I have bought more than 100 items on eBay, with prices ranging from a few dollars to several hundred. They have been mostly musical instruments and equipment or computer equipment, but some of the most enjoyable buys have been for sporting goods for my son.

They were enjoyable because we sat together in front of the computer for the last 15 minutes of the auction, anxiously waiting to make a last-second bid for snowboard boots or bindings, whooping and high-fiving each other when we won.

So far, I have not been ripped off in a major way. I have had a few unpleasant experiences, but most have been trouble-free. When an auction goes off without a hitch, the buyer and seller are supposed to reward each other with a positive rating, or feedback, which becomes part of their history on eBay for all to see. The more positive feedback you have as a buyer, the less likely a seller is to cancel an auction because the only bids on his item are from "deadbeat" bidders with little or no payment track record.

Some sellers specify that they will not accept bids from buyers without a certain level of positive feedback. On the other hand, the more positive feedback a seller has, the more confidence the buyers will have that he/she is not a crook and that they will in fact receive the item they might win.

Of course, where there is positive feedback, there is also negative feedback. Most negative feedback given to buyers by sellers is due to nonpayment by auction winners. Most negative feedback given to sellers by buyers is due to nondelivery of an item or dissatifaction with an item they received.

An eBay user should feel free to issue negative feedback if a situation warrants, but in practice, issuing a negative feedback rating, however much deserved, will often result in the recipient "retaliating" and giving you negative feedback in return, even if you are totally innocent of wrongdoing. This puts a black mark on your record that you did not deserve, and very often serves as a deterrent for issuing negative feedback frivolously, and even when it is deserved.

Negative feedback subtracts from your overall feedback score. Positive feedback only counts from unique sources -multiple feedbacks from one source only count as one. For example, I have 104 positive feedback ratings, but only 88 are from unique users, so my positive feedback profile is 88.

In case an unscrupulous seller takes your money and either fails to send you the item or sends you an item that was misrepresented in its picture or description, eBay provides a fraud protection plan. You are supposed to try to resolve any dispute before resorting to taking action with eBay.

Every eBay transaction is automatically covered up to $200 minus $25 of the item price for "processing costs," which amounts to a $25 deductible; $175 is the maximum reimbursement for any claim. So if you are swindled for less than $25 or more than $200, this program does you no good.

You must wait at least 30 but not more than 60 days from the end of the listing before submitting an online Fraud Alert, which is not only the first step toward filing a Protection Claim for potential reimbursement, but which also acts as a formal complaint with eBay regarding a seller's activities. That seller will then be tracked by eBay and will be banished if dishonest practices continue.

For every item I am interested in, my first step is to always research a number of online retail outlets to determine what is a bargain price and what is the everyday going rate. It is amazing how people will often bid up an item's price to a point higher than what they could buy it for from an authorized dealer, which would include solid return and warranty policies not always available from eBay sellers.

I once bought a piece of computer equipment from a seller who had bought a number of the items so that he could cut the bar codes from the packages and submit them for rebates, and then sell them on eBay. The item was defective, but instead of being able to return it to a retail store for an immediate replacement, I had to return the item directly to the manufacturer for repair, meaning I was without its use for about a month.

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One factor that must always be taken into consideration when trying to determine what to pay for an item is the shipping cost, both in determining the baseline price from an online retailer and in determining the auction item's total price by factoring in the shipping amount required by the seller.

Quite often, a seller will put an extremely attractive price on an item, only to try to make a partial profit by charging an exorbitant price for shipping and "handling."

Speaking of price, one of the most innovative and convenient facilitators of online commerce popularized primarily by eBay provides a way to pay for an item you might win. A significant number of buyers and sellers use PayPal, which started out as an independent online payment service but has been acquired by eBay. You open an account with PayPal anchored by a checking account, and add credit cards to your payment options if you like.

When you win an auction, you pay for the item by authorizing PayPal to transfer funds from your account to the seller's account, and instantly your bargain is paid for and ready to be shipped to you. It's a revolutionary technology that has been thoroughly embraced by the online shopping community.

Next time, I will talk about the experience of being an eBay seller.

Paul Dennis Kopco lives in Deadwood and teaches Web design and digital-media courses at Black Hills State University. He is the school's Web master and an accomplished musician. Learn more about Kopco and his music at www.pauldennis.com, or contact him at pkopco@rushmore.com.

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