Beware the auction sites -



The DTI has issued a warning to consumers to tread carefully when purchasing through auction sites Internet bargains that seem too good to be true".

Here is a tale of woe, supplied by the DTI:

A consumer from Normanby, Lancashire paid £1770 through an internet auction site for a 42-inch plasma screen TV. He had an email address but no postal address. When the television did not appear and he tried to contact the seller he did not receive any replies to his emails. He has now been waiting for over two months and it looks very unlikely that his 'bargain' will ever materialise.


Now for another sorry saga.

A consumer from Wirral bought five laptop computers for £820 each. The goods failed to arrive. The customer had an address for the seller but when he tried to contact the seller by post, all his
correspondence was returned. The customer was advised that if he wished to take the matter any further he would have to take civil action himself.

The DTI points out that people selling through
"internet auction sites" - it quaintly refrains from mentioning any names - may be acting in a private capacity. This means that the transaction is not covered by consumer laws which apply to retailers. Upshot: if something goes wrong, it's a helluva lot more difficult to get your money back.

Says consumer minister Gerry Sutcliffe: "Buying from private sellers on internet auction sites is similar to
buying goods privately from classified adverts in newspapers. Consumers have fewer rights, so it is important they are careful about what they buy and from whom."

Now for some top tips for buyers, compiled by the DTI.

Check the seller's reputation

Most auction sites post feedback ratings of the sellers based on comments by other buyers. Ask questions before you bid e.g. what is the returns policy? A good seller will always welcome enquiries.

Do your homework

Check the description, type of model and retail price of the goods. Be wary: if the price is too good to be true, it usually is. If it's a collectable item take steps to confirm that the item is authentic.

Before you bid, find out what form of payment the seller will accept

If it's only cheques or money orders, decide whether you are willing to take the risk of sending your payment before you receive the product. Some sites may offer an online escrow service - which holds money until goods are delivered.

Before you submit a price think carefully

Know how much you are willing to pay, stick to it, and think whether you are getting value for money. Once a price is accepted you will be expected to honour the contract.

Read and understand Terms and Conditions

Is postage included with the costs? How will the goods be posted? Do you need extra insurance? Is the seller based in the UK? If not what action can you take if things go wrong?

This advice is a reasonable starting point. But don't forget there have been cases of fraudsters who have stolen the identity of auction traders with good reputations; also don't forget that there are cases of "good" auction traders who are flogging stolen goods - so that laptop you thought was yours won't be for much longer when the police come calling.
Channel Hopper

Channel Hopper

Suffering fools, so you don't have to.
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paid £1770 through an internet auction site for a 42-inch plasma screen TV. He had an email address but no postal address. When the television did not appear and he tried to contact the seller.......

Hmmmm, how was he expecting it to be delivered , Wonkavision would have been useful.