Shopping and Using Auction Websites

Before shopping and using auction websites:

* Do your business with the largest, most established online auction services. They are more likely to have invested their money and reputation in services to protect buyers and sellers, and to have established orderly procedures for resolving disputes.

* Use CREDIT CARDS, not checks or money orders, so that failed purchases may be disputed.

* Give your credit card number only after you have thoroughly checked the business or auction seller through multiple sources—not just the Internet—and have verified a physical "brick and mortar" address as well as a telephone number.

* If unavailable, check the Web site's homepage for reference to the Internet Service Provider (ISP), the business that "hosts" the Web site. If the seller does not accept credit cards, consider PayPal, Western Union, Billpoint, or other online payment services.

Use every "consumer protection" service offered by the Web site business or auction. These include escrow, insurance, authentication services for collectibles and verification and rating of auction participants. The extra cost charged for some of these services is well worth it!

• Do your homework. Be sure you understand what you're bidding on, its approximate value and all terms and conditions of the sale, including the seller's return policies and who pays for the shipping.

• Establish your top price and stick to it.

• Check comments made on sites by previous buyers and make sure to get the seller's name, address and telephone number. Verify this information through an online telephone directory.

• Don't bid on an item you don't intend to buy. Remember that if you are the highest bidder, you are obligated to follow through with the transaction.

• When bidding, don't give out personal information like your Social Security number, driver's license number or bank account.

• Save all your transaction information.