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I have titled this post in reference to a post I recently read by Will McLemore titled similarly about unethical auctioneer bid calling techniques.

I recently detailed several unethical bid calling techniques, as Will describes in his post “How to address bid calling ethics in the auction industry” and as I understand Will’s conclusion, online bidding removes the risks of consumers becoming victims of these methods.

Yes, online only bidding removes all risks of consumers being subject to any unethical live bid calling techniques, because at an online only auction, there is no live bid calling.

Paul Harvey would now say what? “You know what the news is, in a minute, you’re going to hear … the rest of the story.” Well, Paul, in even less than a minute.

I am well familiar with online auctions, and most all that are conducted by auctioneers are handled in an ethical, honest, proper and fair manner; just as most all live bid calling by auctioneers is handled in an ethical, honest, proper and fair manner.

But, just as with live bid calling, where some auctioneers choose to implement unethical practices, the online environment is not without unethical practices.

Based upon my observations over the last 10 years, here’s the most prevalent, and troubling methods I’ve witnessed first-hand:

  • Misrepresentation Online auctions rely on pictures and descriptions to represent items offered at auction. Some auctioneers take this opportunity to take deceptive pictures (and even alter pictures) and/or falsely describe items offered for auction, and make returning the item because of this misrepresentation difficult, if not impossible.
  • T&C Confusion Besides outright falsely describing items, many online auctions confuse bidders with the “It’s perfect in every way, works as new … but sells “as-is” without any warranty or guarantee whatsoever.” Of course, the bidder reads this to mean, “It’s perfect in every way and works as new … and I’m buying it just that way.” When the item is received by the unlucky high bidder, the item isn’t new and/or doesn’t work, and the online auction company says, “But you bought it “as-is” without any warranty or guarantee whatsoever …” leaving the buyer to sue for breach of contract, or sustain the loss.
  • Shill bidding While shill bidding is unfortunately prevalent throughout the auction industry, it is particularly utilized in the online auction environment. Sellers, friends of sellers and/or business associates can (and do) sit in their homes on the computer, bidding for the seller to insure a certain price is obtained. Some auctioneers do the same, with one of their staff stationed in a nearby room to the auction gallery with computer and bidder ID, bidding against legitimate bidders, falsely raising prices.
  • Fee stacking While online auctions typically detail additional buyer’s premiums, shipping and handling costs, some online auctions add on additional fees and/or charge undisclosed fees, making the actual purchase price much more than the buyer anticipates. Since most of the time, a credit card is already in the hands of the online vendor, the charge is made, and getting a refund can be quite inconvenient and time consuming.
  • Non-delivery The online auction buyer often depends upon some sort of shipment service for the delivery of their purchases. Some unethical online auctions report the item is shipped, when it is not, and/or purposely ship the wrong (and often, less in value) item, causing the buyer inconvenience and time consuming reconciliation attempts.

As we noted in referencing an article put out by the FTC, titled “Internet Auctions A Guide for Buyers and Sellers”, Internet (online) auction complaints rank near the top in number, year after year, as reported by the Federal Trade Commission.

Are there unethical live bid calling techniques? Are there unethical online auction techniques?

Yes, there are.

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.facebook.com/mbauctioneer. He is Executive Director of The Ohio Auction School.