Consumer Corner Column

Consumer Corner: Use caution with online auctions

Release Date: Mar 26, 2013

Online auction sites have become popular in recent years as a way to connect buyers and sellers from across the country and around the world. These sites can be great places to find unique items – or to help us sell things we find collecting dust in our garages during spring cleaning.

Unfortunately, these sites can also be used by scammers offering items for sale that don’t exist. Our office recently stopped a series of fraudulent online auction transactions that would have totaled nearly $1 million. Kansas consumers file complaints with our office about these frauds every day. By following the tips below, you can assist our office in identifying scams and protect yourself from fraudulent transactions.

  • Carefully study the item listing. – Make sure the item listing contains a full and complete description of the item, its condition and photos of the actual item, not just generic stock photos. Beware if the descriptions and photos are identical to those used by another seller.
  • Read the seller’s reviews. – Check the seller reviews from previous buyers. Be cautions of sellers with little or no history. If the seller is from a foreign country, be especially cautious – at a minimum, be sure that they have feedback from U.S. buyers.
  • Contact the seller. – Ask additional questions about the item, and find out more about the seller. Ask for their physical location. If you don’t get a response or don’t like the answers you get, don’t bid on the item.
  • Figure out the total cost of the item. – While online auctions can often be places to find good deals, beware of deals that just seem too good to be true. Be especially wary of listings that have only been up a short time or offer very low-priced “Buy Now” options. Make sure you take into account the shipping and handling charges – you may end up paying more in shipping than the cost of the item itself.
  • Check out the seller’s return policy. – Find out if the seller will allow you to return the item if it arrives damaged or you are not satisfied and if there are any charges for doing so.
  • Use a secure payment method. – Perhaps the biggest red flag for a fraudulent auction is one that asks you to “pay offsite,” especially if they ask for a wire transfer. Also be cautious of transactions asking you to pay in a foreign currency. The safest way to pay for online auction transactions is through a reputable auction company’s online payment system. This allows you to dispute the charges through the online auction site if the item does not arrive as described. In addition, your credit card company may offer additional protections against fraudulent charges.
  • Keep your documentation. – Save all emails related to the transaction, including correspondence with the seller and receipts. It’s also a good idea to save a copy of the original listing so you have proof if the item does not arrive exactly as described.

If you wish to file a complaint about an online transaction or any other scams please contact our office at 1-800-432-2310 or online at