Auction Sites

Online auction sites are a highly popular way of buying and selling both new and second hand goods. There are, however, risks associated with using auction sites – some of which are different from normal online shopping.  Therefore you need to take care with what you are buying and from whom, who you are selling to, and how you pay for your purchases or get paid for items you are selling.  

The risks

  • Bogus stores/shops – fake websites and email offers for goods and services that do not exist.
  • Receiving goods which do not match the advertiser’s description.
  • Not receiving goods which you have paid for.
  • Not receiving payment for goods which you have despatched.
  • Being persuaded into selling early or at a low price. The best bids usually come towards the end of the auction period.
  • Having your auction identity stolen and used fraudulently.
  • Having your personal/financial information stolen and used fraudulently.
  • Phishing emails, appearing to be from a auction or online payment sites but actually from criminals trying to lure you to a fake website to get your personal information such as login details for your online payment account.

Use online auctions safely

  • If you are new to online auctions, take the time to read the online guides provided by the auction company so you understand how the system works and what the rules are.
  • Understand what the auction company can do (and won’t do) if something goes wrong.
  • Use a login name for the auction site that is different from your email address.
  • Keep your contact information including email address, up to date.
  • Look into the seller or buyer – whether a private individual or online store. Look at their profile, their rating and transaction history. New sellers and buyers may not have a very comprehensive history, so be a little more cautious.
  • If the seller is a business, check their real-world existence. If they provide a phone number or address, give them a call. Sellers outside the UK may be harder to chase in the event of a problem.
  • Check online stores’ privacy and returns policies.
  • Be clear about shipping and delivery costs (for example, whether or not they are included and if not, if they are clearly stated).
  • Be clear about methods of payment and whether any of these incur a surcharge.
  • Provide only the minimum necessary personal information to sellers and buyers, such as your address for collection or despatch purposes.
  • Double check all details of your purchase before confirming payment.
  • Check that notifications of communications between yourself and your buyer or seller are not being blocked by spam filters, by regularly checking your spam folder.
  • Do not fall for requests to close auctions early.
  • Always make sure you have received payment before despatching goods.
  • When making a payment to an individual, never transfer the money directly into their bank account but use a secure payment site such as PayPal, where money is transferred between two electronic accounts.

And always remember…

  • Use strong passwords. Never reveal your auction or online payment passwords to anybody.
  • If you think that your auction or online payment account has been compromised, take action immediately. Check the site’s online help page.
  • Be wary about clicking on links provided in unsolicited emails. For example, it is better to enter your bank’s website address into your browser directly, or use a bookmark that you created using the correct address.
  • If you pay by payment card, remember that a credit card offers greater protection than with other methods in terms of fraud, guarantees and non-delivery.
  • When paying either by online payment service or payment card, ensure that the link is secure, in two ways:
    • There should be a padlock symbol in the browser window frame, which appears when you attempt to log in or register. Be sure that the padlock is not on the page itself … this will probably indicate a fraudulent site.
    • The web address should begin with ‘https://’. The ‘s’ stands for ‘secure’.
  • The above indicate only that the link between you and the website owner is secure, and not that the site itself is authentic. You need to do this by carefully checking the address for subtle misspellings, additional words and characters and other irregularities.
  • Always log out of sites into which you have logged in or registered details. Simply closing your browser is not enough to ensure privacy.
  • Keep receipts.
  • Check credit card and bank statements carefully after shopping to ensure that the correct amount has been debited, and also that no fraud has taken place as a result of the transaction.
  • Ensure you have effective and updated antivirus/antispyware software and firewall running before you go online.

More information

eBay’s advice on using the site safely, including safe buying and selling and avoiding scams.

Jargon Buster

A Glossary of terms used in this article:


A list of personal details revealed by users of social networking, gaming, dating and other websites. Profiles may normally be configured to be public or private.


An attempt at identity theft in which criminals lead users to a counterfeit website in the hope that they will disclose private information such as user names or passwords.