Buying on Internet Auction Sites
This information is about your rights when you buy goods from a website calling itself an internet auction site. It does not cover your rights if you are selling goods through one of these sites.
This information applies only if you are buying goods on an internet auction site from a seller based in the Isle of Man, UK or in another European Union (EU) country. If the seller is based outside the UK or EU, different rules may apply, even if the internet site itself is based in the Isle of Man, UK or the EU.
Buying goods on internet auction sites has become a very popular way to shop. A wide range of goods is available for sale from a large number of sellers, in a number of different ways.
These sites may call themselves auction sites, but they don't operate in the same way as traditional auctioneers, and they don't have the same responsibilities. When you buy something from an internet auction site, you are usually buying from the seller, not the site, and it is the seller you will need to complain to if something goes wrong. The seller could be a private individual, or a business trader. It is important to know which, as this will affect your rights. As a general rule, you will have more rights if the seller is a business trader than if they are a private individual, although it may not always be possible to tell if the seller is a business trader and it can be difficult to make sure they give you what you're entitled to.
There are different types of sale available on internet auction sites. Some are auction-style sales involving bidding for items. Others, for example 'Buy-it-now’ on eBay, aren't auction sales at all. Your rights will depend on the type of sale you buy from. They will also depend on whether any extra protection is available through the terms and conditions of the site, or through the method of payment you have used.
It's not always possible to tell whether you are buying from a business trader on an internet auction site. If the sale isn't an auction-style sale, a seller who is a business trader should tell you that they're a business trader before the sale is made. However, some traders don't do this and pretend to be private sellers in order to avoid their legal responsibilities towards their customers.
Some things which might tell you that you are buying from a business trader are if:
- there is a high amount of feedback from buyers
- there is a large number of similar items for sale
- the items for sale are mostly new
- 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
- the user ID is a trading name or includes, for example, 'Ltd'
If you buy goods on an internet auction site and the seller is a business trader, you have at least as many rights as if you had bought the goods in a shop (and sometimes you have more). This means the goods must be of satisfactory quality and match the description given on the website. They should be free of any faults, including minor ones. They should be of the same quality and last as long as a reasonable person would expect. You must also be able to use the goods for the purpose that you would normally expect of this type of product.
If there is something 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 (this is usually possible only within a very short period after buying them)
- 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.
For more information about your normal shopping rights when you buy from a business trader, see Your Rights when Buying Goods.
As well as your normal shopping rights, you also have some extra rights when you buy goods online from a business trader. This includes the right to be given the name and address of the business trader before you place your order.
You may also have some additional rights because you have bought something from a trader without having face-to-face contact with them. Buying this way is known as distance selling. You will only get these additional rights when you buy goods from a business trader on an internet auction site in one of a certain number of ways. This is because when you buy goods in one of these ways, the sale isn't a real auction sale, even if some form of bidding is involved. You will get these additional rights when:
- the items are sold at a fixed-price (for example, 'Buy-it-now' on eBay)
- the items are being offered by auction, but you use an instant purchase option to buy
- you are the losing bidder for an item in an auction sale which has been re-offered to you after the winning bidder failed to pay
- it is a sham auction. It is likely to be a sham auction where the item is widely available elsewhere and where the opening bid amount is not much lower than what you would normally pay for the item.
The most important extra right you have when you buy online from a business trader in one of these ways, is the right to a 'cooling off' period. This means you can cancel your order if you change your mind about wanting the goods. You can do this within seven working days after the day the goods are delivered. You can cancel your order within this period, even if there's nothing wrong with the goods and get a refund.
The trader must tell you that you have the right to a seven day cooling off period before you place your order. If they don't, the cooling off period will start when they tell you in writing about your right to cancel, or three months after the goods are delivered, whichever comes first.
If you want to cancel your order, you must do this in writing. The trader must return your money within 30 days. You may have to pay for the cost of returning the goods, although only if the trader has told you about this before you bought them. If you do have to pay for returning your goods, make sure you choose a postal service with enough insurance to cover any loss or damage.
When you buy online from a business trader, the trader must make sure you receive your goods within 30 days. If you don't get the goods within 30 days of placing your order, you have the right to cancel and get a full refund. You might also be able to get extra compensation on top of this.
For more information about your rights when you buy something on the internet, see Shopping on the Internet.
When you buy goods from a business trader, it is the responsibility of the trader if the goods are lost or damaged before delivery. You don't have to buy extra postal insurance to protect your goods against loss or damage before delivery.
If you used your credit card to buy something from a business trader on an internet auction site, you may be able to make a claim against the credit card company instead of the trader if there is something wrong with the goods. This could be useful where the trader has gone out of business or has no money to compensate you.
To be able to claim against the credit card company, the goods must have cost more than £100 and less than £30,000. If you paid by credit card, it may also be possible for you to get a payment reversed.
When you buy second hand goods from a business trader on an internet auction site, you have the same rights as if they were new. However, if there is a problem, you will need to take into account the price you paid for the goods when deciding whether you expect the trader to do anything about it. You shouldn't necessarily expect the goods to be of perfect quality, and your expectations of their performance may be lower.
Under certain, very limited circumstances, it's possible to lose some of your normal shopping rights when you buy second hand goods through an internet auction site. This could happen if you are offered the chance to view the goods in person. Although this is rare, it can sometimes happen. The most common example is when you buy second hand cars.
When you buy something on an internet auction site from a private individual, you have very few rights.
You can't complain if the goods aren't of satisfactory quality or fit for the purpose you bought them. Also, you don't have the right to cancel your order, or any of the other extra rights you get when you buy on an internet auction site from a business trader without having face-to-face contact.
However, you do still have the right to complain to the seller if your goods don't match the description they've given on the website. This applies to second hand as well as new goods. If the goods don't match the description, you may be entitled to compensation from the seller. But you might need to go to court to try and get this. This may prove very difficult if the seller is off-Island and even if you are able to and win your case, the seller might not have enough money to pay you.
When you buy goods from a private seller, you may not be able to make a claim against them if the goods are damaged or lost before delivery. However, if the seller has offered you postal insurance and you have accepted, they will be expected to make a claim on the insurance on your behalf.
Some internet sites 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 the seller is from overseas, so it's worth checking if you can make a claim under one of these schemes.
However, you need to bear in mind the following:
- you may only have a very short period of time in which to make a claim
- there may be several types of problem which the scheme doesn't cover
- the amount of money you can claim on the scheme might be limited
- the number of claims you can make on the scheme may be limited
- you may have to try other options for solving your problem first, for example, making a claim through your credit card provider, if you paid by credit card
- to make a claim, you will also need to have followed the auction-site rules, policies or user agreement. This means that you won't be able to claim if you dealt with the seller directly through email instead of through the site
Some internet sites offer a dispute resolution service. This is a scheme which will help you and the seller try to reach an agreement. Some schemes involve the services of trained mediators and will charge a fee. It's important to remember that you might not always get what you want when you use one of these schemes. Even if the seller agrees to pay you some money, there may not be a way of making sure they pay up.
Many payments for things bought on internet auction sites are now 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.
These services can be useful, but they do offer very different levels of protection for your money. Look carefully at the terms and conditions to find out what the scheme does or doesn't do. You may have to pay a fee to use a payment protection scheme, so it's important to shop around for the best one.
When you use an online payment service, you may find that your payments are not fully protected in some circumstances, for example, if you are dealing with sellers from overseas. You may also find that you are not protected if:
- fraud is involved
- you did not complain within the time limits, which are sometimes very short
- you entered into a deal with the seller outside the internet site
Many card networks, including credit cards and charge cards, operate chargeback arrangements. This means that, in some circumstances, you may be able to get a payment reversed. Check with your credit or charge card provider whether they operate chargeback arrangements.
Chargeback time limits can be tight and the schemes may not cover all types of claim. However, where they do operate, they will apply to payments made to overseas as well as UK sellers.
If you have tried everything else but still got nowhere, you could think about making a claim against the seller in court. Going to court should be a last resort and may be very difficult to do if the seller is off-Island. 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.
Before you go to court, you need to think about whether you have enough evidence. It will be up to you to prove your case. There is no guarantee that you will win your case and you may end up losing money. You also need to find out if the seller has enough money to pay your claim. It is not worth suing someone who has no money.
You will need to have the seller's address before you can take them to court.
If you aren't able to trace the seller, contact the website. The site may be able to give you the seller's details. There is nothing in law which prevents them from doing this. However, they don't have to give you the seller's details if they don't want to.
If the seller appears to operate their own website with their own domain name, it may be possible to find out how to contact them by searching on a 'Who is' search engine, such as www.nominet.org.uk (UK domains only).
If you suspect that fraud is involved, you should report it to the Police.
Look out especially for:
- sellers who invite you to trade outside the internet site by offering to sell you something for the same or a lower price
- fake payment protection schemes which fail to pass your money on to the seller
- someone who contacts you when you are the losing bidder at an online auction, offering to sell you a similar product. This is likely to be a fraudster. They will insist on payment through an online payment scheme and then fail to deliver the goods
- items which cost a lot more than you think they're worth. Sellers can get people they know to put in false bids for items so that they can get a higher price
You should also report suspected fraud to the internet auction site. There are a number of ways in which they can penalise someone who is acting outside the rules of the site, including suspending their account.
Getsafeonline's website has useful information about how to buy safely online www.getsafeonline.org.
Our thanks to the UK Citizens Advice Bureau for the provision of this information.