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The Bead Auction

Bidding on Beads On-Line

Internet auction fraud is growing. Internet Fraud Watch reported that complaints in 1998 were up a whopping 1,700% from the year before. That may seem scary, but then in 1997 there were hardly any auction houses online and the 1998 figure only totaled 5000 (last time I looked, eBay alone was currently running 2,221,000 auctions).

In percentage terms, it's not bad. On the other hand, auction problems have become the number one Internet fraud reported to the National Fraud Information Center. The major complaints are people not paying for what they buy and people not selling what they claim (what a surprise).

The auction houses themselves are aware of the problem and the potential for more. eBay uses a feedback system whereby you are encouraged to comment on your dealings with both buyers and sellers. They even put an icon of a pair of sunglasses next to the name of anyone who has changed his/her log-on name in the last 30 days. This site, and, indeed, nearly all of them, have extensive hints how to avoid being duped. Amazon.com guarantees purchases up to $US250 and eBay has insurance for up to $200, free until September (1999).

Probably the most important thing is to check out the anonymous person with that whimsical log-on name. You start by looking at their past record, though people have figured out ways of fudging this. You can ask for an address and telephone number and verify it at www.switchboard.com.

Insurance added to the postage is usually a good idea. Insist upon a written and dated statement of the item. You can use an escrow service that will hold your payment until everyone is satisfied, either at www.iescrow.com or www.tradesafe.com. Finally, never send cash. Use a credit card if you can (you canít with most person-to-person auctions). Personal checks are usually held until they clear, while money orders and cashier's checks are honored more quickly. Paying by credit card offers some protection.

These ideas are mostly for buyers. Sellers also have to be careful about what they are doing.

Annette Hamilton, writing on ZDNet AnchorDesk on 27 May 1999 (http://chkpt.zdnet.com/chkpt/adem2fpf/www.anchordesk.com/story/story_343) noted that the Opinion Research Corporation says that more people are talking about their on-line auction experience than the new Star Wars movie. She begins with, "In 1964, cool people drove Ford Mustangs. In 1982, they watched MTV. In 1994, they worked at Microsoft. Today, you're nobody unless you shop on eBay." (At least that makes me half-cool.)

She lists the Pros (wide selection, reasonable prices and a world-wide audience) and Cons (prices higher than usual, fraud and addiction) of on-line auctions. Note that the prices of items are included in both groups. If you know what you're doing, you can get some real bargains. But you must be careful not to get caught in the fever of bidding (a lesson I learned as a kid at a stamp auction).

Personal Note

Some of you may have noticed or suspected that I, too, have become addicted to on-line auctions. I am selling (no, neither beads nor any supporting material, except maybe duplicates some day). eBay is my venue of choice. As someone said recently; "The buyers go there because that's where the sellers and the sellers go there because that's where the buyers are."

New pet peeves? Idiotic title lines with !!WOW!!, !MUST SEE!, L@@K or LQQK.

Some useful sites:

The Federal Trade Commission's Online Auctions: Going, Going Gone
offers handy tips.

The Internet Fraud Watch's Online Auction Tips does as well.

Bidder's Edge is a metasearch engine that lets you search for your item on many auction houses at one site. Recently eBay was added.

Auction Guide has some good advice, but is mostly for people who want to start on-line auctions.

The previous story on this topic.

References
Help sections at eBay, etc.; Personal experience, Annette Hamilton's article for ZDNet, cited above. ZDNet has many related articles. Charles Pappas 1999 "Going, Going... Gouged" Yahoo Internet Life 5(6):80; Stephanie Gallagher 1999 "Got Internet Auction Fever?" Kiplingerís Personal Finance Magazine 53(7):43-44.

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