Americans are increasingly turning to Internet auction sites to buy and sell goods from around the world, and a growing number think they might be getting a raw deal online.
The number of complaints filed with the Federal Trade Commission over Internet auctions has nearly doubled from 51,000 in 2002 to more than 98,000 last year, the agency said Tuesday in its annual report on consumer fraud and identity-theft complaints.
The online complaints cover everything from the failure of sellers to deliver goods or services to consumers claiming their purchases weren't worth the price they paid.
Complaints for all types of fraud have grown since 2002, according to the FTC report. Internet auction grievances made up 13% of the 403,000 total fraud complaints in 2002; in 2004, they made up 16% of the 635,000 grievances.
Americans are becoming more wary of potential scams, heeding the advice of public awareness campaigns, said Betsy Broder, a lawyer with the FTC's consumer protection bureau.
"We like to think that people are more savvy about shopping online. They've learned to take precautions that just because it's on the Internet doesn't mean that it's legitimate," Broder said.
EBay Inc., the online auction giant, has 30 million listings but only about 1 in 10,000 might be fraudulent, company spokesman Hani Durzi said.
Buyers should use only secure methods online to pay for items and should never wire money, he added.
The only other category in which more complaints were filed in 2004 was identity theft -- 39%, or more than 246,000 of the total complaints, down slightly from 40% in 2002. It was the fifth straight year that identity theft topped the list of consumer concerns.
Identity theft involves stealing someone's personal information for financial gain. The most common cases involve credit cards, followed by telephone or utility, bank and workplace fraud.