On Computers

Online Auctions

Gail Allinson, gail@oncomputers.info

21 March 2004

An interesting article appeared in the New York Times this week.  It is all about a group of people called "EBay Vigilantes" taking auction fraud into their own hands because they feel that EBay isn't doing enough to protect buyers.

With Internet Fraud Up Sharply, eBay Attracts Vigilantes (requires free NYT registration)

There is also a companion article:

How to Avoid Auction Scams (requires free NYT registration)

While I was at it, I found that auction vigilantism is nothing new:

MSNBC - Auction fraud on the rise, some say

More articles about various auction scams:

Wired News EBay Scam Uses IPods as Bait

TechTV Source of EBay Scam Found

Jobseekers Beware New eBay Scam

Small-Time eBay Scams & Annoyances

You get the idea.

While auctions can be great fun and it is possible to get a deal it pays to know how to go about buying and selling safely.  One of the best sources for information in the US is the Federal Trade Commission page about it:

Internet Auctions: A Guide for Buyers and Sellers

While many of the tips are common sense, this guide is very comprehensive and just might keep you from being taken.

I do take small exception with one point.  The FTC says ship before you charge if you have your own merchant account.  I would say to have the box prepared and that charging your buyer's credit card should be the last thing you do before you ship the item. If needed it is much easier to deal with a declined card before the item is on its way to the buyer.

I considered myself a small time auction user.  Most of my purchases via online auction have gone smoothly. In fact I've only been involved in one that did not. The item was advertised as "mint" and it arrived in less than mint condition.  While I would have preferred to have received the item in mint condition, we negotiated with the seller and got a refund so that the price we paid was fair for a non-mint item.

The most unusual item I have been involved in was the sale of wingtips for a Cessna.  At first, the buyer was a little surprised by the shipping costs.  Each wingtip cost $30 to ship to his location.  However when all was said and done the deal was considered fair by both sides.

I have one other auction experience.  It is one that breaks my heart, but it is not under my control.  I get calls after the purchase from buyers of kits that our little company once produced.  They are missing parts or manuals or want support or repair service that we can no longer provide on long discontinued products.  I got a call from one guy who paid about 5 times what I thought a 30 year old unit was worth and I had to tell him that we could not repair it for him

So if you are buying something that needs servicing, do not expect a company to support or fix discontinued items after the fact.  If the company is still in business call them before you bid to see if you can get service and what that service will cost.  However, do not expect the company to supply you with a suggested price for you to bid -- that is strictly up to you.  I always answer, "It is worth whatever you are willing to pay for it." and that is the reality.

Good luck and may all your buys and sells be good.

2004 Gail Allinson

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