(1) The seller must have a real e-mail address. Not just a hotmail, yahoo or other web based service. Web based e-mail accounts are simple to set up using made up personal information. Don’t trust them. If the seller claims it is their only address then ask for a home phone number.
(2) The auction listing must contain actual photographs of the item for sale. If not, the seller should be able to produce these in response to an e-mail query.
(3) If the seller has no feedback (“I’m new”) then they should be willing to accept the use of an escrow service or a program like amazon payments that protects the buyer against fraud.
(4) If the seller has a positive feedback rating they still should be willing to use an escrow service at the expense of the buyer. Yes it will take a little longer for them to get their money, but without it the buyer could be left holding the bag.
(5) The seller should promptly respond to all e-mail queries. At the risk of being xenophobic, the seller should be able to use English without sounding like a two-year old.
(6) Sellers only wanting Western Union payments should be avoided at all costs. This coupled with a hotmail account gives the seller complete anonymity.
(7) Auction listings that are merely copies of the manufacturers web site should be avoided. Likewise if the picture on the listing, or provided in response to an e-mail, (#2) above, is from the manufacturers web site avoid the auction.
(8) Auction sites with a bare minimum of description or details should be carefully evaluated. No picture plus no description equals potential fraud.
(9) Any auction that seems to good to be true probably is too good to be true. Compare the item you are bidding against with other similar items. If the bids, or take it now price aren’t close, then be wary.
(10) If the seller cancels the auction and then contacts you to sell the item directly because “they want to avoid any auction site fees”, you should be very wary. Most auction fees are paid up front. Once you are outside of the boundaries of an auction you have even less protection than before.