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Guide to Federal Government Sales Consumer Tips

Guide to Federal Government Sales - Consumer Tips

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Consumer Tips

Be wary of offers to sell you "inside" information about Federal Government sales.

Information about Federal Government sales programs is typically available for free or at low cost from the Federal Government. Some Federal agencies maintain mailing lists with names of people interested in being notified about upcoming sales. In these cases, agencies may charge a subscription fee to maintain the list and cover mailing costs. Non governmental organizations that sell information about these sales often don't tell consumers that they can receive sales information just by contacting the agency's local or regional office. You may see advertisements offering to sell you access to little known sources of Federal Government property. It's likely that they are selling the names and addresses of the Federal Government agencies listed in this publication. Be aware that the information sold by non-governmental entities may not be accurate or up-to-date.

Know where to find current Federal Government sales information.

To find information about specific upcoming sales, check the classified or business sections of national or local newspapers. Some sales programs may even advertise on local radio and television. Notices may also be also posted at post offices, town halls, and other local and Federal Government buildings. Current information on sales programs is sometimes published in trade journals and periodicals, or online at the Federal Business Opportunities' (FedBizOpps) website,

Sales information may also be listed in the Federal Register, a daily publication listing Federal Government activities.The Federal Register is available at most libraries or through a yearly paid subscription from the Government Printing Office(GPO). To order a subscription, call toll-free 1(866)512-1800. In addition, the Federal Register can be accessed online at

If you need more information than is provided in this publication, you may be able to obtain it by directly contacting the local or regional office of the Federal agency that sponsors a particular sales program. Use this publication as a guide to identify the parent agency of the sales program. For example, if you are interested in learning more about the U.S. Marshals Service sales program, look under the Department of Justice in the "U.S. Government" listings in the phone directories of major cities in your state.

If you have difficulty locating the local office of a particular sales program, call the Federal Citizen Information Center's National Contact Center(NCC) for assistance. This service, provided by GSA, can tell you the location of the sales office closest to you. You can reach the NCC by calling toll-free 1(800)FED-INFO (that's 1-800-333-4636). The NCC is open for personal assistance from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. EasternTime, Monday through Friday.

Do your homework before going to a Federal Government sale or auction.

Before attending, research the sale by contacting the sponsoring agency. Find out how and when the sale or auction will be held, what bidding procedure will be used, and what special restrictions or unusual conditions apply. It's important to ask what forms of payment are accepted. Most sales require a guaranteed method of payment such as money order, certified check, or cash. Credit cards are sometimes accepted. Also, look for information prior to the sale on the buyer's responsibility for property removal, inspection times prior to t he sale, and zoning rules if purchasing land in an urban area. In most cases, the "Invitation For Bid" will answer these types of questions. It is an informational piece released by the sponsoring Federal agency that contains a description of the property being offered for sale with the sale terms and conditions. It's wise for potential buyers to attend several sales to get a feel for the auction process. With just a little research, you can get the information that you need to make a successful purchase.

Most of the Federal agencies listed in this publication maintain websites that include detailed information about their particular sales program. Whenever possible, the websites for these agencies are provided.

Inspect the property carefully before buying.

Chances are you will not find new or unused items at Federal Government sales. And because the sales items are used, the condition of the goods will vary. For example, some forfeited vehicles may be in excellent condition, others may have high mileage or a stripped interior. Although information about the condition will be given, it is still necessary to inspect before you purchase. It is the buyer's responsibility to verify that the description of the item fits its actual condition. Find out if the goods are sold "as is" or can be returned. Most sales are final.

Don't expect to buy a $1 yacht.

Goods in Federal Government sales programs are usually sold at fair market value.The "bargains" that you hear about are frequently mythical. The $1 yacht most likely has serious problems. For example, it may not have an interior or an engine. Remember, if it sounds too good to be t rue, it usually is. At many sales, the items are appraised prior to the sale and will not be sold if the bid price is below what is reasonable. For example, GSA's Federal Supply Service has a policy to sell property at fair market value, and often will not sell items if the bid price is below what is reasonable.

You will not drive away from a Federal Government sale with a military jeep.

In 1971, based on safety statistics and vehicle tests, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommended that the M151 series vehicle not be sold to the public because it is unfit for public use. Ther efor e, M151 series jeeps cannot be driven. Disposal regulations on the M151 require that the vehicle body be crushed, shredded, or mutilated to prevent the jeep from being rebuilt. Businesses that sell the "secrets" of buying surplus military property often take out enticing magazine and newspaper ads. "Just send $19.95 and learn how to buy surplus military jeeps," they say. However, these advertisements do not tell the consumer that the M151 series is unfit for public use and that older jeep models, such as the World War II M38, are virtually nonexistent today. Jeeps are now typically auctioned at sales for scrap metal or parts.

Know where and how to complain.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop and avoid them. To file a complaint or to get free information on consumer issues, visit or call toll-free 1(877)FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY: 1(866)653-4261. The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.

In addition, the U. S. Postal Inspection Service, the law enforcement arm of the U. S. Postal Service, investigates allegations of mail fraud involving the U.S. mail. Deceptive advertisements placed in newspapers or magazines which use the mail for delivery, would fall within the Inspection Service's Federal jurisdiction under the Mail Fraud Statute contained in Title 18, USC Section 1341. Address your complaints to the Inspection Service via your local Postmaster or obtain a Mail Fraud Complaint form by calling 1(800)372-8347. You may also send an e-mail message to and receive the form as an automatic response.

Other organizations that investigate and prosecute fraud include state Attorneys General, state and local consumer offices, and Better Business Bureaus. If you suspect that you have been tricked or misled, and you paid money for products or services that have little or no value, you can contact the above-mentioned organizations for further assistance. They are listed in the business or government listings of your local telephone directory.

If you wish to comment on the sales process used by Federal programs or on the merchandise purchased from a Federal agency, write directly to the sponsoring agency at the address listed in this publication. The U.S. Postal Service and the FTC want to know experiences you have had with misleading advertising. However, neither the FTC nor the U.S. Postal Service has jurisdiction over the procedures and practices used by the agencies that sell property to the public.

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