Auction sites are great for getting deals, finding rare items, and selling unwanted possessions. However; as with any activity that includes buying and selling, auctioning attracts scammers—con artists that try to trick you into losing your money or your possessions.
For buyers, scamming can mean purchasing a phantom item that never shows up or getting stuck with the wrong merchandise; either something different than what was purchased or the ordered item but it is in much worse condition than advertised. For sellers, it can mean shipping an item but never getting paid. Below are some tips that could help prevent losing money when selling an item on an auction site.
After the auction has started, don't agree to go outside the auction process to complete a sale. Do not break your commitment to the auction site's operations and policies if you're contacted by someone offering to buy your item now at a fixed price that they set. This prospective buyer is trying to get the merchandise at a lower price than the auction might generate or at a lower price than the “Buy it Now” option (if you're also using that purchasing option). Going around the auction violates the site’s policies and may get you banned from the site—and the buyer may be trying to scam you.
One signal that you’re being approached by a con artist is their wanting to do the deal outside of the auction AND complete it quickly. The prospective buyer may approach you saying that they are in a hurry because they must have the item shipped very quickly to a family member for their birthday or because they are going out of town soon. Creating a sense of urgency or emergency to get a victim to move fast is a standard tool of con artists. The potential buyer may also say that they need confirmation of shipping before they pay you. Don't do that. Don't ever rush a sale and don't ship anything before the payment to you is deposited into your account. If you ship merchandise and the payment is never made or is fake, you lose twice—both your goods and the payment you're owed.
Don’t communicate outside the auction site with a prospective buyer. You might be approached by a buyer who wants to use personal email to communicate instead of through the auction platform's messaging system. Don’t do it as it lessens your safety. If the person who approaches you is a legitimate buyer, then they only need to use the auction site’s communications tools, so don’t accept excuses as to why the potential buyer won’t use the site to communicate with you. Personal emails sent to you may have links to malware or it may be attached to the message. Using the auction site’s messaging system is safer, and you create a trail of messages that may be used if a dispute with a buyer or the site occurs and you need to show validation of your communications.
Save all messages with bidders and prospective bidders. Again, you want a verifiable record of your communications in case of disputes.
If the site allows this option, when using the auction site’s messaging system, copy your personal email on responses to potential buyers. Having a copy of the messages in your personal email provides additional security in case your messages on the auction site are accidentally deleted.
Don’t refund money until your returned merchandise has been received, inspected and tested. If a buyer wants to return an item and get a refund, and you accept the return because this was a condition of your sale on the auction site, do not refund money before you receive your sold item. Get the merchandise back, inspect and test it thoroughly before issuing a refund. If the item is functioning well, but has new, significant cosmetic damage, that may violate a return condition and you can legitimately deny the refund if your return conditions stated that the item “must be returned undamaged in good working order.”
Report problem buyers to the auction site. What if a buyer wants to return an item for a refund, and then they send you something else instead of the item you shipped out? Do not refund their money, and report them immediately to the auction site to prevent this scam from being repeated.
Don’t engage with auction trolls that will waste your time. Auction trolls are not trying to steal your merchandise or money, but they are trying to waste your time. They may ask for you to dissemble the item and take numerous photographs of it to send to them them, despite photographs you may have already uploaded to the site before listing the item for sale. They will ask repeatedly about details that would generally not be considered significant to the item’s appearance or function. It's not uncommon for the person asking for the exhaustive details not to be an active bidder, so they literally have no stake in the auction’s outcome; they may just want to create wasted work for the seller.
If you lose money or goods, then report the fraud to federal and state government
If the payment doesn’t come through, first try to solve the problem directly with the buyer and auction site. If that doesn't work, consider filing a complaint with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and your state Attorney General’s office.
Could you use a few more tips?
The FTC has some interesting advice on avoiding being cheated when selling in an auction. Delta Community has more blogs and security posts; on protecting your personal online security: