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auctionpodIn the early 20th century most auction bidders merely arrived at the auction and started bidding — nearly all auctioneers knew everyone’s name.

Most all auctions in the United States today require the bidders to register before bidding.

Such registration for a live auction is typically a driver’s license or other government issued identification, providing name, address and driver’s license (or other) number. Too, many auctioneers require a telephone number.

For many online auctions, this same information plus a valid credit card and email address is often required for registration.

Many real estate auctions and even some personal property auctions require some sort of monetary deposit and/or letter of credit as well.

However, more recently some auctioneers are demanding bidders’ Social Security numbers. Can an auctioneer require a bidder to provide his or her Social Security number? Probably so.

The Social Security Administration says that while Social Security numbers are required to do business with many organizations, any business can require a Social Security number from a customer. Essentially, the customer has two choices — either provide the number or do business elsewhere.

Other than required by law … giving your Social Security number is voluntary, even when you are asked for the number directly. If requested, you should ask why your Social Security number is needed, how your number will be used, what law requires you to give your number and what the consequences are if you refuse. The answers to these questions can help you decide if you want to give your Social Security number. The decision is yours.

As I look ahead, I wonder, “What’s next?” Thumb print? DNA sample? Cornea scan? Exactly what problem are we trying to solve (or avoid) with registration?

For one, bidders who register and are assigned a number are easier to identify when they buy. Bid numbers work well with clerk sheets and software programs.

Also, we want to be able to contact buyers in the event there is a discrepancy in their invoice; we certainly may want to contact all registered bidders about upcoming auctions.

And, as some bidders try to avoid payment with false identities, we want to ensure the person who is registering is actually the person bidding and buying.

In the online auction environment, it becomes even more challenging as the auctioneer doesn’t actually see the bidder — and the bidder could be a continent away.

Finally, from a contractual standpoint, registration can firm agreement with the terms and conditions, and be useful for the auctioneer if a buyer refuses to close the deal.

Yet, we’ve gone in a fairly modest time-frame from auctioneers requiring no registration at all, to now demanding all kinds of data, numbers and verification.

Maybe everyone will have a barcode on their forearm and that can be scanned either live at the auction or by a computer or electronic devise remotely? Or, is that already going on?

I would conclude that any information or data required for auction registration will be viewed by the public as reasonable — so long as it isn’t extraordinarily different from other similar industries; it seems at this very moment, the Social Security number requirement risks being viewed as extraordinary.

Auctioneers need to be careful. Just because you can demand something in order to bid doesn’t mean that demand is prudent.

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 serves as Adjunct Faculty at Columbus State Community College and is Executive Director of The Ohio Auction School.