Many people looking for a bargain when it comes to finding small, expensive gadgets such as MP3 players, mobile phones and digital cameras look to online auctions for a good price. The advantage of these auctions is that the same goods that are on sale in the shops for very high prices can be found at a very reduced price, and although this may be due to them being opened or even used, the product is usually in just as good condition.
Statistically, the vast majority of these online auction buyers make a good deal, and are pleased with the money they have saved. However, there are risks that you take if you are buying goods this way, and the usual laws and facilities which are there to protect you if you buy in store or direct from the manufacturer do not apply, and you can find yourself out of pocket rather than grabbing a bargain.
Goods not arriving, items in a very much poorer condition than advertised, goods not the same as described and even cheaper alternatives than the advertised product are all scams which exist on online auctions, and there are few things you can do to protect yourself.
However, there are a few things that you can do in advance of placing a bid that can help to make sure that the seller you are considering dealing with is legitimate, and that the product advertised is the same as the one you're going to receive, and in the same condition as advertised or pictured.
The first thing to do if you are interested in a product you have found on an auction is to check the seller's feedback. Most auction sites run a system which allows buyers to leave feedback and a rating about the seller once the transaction is complete. With long standing sellers that do a lot of business and have a long and established history these feedbacks may run into several thousand or tens of thousands, and will give you encouragement. Some sellers will have only a few comments, and as long as they are all positive, this may well be encouraging, but you will be taking a certain amount of risk. Certainly you should avoid any seller who either has no feedback at all, or has largely negative feedback.
Another point to look for is the photograph used. It is always preferable if the photograph is if the actual product, and not just a stick photo taken from the manufacturer's website. A picture of the product in the seller's own home is helpful because not only does this suggest that there is a greater chance the item actually does exist, but also you can check out the quality of it - are there any marks, scratches or pieces missing?
Don't be afraid to ask the seller questions before you place a bid. If you're not sure about anything, ask - you're still under no obligation to bid, and if the seller doesn't respond, or respond effectively or quickly, then this may suggest to you that they are unreliable, and that this could impact on the likelihood of you receiving the item.
Check the wording of the item description carefully - does it actually say that it is the product you're purchasing? Some sellers run scams which include listings that suggest that the buyer will receive the product but have worded the description quite carefully, and end up only sending a dummy model, or even just a photograph or further information. If they word the description ambiguously, you may not have a case for claiming against them. As ever - it is always buyer beware.