(WASHINGTON) -- There's something about an auction that gets people's blood flowing -- and gets their cash flowing, too.
People part with thousands of dollars because they believe they've "won" something rather than "bought" something. Often they overpay. But you can bid your way to a bargain at an auction, as long as you remember an old warning with a new twist: bidder beware.
Government auctions are so popular that copycats try to make their auctions seem like government auctions to lure customers. This is just one of many underhanded tactics used by traveling auctions held in hotel rooms and other rotating sites.
Traveling auctions usually advertise in newspapers or send out direct mail. Beware of ads with statements like this: "AUCTION of goods previously held, sold and released by GOVERNMENT AGENCIES and POLICE DEPARTMENTS!"
Unschooled readers might miss the fine print and mistake this for a government auction. But it's a ploy. All it means is that the traveling auctioneer himself attended a government auction and bought one or two things that he's now going to try to resell at a huge mark up. That's if he attended a government auction at all.
Also be aware that opportunists will try to sell you information about government auctions that you can get yourself for free. The scam works like this: You see an ad about government auctions or other glamorous auctions, and call the posted number. The operator asks you for your credit card or checking account number. The company charges you $50 to $70 dollars for a list of auctions. Maybe the operator offers to "throw in" a couple extra auction books. You end up being charged for those as well. However, save your money: the Treasury Department publishes lists of government sales and auctions for free.
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