Active Auction GavelOnline is an infinite everything outlet, selling everything from your everyday business needs to groceries. But while options like Amazon offer support and guarantees, you may be tempted by the eBay underground. Some of those deals look too good to be true, and here we look at the predictable results of that statement:

1. Sniping

The eBay arena makes World War I trenches look like a haven for big-headed soldiers. Just in case Doctor Doom has kept you in a faraday cage for the last ten years: eBay auctions operate an a set time limit, and because it’s an impassive machine instead of an actual person enforcing the bidding, it’s possible to swoop in at the last microsecond and snatch an item.

This problem is so serious that the system software has been upgraded to deal with it — now you input your maximum value, not your current bid, and your computer will automatically outbid opponents up to that limit. Of course, their machines are doing the same thing and this rapidly escalates things to the maximum, and the meta-sniper makes his maximum more milliseconds before the close of bidding.

If this all sounds like an enormous hassle, as well as a great way of guaranteeing that the item goes to the saddest person willing to spend the most time on the computer, that’s because it is! You know how here at the Smartlife we tell you how the Internet can save you time? This is like the anti-Smartlife — an SL with a goatee and a scar out to undo our actions.

2. *Not As Advertised

If you can’t see any problems with handing over money for something you’ve only ever seen a picture of, watch out, you’ve had your memory erased by Dr. Mindbender! This means you’re probably G.I. Joe and should punch anyone you see wearing a monocle. eBay is ideal for all who wish to advertise, falsely or not: the Nobel Prize for Scam Sales goes to the auction for a genuine NASA toolbag. One that apparently fell directly from the International Space Station onto a Minnesota golf course! Or more accurately, news of the dropped toolbag fell into the head of an extremely amateur fraudster, and a rather optimistic eBay auction was the result.

Lesson #1: Sixteen people bid for it — this should tell you everything you need to know about the eBay baseline.

Lesson #2: After several complaints the auction was pulled, only to be relaunched on a different account later — negative feedback only affects honest sellers, which kind of misses the point. Scammers just start again.

3. Scamming

Outside of the optimistic everything-sellers trading in unicorn hair and Paris Hilton’s dignity, there are the professional scammers out to beg, borrow, hack, and steal your credit card information. This isn’t just the “Prinsse of Nig-er1a” grade trash either — these guys can have fully equipped bank-impersonating webpages, escrow-a-likes, and any amount of official-appearing emails asking for all your info.

eBay offers all sorts of protection — so, to save time and avoid losing money, you have to sign up for an extra level of services with a company out for your money, turning one-click shopping into the form-filling equivalent of doing your taxes in triplicate.

4. What Complaints?

But surely it’s in the service’s best interests to set up smooth sailing for the customers, right? HINT: Mindbender just zapped you again.

It’s in the service’s best interests, which start with p and rhyme with money-rofit, to keep customers flowing without wasting expensive man-hours on any of them. Ever.

eBay’s customer service is best represented in the famous case of the P-P-P-Powerbook prank, where a customer was targeted by a scam so obvious the criminal might as well have sent a JPG of him twirling his pencil mustache while holding a bag marked “SWAG.” eBay’s response? A form email teaching the customer how to escrow the guy money! So either auto-reply server #17 doesn’t care about the customer, or is actually getting a cut from the criminals. Nevermind how, in 2002, eBay closed its customer complaint email address altogether to “streamline” the customer service experience — right out of existence.

PayPal, the preferred payment option for online auctions, does even better: it took legal action (enforcement of the EFTA act) to get PayPal to print a customer complaint number at all.

But since the Supreme Court hasn’t got involved to actually make them co-operate you shouldn’t get your hopes up.

5. Now It’s YOUR Broken Crap!

In any case of incorrect, incomplete, or utterly inadequate purchases, the first thing any seller will insist on is you returning the item. Assuming you’re not a post office, and most people aren’t, this would drain such a fantastic amount of time and energy that most customers decide not to chalk it up to experience — exactly what the scummy seller was counting on.

So what is one to do? Simple: stay the hell away. If you’re getting anything for the office, for example, the fact is that you actually need it to, you know, do work and can’t afford endless hours of inquiry and investigations. eBay is strictly a hobbyist’s heaven, a place where they can pick up rare items for their collection AND get incredible war stories about how much hassle they went through to get them!

Image credit: DSGpro / iStockphoto

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COMMENT PRIZES: We’re offering two eBay gift cards (just kidding, they are actually Amazon gift cards) to whomever supplies (1) the most egregious example of how eBay can waste your time and money and (2) the best advice for avoiding an unproductive and money-wasting eBay transaction. The Editor will unilaterally determine the winners; he can be persuaded, however, by whoever receives the most “thumbs up.” Prizes will be administered on April 30. Good luck!