Data from the Federal Trade Commission indicate online auction scams are widespread and growing, according to a report in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on November 2. Private party auto auctions, particularly on eBay, rank high among the hoaxes. How it works: Scammers download photos from a dealer´s Web site and list the cars at impossible-to-believe minimum bids. Would-be buyers are blinded by the low prices and send in a down payment, which the con artists pocket before disappearing. Overall, the FTC logged 79,573 complaints about online auctions last year — up 56 percent from 2002 and way up from the 106 complaints recorded in 1997, the first year the commission kept track. The National White Collar Crime Center indicates that auction fraud is most widespread on eBay, if only because it is the largest and busiest site, according to the news report. Online sites do not operate as a traditional auto action service, the major difference being they do not requiring proof of ownership. eBay can close down bidding on a suspicious item, but it will not react to an item that might carry a conspicuously low price tag or opening bid. Buyers on eBay have the option to purchase vehicle protection for up to $20,000. Efforts by a fraud investigation wing at eBay have resulted in some swindlers being prosecuted, the latest a Californian who in September pled guilty to stealing more than $100,000 via sales of nonexistent cars, the report said. The report offered these tips for online auto auctions, courtesy of • Get the car´s VIN and run a Carfax vehicle history report, starting at $20 at • Avoid e-mailing the seller directly to stay in the safe harbor of the host auction service. • Refrain from transferring money by means not stipulated by the auction site. • For expensive cars, especially those with low prices or minimum bids, inspect them in person before bidding.