Online stamp auctions can be exciting and rewarding. They can also be extremely dangerous! When it comes to buying anything online, the Internet is still the "Wild-Wild-West" (of US lore) out there! The buyer that isn't "armed" with "caution" and "knowledge" can get into a lot of trouble!
There are a lot of opportunities for great bargains in online auctions, but there are also risks involved for people that may be excited about finding something they like, not investigating the lot thoroughly, and that get caught up in the frenzy of last-minute bidding. Always remember to examine the scans carefully, and to read the lot description, shipping terms, and payment options thoroughly. If you have any doubts or questions, you can also communicate directly with the seller about the lot, before you bid on it. The overwhelming majority of online auction sellers are honest people, but they are human, and they do occasionally make mistakes.
One problem with online stamp auctions is that anyone that becomes a registered user with the auction site can sell stamps. There are many casual sellers that just want to sell some stamps they have, without any knowledge at all about what they are selling. These people may not even be stamp collectors -- they may have bought some stamps in a garage sale or been given some stamps by a relative or friend. I have seen pitiful lots out there with blurry scans and damaged material that is completely worthless. What is truly sad is when I see some unsuspecting novice collector bidding on one of these lots. In other instances, I have seen experienced sellers selling early European stamps that are forgeries. In many cases, they may not actually be aware of this, if they don't have an expert knowledge or proper reference materials pertaining to the particular issue that they are trying to sell.
There are also a very small number of online auction sellers out there that are "dishonest" and that run sales for the sole intent of cheating people out of their money. As in any part of life, there is always the possibility of running into criminals. The old saying that a "fool and his money are soon parted", can be painfully true, when buying anything online. Things to watch for are sellers with very high negative user feedback, very low feedback ratings, or ones that are selling items at "unbelievably cheap prices". It actually happened to me once, many years ago! I won some expensive Roman coins that were being auctioned by a Canadian seller. I thought I had really made a killing, with the cheap prices that I paid. When I received the coins, examined them, and subsequently realized that they were forgeries, the Canadian seller was long-gone from the auction site, and I had lost several hundred dollars in the process.
Another thing to look out for are "phishing" emails that appear to come from the auction site you are registered with. They come from identity thieves on the internet and not the auction site itself. They are usually amateur imitations of the auction site email templates, and they can be easily spotted. The intent of these requests is to steal your financial information. Almost all the auction sites NEVER send registered users emails requesting verification of their registration information. Be very suspicious of any email communication that does. If you get one, notify the legal department of the auction site that the email was pretending to represent and then delete it. I get these all the time, usually from criminals pretending to represent eBay or PayPal. For the eBay ones, they should be forwarded to "firstname.lastname@example.org", and for the PayPal ones, they should be forwarded to "spoof@PayPal.com". I also win about six million Pounds every month in African lotteries ... These are obvious identity theft scams though, and they are immediately deleted.
anything in life, there are dangers -- There is the chance that you can
be robbed by a criminal, just walking out your front door! Bidding on
and winning online stamp auction lots can be an enjoyable experience.
The buyer just needs to EDUCATE themselves in their collecting
specialty, and they need to use a little CAUTION when buying stamps
through online stamp auctions.