Gray Power: Tips for online auctions

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 3, 2006

The large online auction sites accept most payment options. These include personal checks, credit cards, money orders, cashiers checks and payments through billing or escrow services. You either pay the auction house or the seller directly.

Another choice is to pay through an escrow service. These services act as a middleman between you and the seller. They collect and make sure your payment clears and that you are satisfied with your purchase before they pay the seller. The escrow service generally charges 3 to 5 percent of the purchase price, although minimum fees may apply. Usually the fee is higher if you pay the escrow service with a credit card than with a check, money order or wire transfer. The buyer or the seller may pay the fee or they may split it.

The National Consumers League found that most consumers who lost money in Internet auctions paid the sellers directly with a money order, check or cashier&8217;s check. These buyers have little protection if there is a problem because the money is already in the seller&8217;s hands.

uDecrease your risk of fraud.

It pays to learn everything you can about an auction site. Many sites have buyer and seller guides on their home pages. Look for user agreements describing bidding procedures, buyer protections and privacy policies. These can differ from one auction site to another.

uGet information about the seller.

Read the feedback the seller has received from others who bought from them and take bad feedback seriously.

Get the seller&8217;s full name, street address, and telephone number (not just an email address or post office box).

Buy from sellers living/working in the United States. It&8217;s less risky than international buying.

uDo your homework.

Understand exactly what you&8217;re bidding on, its real worth and all the costs of the sale, including shipping.

Comparison shop to find out what retail stores are charging for a similar item.If bidding on appliances or electronics, find out what warranty there is or how you can service the product.

Set your top price and stick to it. If others bid above your highest bid, be prepared to walk away empty handed.

uGuard your personal information.

Only use Internet auction sites that allow you to sign in using secure technology. (You are using a secure site if a locked padlock icon appears on your computer screen or if the address bar of your browser changes from &8220;http&8221; to &8220;https&8221; or &8220;shttp.&8221;)

Never give personal identifying information, such as your Social Security, bank account or driver&8217;s license number. Criminals can use it to steal your identity.

uPay with a credit card.

If possible, make your online purchases with a credit card. This gives you more protection than cash or a check if you have a problem. Under federal law, credit card users can question charges if the seller doesn&8217;t deliver what was promised and withhold payment while the card company investigates the complaint