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Become familiar with the auction site. -- Never assume that the rules of one auction site apply to another. If the site offers a step-by-step tutorial on the bidding process, take it. It may save you frustration and disappointment later.

Find out what protections the auction site offers buyers. -- Some sites provide free insurance or guarantees for items that are not delivered, not authentic, or not what the seller claims.

Know exactly what you're bidding on. -- Read the seller's description of the item or service, and if a photograph is posted, look at it. Read the fine print. Look for words like "refurbished," "close out," "discontinued," or "off-brand" especially when shopping for computer or electronic equipment to get a better idea of the condition of the item. Sometimes this information and other important terms are in a contract that may be found by following a hyperlink in the listing to the seller's online store.

Try to determine the relative value of an item before you bid. -- Be skeptical if the price sounds too low to be realistic. "Brick-and-mortar" stores and price comparison sites may be good for reality checks.

Find out all you can about the seller. -- Avoid doing business with sellers you can't identify, especially those who try to lure you off the auction site with promises of a better deal. Don't trust emails alone. Some fraudulent sellers have used forged email headers that make follow-up difficult, if not impossible. Get the seller's telephone number as another way to get in touch. Dial the number to confirm that it is correct.

Some auction sites post feedback ratings of sellers based on comments by other buyers. -- Check them out. Although these comments and ratings may give you some idea of how you'll be treated, comments sometimes are submitted by the seller or "shills" paid by the seller. In other cases, a seller may build up his reputation by selling many low cost items before making fraudulent sales of higher cost items.

Consider whether the item comes with a warranty, and whether follow-up service is available if you need it. -- Many sellers don't have the expertise or facilities to provide services for the goods they sell. If this is the case with your seller, be sure you're willing to forfeit that protection before placing a bid.

Find out who pays for shipping and delivery. -- Generally, sellers specify the cost of shipping and give buyers the option for express delivery at an additional cost. If you're uncertain about shipping costs, check with the seller before you bid.

Check on the seller's return policy. -- Can you return the item for a full refund if you're not satisfied with it? If you return it, are you required to pay shipping costs or a restocking fee? Sometimes the return policy is found in the listing, but other times you may have to access it by following a hyperlink in the listing to the seller's online store.

Email or call the seller if you have any questions. -- Don't place any bids until you get straight and satisfactory answers.

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last modified: 2006-10-06 22:47:49