Over 1,000 Macworld Online readers shared their opinion of eBay in a recent online survey.

We asked: "What is your experience of eBay auctions?" A sample of 1,030 readers chose to vote. The results are unscientific and can only be a guide as to reader sentiment.

In almost all cases, users warn others to be cautious in what they bid for, advising that an offer that's too good to be true probably is.

One reader reflected on the way the auction service has changed, observing: "For many categories commercial vendors have largely taken over the boards. Sometimes that can mean getting new goods at a bit below market price - but you can often do that anyway by shopping around, particularly on the Web.

"There are the vendors who are just using it as an alternative, or extension to their own websites. Others still seem to be in the business of buying up cheap goods from a variety of sources 'wholesale' and then selling at a mark-up on the site."

Another wrote: "I've been using eBay for four years now. I've had no problems with non-existent goods or the other scams. But every day I see ads that just have to be scams! So if you see something thats too good to be true - then it is."

While most readers have had none or few problems with the giant online auction website, around one-in-twenty (5 per cent, 56 votes) claim to have had such a bad experience with eBay that they are "deterred forever" from using the service.

Many readers pointed out that eBay isn't the enemy - there's always mendacious people looking around for someone to take advantage of: "eBay is what it says on the tin, a marketplace. I agree its policing comes under the heading "could do better" but I've seen far worse at local markets/auctions (having worked for an auction house for a while)."

A further 12 per cent of the sample group (123 votes) have had a bad experience with eBay but still use the service.

A reader wrote: "There are a variety of rip-off merchants using various means to scam the unwary - it's always wise to check a vendor's score, but that can be got around in various ways. If something appears too cheap to be true - it usually is - that applies particularly to new and nearly new Mac equipment."

One reader shared his bad experience: "I nearly got ripped-off for a 'brand new/boxed' iPod going at half price. I paid through Paypal and was alerted within an hour by another buyer who had also bought same item from same seller. Turns out about 30 people had bought the same, non existent item from someone who was about to leave the country. eBay banned him and refunded all payments. I was lucky in that case but have been hesitant ever since - if it sounds too good to be true it usually is!"

However, for most people the service is acceptable. 362 voters (35 per cent) have never had a problem while 341 voters (33 per cent) confessed to "the odd minor problem".

One reader advised: "As with any transaction like this, only pay by secure methods. Don't send a personal cheque. Never send cash. Paypal is pretty safe, but you are at the mercy of the other party."

The naysayers were also in evidence, with 148 readers (14 per cent) claiming they, "would never buy anything in this way".