Beware hidden charges on auction websites

LOS ANGELES With some websites, you may have to sign up for a membership or some sort of user account. Often that is no more than providing an e-mail address and password. But there are some websites that will hit you with hidden charges right after you sign up. And some of those hidden charges can be substantial. And if you try to get your money back, forget it, even if they offer a guarantee.

Penny auction websites are hot right now. Some bidders have been able to buy new iPads and laptop computers for as little as 10 percent of the retail price.

Courtney Lima of Rancho Cucamonga wanted to get in on the action and chose a website called /**/.

"When I saw it, I was like, 'This is cool.' I mean, look at the prices. You can get a $120 Walmart gift card for $26," said Courtney. "And an Apple MacBook for $296."

Courtney chose Swipebids because it showed icons of TV networks that made it appear the media were endorsing Swipebids. So she signed up for a membership, but not long after, her husband called Courtney from work. He just got an alert from their bank.

"He's like, 'What's this? What did you buy for $150 online?' I'm like, 'What? I didn't. I didn't buy anything.'"

But sure enough, when Courtney looked at her bank statement there was a charge for $150 from Swipebids that she never saw on the website.

"It didn't say anything like it was going to charge me for something. Otherwise I would not have done it," said Courtney.

On Wednesday, in fine print at the bottom of the registration form, Swipebids shows there will be a charge when signing up.

But Courtney showed me a Facebook page with lots of people who say they knew nothing of the charge when they signed up for Swipebids.

And the /*Better Business Bureau*/ says the Canadian company has received numerous complaints for not complying with their money-back guarantee policy.

In fact, in an e-mail, Swipebids told Courtney she would get a refund in a week. It has been more than two months, and still no money back.

"In this economy, like this? No. I don't have millions of dollars to just sign up for these kinds of things and get charged $150," said Courtney.

Other penny auction websites charge a fee for membership too, but that fee is quite a bit less than the one for Swipebids.

Also, this is a warning about signing up for anything on the Internet. Make sure you read all terms and conditions before you sign. And be skeptical of any guarantee that is offered.

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