Help pack a million meals for struggling seniors on Sept. 11. Volunteer today

On Your Side

Penny Auctions: Real or Ripoffs?

Sure, you can find a deal. But sometimes, the costs add up.

If bidding against a computer isn't challenge enough, the FTC listed several other problem areas for penny auctions, including:

Time lags: Many complaints about penny auctions involved late shipments, no shipments or shipments of products that aren't the same quality as advertised.

Misleading Language: Terms like "bonus bids" might suggest that bids are free, but really aren't.

Hidden costs: In addition to bidding costs, many penny auction sites charge fees for membership, ongoing subscriptions or shipping. The FTC found that terms and conditions are often difficult to find on the websites.

In our research, On Your Side also discovered evidence that penny auction sites are targeting seniors via search engine optimization with special pages tagged "seniors-seniors-elderly" and "elderly-seniors." (Tip for website operators: Most of us aren't too pleased to be referred to as "elderly.")

Given the potential pitfalls, penny auction sites leave a lot to be desired as honest options for smart shoppers: for every "winner" there are multiple "losers." On the other hand, playing the bidding game can be entertaining — making them more akin to gaming sites or lotteries than legitimate online vendors. Our recommendation — be cautious, keep track of your real expenses and have a good time ... you might just win something.

Ron Burley is the author of Unscrewed: The Consumer's Guide to Getting What You Paid for.

Also of interest: A survey con can cost you big. >>

Topic Alerts

You can get weekly email alerts on the topics below. Just click “Follow.”

Manage Alerts


Please wait...

progress bar, please wait

Tell Us WhatYou Think

Please leave your comment below.


The Cheap Life

Jeff Yeager Cheap Life Ultimate Cheapskate AARP YouTube web series save money

Catch the latest episode of The Cheap Life starring Jeff Yeager, AARP's Ultimate Cheapskate. Watch

Discounts & Benefits

From companies that meet the high standards of service and quality set by AARP.

Member Benefits HomeServe

Members can protect their homes with comprehensive repair plans from HomeServe.

AARP Credit card from Chase

Members can get cash back rewards on purchases with the AARP® Credit Card from Chase.

Woman holding smartphone in city, Google map tool

Members can find discounts on the go via the AARP® Member Advantages Offer Finder app.

Member Benefits

Join or renew today! AARP members receive exclusive member benefits & affect social change.

Rewards for Good

Your Points Balance:

Learn More

Earn points for completing free online activities designed to enrich your life.

Find more ways to earn points

Redeem your points to save on merchandise, travel, and more.

Find more ways to redeem points


Advance your skills. Transform your career.

Explore your learning possibilities.