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The ultimate guide to eBay safety

Buy and sell safely on the web's auction house

eBay is the world's largest online auction marketplace and awash with frauds and scams. Although the site has put in place a number of measures to stop fraudsters, it's also up to users to avoid becoming a victim. Here are a few simple precautions that will protect you.

Fake and misrepresented items

Getting what you paid for can sometimes be a challenge on eBay, thanks to sellers of counterfeit, doctored, and evasively described items. Fake Apple iPods , counterfeit batteries and phony SanDisk CompactFlash or SD cards are regularly up for sale on eBay. The bogus iPods will be obvious the minute you open and turn them on, but you may not recognise memory cards and batteries as knockoffs until they garble your photos or set your laptop on fire.

Other significant problems include used hardware, which could have defects or missing pieces, that is as sold as new, and sales of software that may be counterfeit, already registered, or a different or older version than buyers expect.

If you see Windows Vista Ultimate or Adobe Creative Studio 3 going for $50 (£25), it's probably not the real thing. But not all fakes are sold at low prices, many are listed in the same price range as genuine products, with photos of authentic items taken from manufacturer sites, making it almost impossible to tell something is counterfeit until you receive it.

Gray-market goods like digital cameras and camcorders are genuine but don't come with warranties. Another frequent deception is low-cost academic or OEM versions of software being misrepresented as full retail editions. You may discover the difference only when it comes time to upgrade, and you find that the serial number for your application is not eligible for an upgrade.

Any area that is a target for street counterfeits is also a big business on eBay. Designer handbags and accessories, watches, jewellery, perfume, cosmetics, DVDs, and vehicle parts are just some of the areas to be wary of. Tiffany sued eBay in 2005 alleging that more than 70 percent of certain jewelry items sold as "Tiffany" were actually counterfeit.

Other items may just be stolen. One eBay seller unloaded $78,000 (£39,000) worth of hot Harley-Davidson parts before getting caught earlier this year. He had been employed in a Harley-Davidson parts warehouse.

In the antiques and collectibles category, beware of reproductions and repaired or doctored items. Pottery chips and cracks can be repaired in a way that makes them invisible to the untrained eye, furniture and metalware may be refinished, and old stamps washed or given new perforations. A reproduction or repaired item may look fine on the surface, but it won't be worth anywhere near as much as an undoctored original when you try to sell it, as any viewer of Antiques Roadshow will tell you.

Even normal sellers typically write incomplete descriptions. For example, if you're looking for a used laptop, the description might not state whether the manual and recovery discs are included or whether the LCD screen has any dead pixels. Be sure to ask such questions or your purchase may not live up to your expectations.

NEXT PAGE: Top tips for protecting yourself against purchasing fake goods on eBay

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