewelry to computers at government sales, the "bargains" publicized in these ads don't exist.
Government sales are great opportunities to buy a variety of goods at reasonable prices. Not only can you buy real estate, boats, trucks, office furniture and supplies, you can also buy clothing, art, and cars. These items are surplus or may have been confiscated by federal agencies. Merchandise offered in federal government sales is usually sold at a fair market price. Items may not be sold if the bid is below what is reasonable.
The Better Business Bureau and the U.S. General Services Administration offer the following tips for consumers who are considering participating in a government auction:
- Be wary of offers to sell you "inside" information about federal government sales. Information about federal government sales programs is typically available for free or at low cost from the federal government.
- Know where to find up-to-date federal government sales information. Check the classified or business sections of national or local newspapers to find information about specific upcoming sales. Notices may also be posted at post offices, town halls, and other local and federal government buildings.
- Before attending a federal auction, research the sale by contacting the sponsoring agency. Find out how and when the sale or auction will be held, what bidding procedure will be used, and what special restrictions or unusual conditions apply. Be sure to ask what forms of payment are accepted. Most sales require a guaranteed method of payment such as money order, certified check or cash. Credit cards are sometimes accepted. If it's your first time buying from the government, attend several sales beforehand to learn about the process. Most of the items for sale will probably be used, so inspect the property carefully before buying it. Find out if the goods are sold "as is" or if they can be returned.
- Know where to complain. If you believe you have been misled by non-governmental organizations offering information about federal government sales, send your complaint, along with any related information, such as a copy of the advertisement to: Federal Trade Commission, Consumer Response Center, Washington, DC 20580 or contact your Better Business Bureau, state attorney's general office or the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.