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Earlier this year, I was asked by an attorney if I could tell — in a simulcast auction — which bids were strictly online (executed automatically) and which bids were live (executed by a person?)

I answered with the obvious observation, that the software would show which bids were placed by a person and which bids were placed automatically.

Yet she countered, “What if the simulcast auction didn’t display that information, or such was unreliable?” What do online bids look like where a bidder has authorized the software to bid for him up to $5,000 where the bid is currently $3,200? What do live bids look like where a bidder is willing to bid up to $5,000 and the current bid is $3,200? The fact is they look different.

Live bidding (even through a computer) takes a few seconds. The reason is there is a human involved where the brain processes first that he has been outbid, hears (or sees) the next bid increment suggested (required,) decides to bid again (or not,) and raises his hand (clicks the button … ) in order to place the next bid.

However, a strictly online bid (with no human thinking involved) takes no more than one second. Furthering our example here, if a bidder has authorized the software to bid as high as $5,000 and another bidder bids $3,300, that next bid of $3,400 happens almost immediately. On the contrary, if no such bid existed, another live bid would take a bit more time.

Certainly auctioneers, for whatever reason, could delay online-only bids to make them look more like live bids, and similarly could possibly use multiple computers to simulate live bids being made automatically, but there would be little reason except to confuse other bidders and the public and/or misrepresent where bids were coming from …

Today, with the knowledge and consent of this attorney, we explore this question here. Would an auctioneer want to portray that a bid was online when it was actually from a live bidder? Would an auctioneer want to say a bid was from a live bidder when it was actually from an online bidder? Possibly would an auctioneer want bids placed by the seller/auctioneer to look like bids placed by another online bidder and/or another live bidder?

Considering the facts (as I’ve been advised) in this attorney’s case, it appears the actual bidding record had been altered or falsified yet the timestamps of the bids were not. I’m certainly not suggesting to my fellow auctioneers to be more careful when fabricating bidder records, but rather a much better strategy: Don’t alter or misrepresent the bidding history at all — in any respect. Simply put, live bids should show as live bids, and automatic bids should show as automatic bids.

Further, if multiple online platforms are being utilized, each bid should show which platform was used; no online platform should be referred to as “live bids,” no live bid should show as an “online bid” and bids on behalf of the seller should show as such (just as the state of California now requires.) In other words, all data should depict an accurate representation of what actually occurred (and when it occurred) without exception.

One remark this attorney made early in our discussions has stuck with me, and she authorized me to quote her. She said, “The cover-up and falsification in this case was much more troubling than the original issue — and actually became the issue.” Auctioneers are reminded that online and simulcast auctions have bidding histories which can be subpoenaed by a court and/or regulatory agency, and unusual or peculiar patterns will always be evaluated.

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, RES Auction Services and Goodwill Columbus Car Auction. He serves as Distinguished Faculty at Hondros College of Business, Executive Director of The Ohio Auction School and Faculty at the Certified Auctioneers Institute held at Indiana University.