Internet Auctions

Internet auction websites offer the ability to purchase goods from around the world in an auction format. While internet auctions enable customers to find good deals on many products, the process is susceptible to fraud. Every internet auction site is different, and you will want to read the terms and conditions of the auction before buying or selling anything through the website.

Auction Tips:

  1. Become familiar with how the auction site works before you bid. Each online auction site is different. Look carefully at the auction site’s online reviews before using that site. Before bidding, make sure you understand the auction site’s terms and conditions, including:
    • Insurance policies.
    • Seller guarantees.
    • Pick up/Shipping policies.
    • Acceptable forms of payment (One of the safest forms of payments is a credit card, due to the protections guaranteed by the credit card company).
    • What fees will be charged, including buyers’ premiums or sellers’ commission.
  2. When you find an item that you want to bid on:
    • Conduct some research to make sure that the price you are paying for the item is similar to the price paid elsewhere online. 
    • Know the top price you will pay for the item and stick to that price. It is all too easy to get caught up in the competition and excitement of an auction or to feel an attachment to an item after bidding on it. These psychological phenomena, sometimes referred to as “auction fever,” may result in people bidding more than they anticipated.
    • If the deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. Watch for words like “off-brand,” “refurbished,” “like new,” and “discontinued.”
    • Know the warranty terms and conditions before you bid.
    • Check the seller’s feedback ratings (if applicable) and look to see if the seller has any policies different from the auction site as a whole (acceptable payment methods, warranties, etc.). Make sure you know how to contact the seller in case there is a problem
    • Find out whether the seller or auctioneer is allowed to bid on the item, a practice sometimes referred to as “house bidding,” “reserve bidding,” or “shill bidding.” If house bidding is allowed, it is typically used to raise auction prices up to a “reserve price.” A reserve price is the minimum price a seller would accept from a buyer, so if the item does not reach the reserve price, the item does not sell. If you suspect shill bidding when it is not allowed, report it to the auction platform immediately.
    • Read the fine print. Many times, the picture and specifications of a high dollar value item, such as a computer, is placed up for bidding, usually at an impossibly low reserve price. In the fine print, the seller states that the potential buyer is bidding on only the picture of the high dollar value item, not the actual item. Read all information concerning the product up for auction before placing a bid.
  3. Do not bid on an item you do not intend to purchase. If you are the highest bidder, you are obligated to pay for the item. If you back out of the deal, you may be barred from bidding again on that auction site.
  4. DO NOT give anyone your social security number, driver’s license number, or your birth date. No seller needs this information. 
  5. Save all copies of your transaction information. This includes copies of all e-mails and pictures. Make a note the price, date, and time of your bid.
  6. Be careful of any auction items in which the seller is from overseas. The majority of auction scams originate from foreign sellers.
  7. Do not wire funds directly to sellers. The auction sites normally hold payments until the buyer has received the item. If you win a bid through the auction site, pay for the item through the auction site.
  8. If you are a seller:
    • Use caution when sending purchased items overseas. Be sure to verify that the billing address on file for the buyer is the same as the shipping address. Verify the identity of the buyer if the buyer wants you to ship the item to a different address than the billing address.
    • Beware of cashier checks. Avoid accepting cashier checks from buyers at all, especially when the check is for significantly more money than the winning bid. Never wire the balance of an overpayment back to a buyer.

Been scammed?
File a complaint today.

The Attorney General’s Office is here to help. If you believe you are the victim of a consumer scam or fraud, file a consumer complaint online right now. You can also call:

Phoenix: (602) 542-5763

Tucson: (520) 628-6648

Outside metro areas: (800) 352-8431

Bilingual consumer protection staff is available to assist.