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Online Auctions: Going...Going...Uh-Oh!

Follow basic safety and common-sense precautions when you use online auction sites, then enjoy the bargain hunting, Parry Aftab says.

  • Don't buy illegal goods online--you can be easily traced. And even if you aren't investigated by the police, do you really want these kinds of people having your home address and credit-card information? People sell term papers, fake IDs, and just about everything else you could imagine online. (Recently, we even found someone selling what purported to be child pornography videos on one of the online auctions. It was removed the moment the auction learned about it from us, but it gives you an idea about some of the people out there.)
  • Use a safe payment method, and try to use an escrow agent and insurance, if available. Use PayPal or other Internet-designed payment systems. Some auctions offer a special service to their shoppers to protect them against small losses. eBay protects its shoppers from the first couple hundred dollars of loss, with a loss deductible. Since the average loss reported is usually about a couple hundred dollars, this may cover most of the average losses.
  • Plan ahead. Check competitive nonauction prices. Decide how much you can spend and stick to it. Many of the new auction sites allow you to preset a maximum spending limit for any particular item. This is a good idea, since many people get "auctionitis," bidding higher than they should because they get caught up in the excitement. Some online auctions have a bidding proxy program, which bids for you up to your maximum even when you can't get online and watch the bids yourself. Don't give into the temptation to bid "just one more time" once you've set your top bid. There's always another auction, and another bargain.
  • If something goes wrong, complain. Complain to the auction site. Complain to the seller. Leave negative feedback or reviews. And if a business is involved, complain to the consumer-protection agencies. The Federal Trade Commission's Web site,, has a place where you can report online fraud. Use it. Notify your credit-card company that a problem has occurred, and if you're seeking to stop payment under your card, make sure you notify them in writing, sent by certified mail to the address they provide for contesting charges, and do it as soon as possible. Your legal rights may depend on it.
  • Now, get out there and buy that Mighty Mouse PEZ dispenser or Felix the Cat clock you've always wanted. Enjoy your bargain, and your holidays!

    Return to main story OHere's To Happy, Safe Holidays

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