Auctions have always been popular ways to buy and sell merchandise, from small community fundraising sales to gala events hosted by famous auction houses like Christie's and Sotheby's. Traditional auctions bring to mind images of fast-talking auctioneers banging mallets to close a deal, or lavish rooms filled with wealthy buyers, ready to bid on rare antiquities and works of art.
But these days, the word "auction" conjures up an entirely different picture: buyers impatiently refreshing the online auction pages on their computer screens, as the minutes tick down to the final bid.
The Internet has changed the way people do practically everything, including the way we buy and sell. Internet auctions have gained incredible worldwide popularity, with the eBay as the undisputed leader. Today, anyone with Internet access can buy or sell online. Bidders don't even need to be in the same time zone, let alone in the same room. Virtually everything is bought and sold on eBay auctions, from expensive antiques and works by master artists, to everyday household items and personal creations.
It's easy to get acquainted with buying and selling on eBay:
* All participants need to sign on to establish an eBay before buying or selling. Every participant receives his or her own unique user-designated screen name like, for instance, Catgirl99. If the user consistently violates eBay rules, the website can discontinue the account as sanctions against the user.
* Anything can be put up for bid on eBay, with the exception of pornography, drugs and illegal items. The seller sets a reserve price, which will act as the minimum bid and starting point for online offers. For example, Catgirl99 is selling a kitty collar with bells on it. She won't take less than five dollars, so she sets the reserve at a five-dollar minimum bid.
* The seller places the item on his or her eBay page, along with a product description, photograph and a sales pitch. Catgirl99 writes, "Never lose your cat again!" The seller sets a bidding period for the term of the auction, usually around two weeks.
* Buyers search the eBay site for items they are interested in. When the item is found, potential buyers will place bids. The initial bid must be higher than the reserve, and higher than any previous bids.
* As more bidders begin to take action, the price of the item up for bid continually rises.
* After the predetermined period has passed, the bidding will close. At this point, the auction is ended and the product is considered sold to the highest bidder. The sale is confirmed with both parties, and the buyer contacts the seller to arrange payment and delivery terms.
Buying and selling on eBay really is a very simple process. With items offered for sale from literally every part of the world, it's easy to see why this method of buying and selling has become so hugely popular. Ebay auctions make it simple for buyers to locate hard-to-find and collectible items, and sellers can easily find interested buyers to purchase their items. With strict rules in place, eBay also helps to protect both parties by promoting fair deals.
However, that is not to say that online auctions are free of fraudulent cases. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), over the past three years Internet auction fraud has ranked consistently as one of the most filed consumer fraud complaints. Both buyers and sellers have filed cases where deceitful parties have scammed them.
The key to security when buying and selling on eBay, is to understand what the scams are, and recognize the setup before it's too late.
You've located the item you've been searching for, and the seller emails you directly to tell you that there is an alternate auction site where you can buy his or her product at less than the eBay price. Don't follow up on this offer. Legitimate auction sites like eBay offer buyer protection in the form of insurance. If a seller fails to deliver an item you've paid for, eBay may be able to replace the money you've lost. In turn, they will pursue the seller and charge him or her accordingly. However, if your purchase was made outside of eBay, that protection may not be available to you.
This is a scam perpetrated by buyers. An item is shielded from fair bidding when a buyer places a high starting bid. Other bidders don't want to compete with the high price, so they leave the auction. Just before the bid closes, the scammer withdraws his or her bid and begins bidding under another name. Since the auction is about to end, the second lowball bid becomes the final selling price.
A shill is a swindler's accomplice. Shills drive up the online bids, forcing legitimate bidders to raise their offers. You'll be able to spot a shill if the item doesn't seem to carry the value of the price it commands. Shills place high bids to lure others to raise their own bids. In the end, the highest bidder has paid much more than they normally would have, often for an item of compromised value. Stolen items, counterfeit or knock-off products and refurbished pieces can be sold this way.
These are the most common cases of Internet auction fraud. Being aware of these situations, and being cautious in general, can help you avoid the unpleasant experience of being scammed of your goods or money. Nevertheless, buying and selling on eBay still proves to be a fair and reliable way of marketing merchandise.
Internet auctions like eBay have created a true global market--connecting buyers with sellers and helping the world to connect through fair and responsible trade.
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