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I’ve decided to start a series of posts on what I would characterize as creative, unethical, and probably illegal bid calling techniques I’ve witnessed over the years. While I believe most all auctioneers act in an ethical, moral and legal manner, there are some auctioneers acting the opposite, while bid calling, and it is quite concerning.

Standard bid calling in the United States involves the auctioneer suggesting a price a bidder might bid, the bidder bidding that amount, and then the auctioneer asking for a higher bid. Commonly, these two numbers (what is bid, and what is desired) are called the “have” and the “want.”

For example, an auctioneer might say, “I would like $100 for this item,” and as a bidder raises his card, the auctioneer would continue, “I have $100, and I’d like $125 …” and so forth.

However, way too many auctioneers (even if that was only 1) bid call in creative, unethical and probably illegal fashions. Here’s the one we’re discussing today:

The Shadow Bidder

In this scheme, as an example, the auctioneer has two bidders, Mary and Julie. Mary bids $25 and the auctioneer’s hand moves over to point toward Julie with the following statement: “I have $25 and now $27.50 and give me $30.” In other words, Julie is asked to bid $30 because the previous bid is $27.50 — although it isn’t, but rather $25, which Mary bid. The $27.50 bidder is actually Mary’s shadow (or Julie’s) which bid the next bid, causing Julie to bid one higher increment.

This technique continues as Julie bids $30, the shadow bids $32.50 and Mary is asked to bid $35. Mary does bid $35 and the shadow can even raise the increment to bid $40, so Julie is asked to bid $45. This is typically continued until the auctioneer senses one bidder is about to stop bidding, and of course, the shadow stops bidding too.

I witnessed this all day at an auction not too long ago. Only one bidder stopped bidding while the shadow was “on,” and in that case, the auctioneer said sold to his own number, as he didn’t have any bidder on at that time (only the shadow.)

Unethical bid calling? Yes. Creative? Yes. Illegal? Maybe not, as we’ll explore in a future post, but not a good excuse to conduct this type of bid calling nonetheless.

Mike Brandly, Auctioneer, CAI, AARE has been an auctioneer and certified appraiser for over 30 years. His company’s auctions are located at: Mike Brandly, Auctioneer, Keller Williams Auctions and Goodwill Columbus Car Auction. His Facebook page is: www.face book.com/mbauctioneer. He is Executive Director of The Ohio Auction School.