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  • The Bidding Game
    A Guide to the Ups and Downs of Online Auctions
    by Chan Park
    Chances are you've had friends or family members who've done it. You know coworkers or neighbors who've taken the plunge. But are you ready? Is the world of online auctions all it's cracked up to be?

    In the past few years, online auctions have exploded in popularity. There are now hundreds of auction sites on the Internet competing for your attention-from major players like eBay, Yahoo Auctions and uBid.com, to specialized sites like Bidz.com for jewelry and Charity Folks to benefit nonprofit organizations.

    Once dominated by techies and collectors, auction sites have moved into the mainstream of consumer acceptance. And no wonder—you can buy almost anything you can imagine, from the truly unique and collectible to the latest and greatest. And, best of all, there's the allure of getting what you want for a bargain.

    So, what's the catch?

    As with everything in life, a little caution goes a long way. While the vast majority of online transactions are safe, there are enough incidents of fraud and abuse to
    warrant a healthy dose of common sense. In some cases, a deal that seems too good to be true may be just that. So, it's always advisable to keep an eye open for potential fraud, especially when in pursuit of a fantastic deal.

    Types of fraud to watch for
    • Misrepresentation of goods
    • Failure to ship
    • Artificially inflated price using fake bids, known as "shilling"
    • Pirated or counterfeit items
    • Extra fees added after the sale has been made
    • Identity theft
    Fortunately, there are some simple steps you can take to protect yourself from potential fraud.

    Ways to protect yourself
    • Start slowly and understand how the auction works. Not all auction sites are the same, and many don't verify that merchandise actually exists. Learn if the site offers insurance and what their dispute resolution policies are.

    • Know your spending limits. Figure out beforehand how much something is worth to you and then stick to that figure. If the item is available at regular stores, check the retail price to make sure you're actually getting a bargain. Keep in mind that you'll also need to include shipping costs.

    • Check out the seller's reputation. Most auction sites offer user feedback to rate experiences with a particular seller. Avoid sellers with negative feedback or no feedback at all. But keep in mind that some comments may have been "planted" either by the seller or by a competitor.

    • Get the seller's name and contact information. Don't do business with anyone who refuses to provide that information. And be extra cautious when dealing with sellers in other countries, since problems could be exacerbated by physical distance, language and laws.

    • Choose a safe payment method, such as a credit card or PayPal, that is traceable and has a dispute resolution system. Never ever send cash. When you're shopping on eBay, look for items that are covered by PayPal Buyer Protection, which offers free protection up to $1,000 on your purchases.

    • Consider a reputable escrow service for expensive purchases. An escrow service is a third party that holds onto the payment and releases it when both parties are satisfied. But make sure the escrow service is legitimate. Some escrow companies are merely fronts for fraudulent sellers.

    • Get what you pay for. Save the description and any photos of the item in case you need to show that the shipped item is not what was offered. Also, save all of your correspondence with the seller.

    • Report problems to the auction site to initiate dispute resolution policies. As well, auction sites are on constant watch for fraudulent parties.

    With a little bit of caution, you can find what you're looking for and score a great bargain.

    Using My eBay on your start page
    Your myEarthLink start page includes a simple and convenient My eBay feature that can help you make your eBay auction experience more rewarding. From your start page, it's quick and easy to sign up for a new eBay account or register for My eBay using your existing eBay account. Then you can easily keep track of items you're bidding on or selling, keep tabs on items you want to watch, or search for something new. Personalize My eBay today and you can stay connected to all your eBay activities in one convenient location.

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