Curious about bidding for an item at an online auction? Wondering if there are any precautions you should take first?

Although participating in most online auctions is safe, there are fraudulent sites and sellers out there. We asked the FTC to give us some bidding basics.


We Know: How To Bid at an Online Auction Safely

How do Online Auctions work?

There are basically two kinds of online auctions.

  1. A business-to-person auction is where a website operator controls the merchandise for sale and accepts payment for the goods.
  2. A person-to-person auction is where sellers register with a website in order to sell something, and agree to pay a fee to the website operator for the privilege of auctioning the item they own. Like Ebay.

What types of Fraud could I be exposed to?

As a buyer, you could be left holding the bag if someone fails to send the merchandise they promise, sends you something of lesser value, fails to send you something on time, or fails to reveal relevant information about the product or the terms of the sale upfront.

If I want to bid on something, what can I do to protect myself?

  1. Check out the auction site. Has anyone you know used it successfully?
  2. Read what the site has to say about itself, including its rules for bidders and sellers. Also, see if the site offers free insurance or guarantees for items that are undelivered, not authentic, or donít meet the sellerís claims.
  3. Try to determine the relative value of the item youíre bidding on. Make sure you donít over bid for it.
  4. Try to find out what you can about the specific seller who has the item you want. Especially be careful of sellers who want to try to lure you away from the auction site with a better deal.
  5. Find out if the item comes with a warranty and any follow up service, if itís needed. If not, know youíre taking a risk.
  6. Find out who pays for shipping and delivery.
  7. Check the sellerís return policy.
  8. Get the sellerís email address and phone number. Call or email with questions and donít bid until youíre satisfied with the answers.
  9. Donít bid on an item you donít intend to buy.
  10. If you get the bid, save all of your transaction information, including all emails with the seller. Save: the sellerís ID number, item description, time, date and price you bid.


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