Internet auction sites
You'll find everything under the sun for sale online, and often under one roof. Before you start bidding, check out our guide to your rights.
In a nutshell
When purchasing something from an internet auction site, you are usually buying from the seller, not the site. This means it's the seller you need to complain to if something goes wrong. The seller could be a private individual, or a business trader, so it's important to know who you're dealing with as this will affect your rights.
Buying on internet auctions
Find out some handy tips and what your buying rights are before buying on an auction website.
Buying from a business trader
By law, a business trader should be clear about their id entity before the sale is made. However, many traders pretend to be private sellers in order to dodge their legal responsibilities towards their customers.
Here are some things which might confirm that you're buying from a business trader:
- A large number of similar items are for sale;
- The items are being sold in a 'shop' within the site or have 'power-seller' status on eBay;
- There are links to a business website;
- The photographs of the items for sale are stock photographs, rather than the actual items themselves.
What are my rights when the seller is a business trader?
Effectively, you have at least as many rights as if you had bought the goods in a shop. Whether the goods are advertised as new or second-hand, they must be of satisfactory quality and match the description given on the website.
If something is wrong with the goods, you should complain to the seller. Depending on how serious the problem is and how quickly you make your complaint, you may be able to:
- Return the goods and get your money back;
- Get a free repair done;
- Get a replacement for the goods;
- Get some of your money back;
- Claim compensation.
The seller should pay for any postage costs involved in sending goods back or in getting them repaired.
What if I change my mind?
When buying online from a business trader you have the right to a 'cooling off' period. This means you can cancel your order within seven days of receiving the goods. You may have to pay for the cost of returning the goods, but the trader must return your money within 30 days of cancellation.
Can my credit card protect me?
If you have a problem with the goods received from a business trader on the internet, you may be able to make a claim against the credit card company instead of the trader. This could be useful where the trader has gone out of business or has no money to compensate you.
Buying from a private seller
Unlike your rights when buying from a business trader, things become more complicated when dealing with individuals. You can't complain if the goods are of unsatisfactory quality. Nor do you have a cooling off period; however, you do still have the right to complain to the seller if your goods don't match the description provided. This applies to second hand as well as new goods, and you may be entitled to compensation from the seller. The snag is you might need to go to court for this, and even if you win your case, the seller might not have enough money to pay you.
Nobody wants to encounter hassle when buying from an internet auction site. Should the worst occur, however, help is at hand:
- Website protection schemes
Some internet auction sites, such as CQout, have a protection scheme. These schemes can deal with problems such as non-delivery of goods or goods not matching their description. They can be useful if you want to avoid going to court, or if the seller lives overseas.
- Dispute resolution schemes
Some internet sites offer a dispute resolution service. This is intended to help you and the seller try to reach an agreement. Even if the seller agrees to pay you some money, there may not be a way of making sure they pay up.
- Payment protection schemes
Many payments for things bought on internet auction sites are made through special payment services, such as PayPal. Payment services will collect your money and won't release it to the seller until you have received your goods.
Going to court
Going to court should be a last resort. If you haven't made a genuine effort to sort out your problem before starting court action, even if you win your case the court may reduce your compensation.
What to do if fraud is involved
If you suspect you're being ripped off, in England, Wales and Scotland, you should report it to Consumer Direct on 08454 04 05 06. If you live in Northern Ireland you can report fraud to Consumerline on 0845 600 6262.
Thanks to Citizens Advice Bureau for help with this article.
Written by Matt Whyman
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