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  • Writer's pictureTammy Miller

'Tis the Season: Buyer Beware!

As we head into the holidays, there will be lots of opportunities to buy unique, intriguing, and "just right" gifts via online auctions. The explosion in buying this way is fantastic. As a company, we often help colleagues sort, describe, take photos, and otherwise organize for this fun way to find and gift treasures.

Having said that, it is incredibly important to recognize the potential risks when buying online ... and in all cases to do some research before you register to bid.

There are websites out there that are fake ... they advertise great items for auction, but the items themselves are fake as well. Take a minute to search the site using your browser. Have others reported it for being fake? Does the URL match the description of the site or does it look and sound off? Are there subtle misspellings in the web address? If so, it may not be secure. Look for a "lock" image at the beginning of the website address. This should correspond to the address beginning with an "https://" Both indicate the website is secure. Looking at the items up for bid, do they seem realistic? For example, something that is advertised as solid gold is going to have a minimum bid attached to it ... no business or non-profit is going to risk it going for a small percentage of it's retail value.

In other cases, the site may look absolutely legitimate, but when you receive the item you won, it isn't what you bid on or is quite a bit different than it was pictured and described. In these cases, if you are buying from a vendor using a reputable auction platform, the platform itself will often help you obtain a refund. Keep in mind, each platform will encourage you to work things out with the seller, but if that effort fails, most reputable platforms will have a complaint process for you to use. Some popular platforms are eBay, Bidding For Good, and Proxibid (there are many more out there, these are simply ones we have personal experience with). If, however, you buy from a vendor using a bidding platform they have developed for just their organization, some advance research might have saved you grief. For example, has the site been reported to the Better Business Bureau multiple times? Does the site get multiple bad reviewes online? There is no doubt that some businesses receive negative reviews that are bogus, but if there are multiple reports of "bait and switch" sales, no matter how tempting, we advise not using it.

Another heartbreaking situation is when you have paid for your item and it never arrives. Again, buying from a vendor using a well-known and reputable auction platform will help mitigate these circumstances. Use a vendor that is transparent and advertises their shipping methods and shipping costs. If you can, double-check that they will ship with a tracking number attached. Check for on-line reviews. Have multiple buyers reported never receiving their item and the vendor refusing to make good on it? If so, be careful! Once again, if the vendor is using a reputable auction platform, the platform itself will often help you obtain a refund.

Beware of phishing scams. Phishing is when a bad actor attempts to obtain enough information from you that they can hack into your personal accounts ... be it your email, bank, retirement, or credit card (the list goes on). If the vendor requires you to provide anything other than your name, address, telephone number, and credit card information, chances are pretty good they are working to obtain enough information to use your identity to access your private accounts. NEVER provide account login information for your private financial accounts to them. When setting up an auction account NEVER provide your birthday, social security number, a PIN, or a password that you use on other accounts. When you make payment ALWAYS use a secure payment site, such as, PayPal, Square, Venmo, or your credit card. NEVER agree to make a direct payment from your bank account to theirs. If something goes wrong and you have used a third-party payment processor, the payment processor will typically step in and help you out.

Finally, you will encounter many opportunities to support local and national non-profits using on-line auction fundraisers. These opportunities can be fun, exciting, and as a bonus you have the extra joy of giving to a worthy cause. Just remember, the cautions outlined above still apply. If you have received a request to participate in an auction for a cause, make certain you access the auction from that non-profit's website or double-check that an email advertising the auction has the correct email and website address for the non-profit. If either address is incorrect, chances are pretty good you are being "phished."

This sounds like a lot of work, but it really only takes moments to double-check the situations outlined above. And, if you take those few extra moments, chances are pretty high you are going to end up with an unique gift that your loved one will treasure for a lifetime. We hope you have an incedible and joyful on-line auction gifting experience!

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