Caveat Emptor: bidders beware

A pre-emptive warning to all flamers: i'm admitting here that I'm a moron. So please spare me the e-mail, if that's all you learn from the following story about my first experience participating in an online auction.

A pre-emptive warning to all flamers: i'm admitting here that I'm a moron. So please spare me the e-mail, if that's all you learn from the following story about my first experience participating in an online auction. While it wasn't a good experience, I did learn some valuable lessons.

We've done a fair bit of reporting in PC Week about auction sites, but until you actually participate in a bid, you are indeed as innocent as a virgin is to sex. Problem is, I'm not a serious collector of anything, and that's the primary forte of a true cyber-auction participant.

Then I hit on something. I have a SyJet drive at home. I stupidly bought it about six months before SyQuest went belly-up almost two years ago. I had two disks for the 1.5GB drive, and I used them to back up all my application files on my home PC. One of the disks went bad on me, and I wanted to replace it. Several problems confronted me. No retailer carries SyQuest anymore, but the company, resurrected as SYQT Inc., does. You can buy products at app.syquest.com/orders. The price of a single disk, however, is $149, a total rip-off. They used to sell retail for about $70. Where was I to go?

Ding! I tried eBay, did a search, and found a gold mine of sellers who had a large inventory and were offering all kinds of SyQuest products at huge discounts, with bids starting as low as $1.

Registering on eBay was a bit of a chore, but once I got settled in, I quickly found a suitable bid: one disk, brand-new, unused, still sealed in its case, current bid of $15, increments of $1. I bid $16. Hedging my bets, I went to other auction sites to find other SyJet offers. I found one at CNet; the seller was a company, JustDeals.com, and it would take credit cards. I registered and bid $21 using the "Bid Assist" feature, which will keep upping your bid until you hit that limit or win the bid.

After a few days and a couple of raises, I knew I couldn't stay in the eBay auction. But there was little activ ity on CNet. Then an e-mail from JustDeals notified me that I had won the bid for a single disk. The price: $20, a nice discount. They requested I phone them to settle the deal and arrange payment and shipping. Here's where the fun began.

I proceeded to make about 20 calls to JustDeals over the next 72 hours. Auction sites spell out clearly that a winning bid is a binding contract and that winners have only a few days to contact the seller. All I got at every call was a maddening recording saying that all operators are busy.

I replied to the original e-mail, requested a call and did subsequently get a response, via voice mail, from someone who said, "I don't know why you are calling, but if you want to explain your problem, please call this number." I tried the number again several times, to no avail.

By now steaming, I went to the "seller ratings" section to fill out a bad report. Then I saw all the reports filled out on JustDeals and got my comeuppance. Dozens of bidders had registered the same complaint I did: no response, no products, no nothing. Some angry bidders called the company "No Deals." While the overall rating was positive, there were enough failed transactions there to have warned me off, had I heeded them.

More than three weeks later, I still haven't heard from JustDeals or spoken to a human being there. Obviously, I don't have my disk. And you know what? I don't real ly care anymore. And it appears my would-be seller doesn't, either.

Forever scorned, or should I try again? Write me at scot_petersen@zd.com.

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