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Ever had a bad eBay day?

What happens when you forget to log out of your eBay account and your daughter discovers the thrill of the auction. By Gary Crossing

My sons and I haven’t spent a great deal of time on eBay together. There were a few months last year when I was effectively buying back my childhood toys, paying way over the odds for miles of Scalextric track that didn’t work and regiments of tiny, 1970s Airfix toy soldiers and their armoured vehicles.

It was fun for a while. Finding a near-mint H0-00 scale Sherman tank, still in its box, for under a tenner was a nostalgic pleasure. Especially when I knew my boy was going to enjoy playing with it and not just keep it in a display case like a gentleman collector of a certain age.

Thankfully though, the boys have yet to find out how eBay works. They are complete strangers to the thrill of the auction. They have no idea on how to bid on items. I always do my bidding on rare 1960s soul 45s under cover of darkness. They certainly don’t know about PayPal and passwords. And I always log out of eBay and PayPal when I’ve finished.

A friend of mine wasn’t so cautious. And he paid for it dearly. He was at work one morning over the summer holidays when he heard a ping on his smartphone. It was the good people at PayPal confirming the receipt of his payment of $286 (£235) for a vintage wax doll.

He had been in a meeting for half an hour and had switched off his phone. So he had missed the notifications from eBay as the bids went up and up, and the one telling him that the auction was nearly ending. He’d missed the cheery ‘You won!’ email with the link in it to ‘complete purchase’.

Panicking, he rang home and found out that his eight-year-old daughter was sitting quietly in his office, happily buying things with the click of a button, while her mum was in the kitchen. Thankfully she was stopped before she could start the bidding on a very large Victorian dolls house that was in need of so much restoration work that it needed planning permission.

As I know from nightmare trips to toy shops, or the countless conversations we have with the boys over why they are seldom allowed in-app purchases, children don’t understand the value of money. And why should they? It’s not their job to know yet. Bidding with the click of a button in an auction for a toy must just feel like playing a game where you could win something fantastic at the end.

If you win a bid on eBay, or click the Buy it now button, you have committed to buying the item. If you don’t pay for it you are breaching the ‘unpaid item policy’, and will have that recorded on your account. If you make a habit of not paying for stuff eBay may limit or remove your ability to buy.

Likewise, as a general rule you can’t retract or cancel a bid. Under certain circumstances and time limits you might be able to. But if that doesn’t work you can throw yourself on the mercy of the seller.

All this takes time and effort and so, in this particular instance my friend decided to bite the eBay bullet and about a week later the pitter-patter of tiny vintage wax feet could be heard around the house.  

And what an eerily life-like doll it is. With penetrating eyes that seem to follow you round the room. So, unless you want to share your home with something that looks like the possessed ventriloquist dummy from the 1978 Anthony Hopkins horror film Magic, guard your passwords people and remember to log out!

Find out more about how to help your child cope with money in the digital world by watching our short film.

Image: CC0 Public Domain