Make sure an auction doesn’t hammer you

editorial image
Share this article
David Curwen, centre, hugs his mother with whom he wa sreunited. Completing the group is his brother Keith

THIS WEEK IN 1975: Reunited after 30 years – but only thanks to a kind stranger

Have your say

With everyone feeling the pinch, what better way to bag a bargain than buying from an internet auction site?

eBay reckons it brings 1.4m buyers and sellers together every day. A truly staggering figure. No wonder it’s become a top way to shop.

Strictly, deals on eBay are not auctions in the accepted sense. No bidding takes place. You simply put in an offer to buy. Some rival sites though encourage buyers to bid in true auction style.

But popular and convenient though it may be, the down side is that if anything you purchase turns out to be a dud, you’ve very little comeback on the seller, and you could end up badly out of pocket.


The plain fact is that when you buy anything from an internet auction site, your legal rights as a buyer are practically nil.

This is because you’re buying from a private seller, and private sales are only covered in respect of the seller giving you an accurate description of the goods – and nothing else. Every sale offer should be treated with caution, and you’ll be sticking your neck out if you splash out on expensive goods without insisting you try them out before you buy.

Always insist on getting a full address and phone number. Beware of mobile numbers because they can be virtually untraceable.


Because many internet auction traders have found they can make quite a nice little bit on the side, they unwittingly become in the eyes of the law, a trader. In this case, you’ll have all the normal statutory rights as to satisfactory quality and fitness for purpose, just as if you had made your purchase from a regular shop or store.

If your purchase turns out to be a turkey you can insist on a refund, repair, or replacement, in the normal way.


How to spot an auction site trader can be a crucial difference between getting a square deal or being ripped off, but it isn’t always easy to tell the difference.

The theory is that a seller should tell you that they’re a business before a sale is agreed. With so much at stake, traders can set out to deceive unwary buyers. Unlike newspaper small ads, they’re not compelled to reveal their trader status.

Fortunately, there are some tell tale signs to watch out for:

·· There’s lots of feedback from buyers.

· There are links to a business website.

· There are a considerable number of similar items for sale, and they’re mostly new.

· The user identity is a trading name with Ltd or similar behind it.

· Any photographs are of ‘stock’ items for sale, rather than the actual goods on offer.


If you buy goods from a trader, it’s their responsibility if your purchase is lost or damaged before delivery. Don’t be conned into buying postal insurance to compensate you for this eventuality.


Use a credit card. You’ll be able to put in a claim with the card company if the goods are faulty or misdescribed. To take advantage of this protection your purchase for any one single item must be more than £100 but not in excess of £30,000.


If you’ve hit a problem and you can’t sort it out, use the site’s dispute resolution scheme.

Be careful to claim within any time limit and read the terms and conditions carefully. Remember some services involve the use of trained mediators – and they’ll charge a fee.