Purchasing a large ticket item online can be scary. Since I've been on eBay so long, people often ask me if they can get a good deal on a camcorder and if it is safe to buy online. They hear about scams on eBay and ask me how to avoid them. Well, buying online can definitely be safe and rewarding... If you know what to avoid.
Your best payment method
Before you consider buying a high priced anything, you'll need a way to pay for it. Credit cards are the way to go. Not debit cards linked to your bank account, credit cards. But I don't mean that you should get into debt. Actually it would be best to have the money in cash and just pay off the card once you purchase the item. So why use a credit card if you already have the money? Protection. Credit card companies usually always side with the consumer if a problem should arise. This could be anything from a delivery date that was long overdue to an outright scammer that didn't send you anything. For further protection, you can pay through PayPal which can also refund you if a serious problem shows up. However, you should be aware of the time limits for filing a dispute. Some credit cards have 30 day limits while others may give you up to 90 days to make your claim.
Getting the lowest price
Of course you'll want to get the best price available and not have to bid any higher to get the item you're looking for. The easiest way to determine that price is to check completed listings. To do this, once you have searched for an item, click the box on the left of the screen for "Completed listings", then click "Show items". This will bring up a recent selling history of items. The green price means that an auction sold at that price. Now you should be able to get a good idea of what it is selling for on eBay.
I recommend only bidding on auctions that accept credit cards. Most sellers will accept PayPal, which is a good sign. However some accept PayPal, but not payment funded by a credit card. This is still safer than paying by money order or check in the mail, but you will limit your protection by not using a credit card. Auctions that only accept a mailed form of payment, I would personally stay away from. Not only is it inconvienient, but it will usually delay the shipment of your item if you have to wait for payment clearance, not to mention you really have no protection if something goes wrong.
Auctions that only have stock pictures and none of the actual item for sale would make me suspicious. Anyone selling an expensive camcorder should have a digital camera around to take some good photos of it. Plus, a good seller would know that more pictures equal more buyers. Also, if you have been looking around for the same item for a while, you might come across an auction that has taken pictures from another auction to make itself seem legitimate. To prevent image theft, many sellers place logos on their images so they can't be easily copied. One way to check an image's owner is (in IE) to right click it, then choose "properties". Then you'll see the URL. If it is an image hosted on Amazon or a site belonging to another business, then the seller stole it and the auction could be a scam.
Another good practice is to check the seller's feedback. You'll want to make sure it is mostly positive and see if the seller is currently selling any other items. If they have multiple listings for high priced camcorders and new laptops but have previously been buying/selling clothes or comic books, this could mean that someone's account has been hijacked.
There are a few other things you can look for. A Squaretrade Seal means the seller is a member and you can work through a Squaretrade mediator to resolve disputes. If the seller has an eBay store or an About Me page, those are good signs. It means the seller has taken time to develop an image/presentation to buyers so they are most likely legitimate. If you need more reassurance, just contact them. See what type of response they give. If the seller tries to pressure you into buying immediately or outside eBay with a huge discount or tells you they might sell out before the auction ends, just walk away from it.
You found a good auction and paid for it
Now the hard part is over, and you just have to wait for your item to arrive, assuming the seller shipped in a timely manner. If there has been a delay, the seller should be straightforward about it. If he has a good reason, give him the benefit of the doubt. A good seller will appreciate it and will try and make it up to you. When you get your item, inspect it for any problems. If all is okay, please leave feedback on eBay as this is an important part of eBay. Remember you may have used feedback in one of the steps above to verify the seller, so your comments will probably help someone else. If there are problems, give the seller a chance to resolve the problem before leaving negative feedback. If you leave a negative before contacting the seller, he may not be willing to work with you. Also, in this situation, you would probably want the same opportunity.
That's it for now. Thanks for reading this guide. I hope it will be helpful to someone.
-Jonathan / Bargain-Camera LLC