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Six Ways to Protect Yourself on Online Auction Sites

Internet auction sites, such as eBay, are great ways to get deals on just about anything. Often you can find rare items on these sites that would be almost impossible to find at a typical department store or shopping mall. However, while there are big advantages of online auction sites, there are also drawbacks, not the least of which is the potential for fraud. The fact is that online auction sites are the main source for complaints of online fraud. So if you plan to bid on that hard-to-find item, it is worth keeping in mind the following tips to protect yourself on online auction sites.

Tip #1: Don’t Wire Money

How you pay for an item online greatly determines how exposed you are to potential fraud. Paying by using a wire-transfer service is almost always a bad idea, especially if you do not know the person receiving the money. Once you wire money then it is impossible to get it back. You should also avoid sending cash through the mail. Stick with credit cards or PayPal if possible, since the money is easier to track and many credit cards offer fraud protection.

Tip #2: Check Buyer Reviews

Many online auction sites allow you to see the reviews that other buyers have given a particular seller. These reviews can really give you a good idea of whether or not a seller is to be trusted. Generally, you want to ensure that the seller has a lot of positive reviews. A seller who has only one review, for example, may have just used a friend or a fake account to provide that review.

Tip #3: Signature Upon Arrival

Another tactic a lot of fraudsters like to use is to take your money and then never send the item you paid for. If you complain, the fraudster just claims that he or she sent the item but that it got lost in the mail. One way you can protect yourself is by demanding on shipping that requires your signature when the item is delivered. Additionally, it is a good idea to deal with sellers who are willing to ensure the items they send.

Tip #4: It May Be Too Good to be True

While it is true that you can find great deals through online auction sites, you should never let yourself get carried away. If a deal sounds too good to be true, then chances are it is. Do some research on other auction and retail sites to see what other items are going for. If the price difference seems especially large then you may want to be careful about handing over your money, especially if you don’t have other assurances that the seller is to be trusted.

Tip #5: Keep Record of Your Payments

It’s the easiest thing to accidentally delete an email or throw out a receipt, but when you’re dealing with buying something from a complete stranger on an online auction, you should always keep a paper trail. Any correlated documentation you receive at the time of the purchase and after – like emails confirmations, receipts, tracking information, and packing slips – should be saved in case you run into issues when you receive the product.

And if you really want to do your due diligence, take photos of the items when you receive it and post a review on the online auction site. This is your way of helping other buyers determine if the seller is being transparent with them when they go to buy from the same person.

Tip #6: Speak Out If You Experience Fraud

Maybe you purchased something and never received it or ended up paying way too much for that old, used item you promised would be brand new. Whatever your circumstance is, always report online auction fraud. It’s common for buyers to feel embarrassed or ashamed after experiencing fraud – to think you “should have known better.” But it’s more impactful to report it so another buyer does not experience the same issue, and the fraudulent seller can be caught.

Report online auction fraud at the Federal Trade Commissions website or the National Fraud Information Center. And if you used a platform like eBay, you can report fraud through their website, and their Customer Support team will help resolve the issue.


Online auction sites are fun and exciting ways to get almost any item you can dream of. However, their popularity also comes the risk of fraud. While you should feel free to enjoy what these sites have on offer, be sure to do your due diligence and protect yourself from any potential fraud. The last thing you want to happen when placing a bid is to find out that a “great deal” has led to you losing a substantial sum of money.


Online auction fraud isn’t the only kind of fraud, however. Take a look at other forms of fraudulent activity – tax fraud and food stamp fraud.

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