Question: Without my knowledge, my 8-year-old daughter signed up for eBay and bid $700 for Hannah Montana paraphernalia. Worse yet, she won her bids! I e-mailed the seller explaining the situation, and he was furious. Am I legally responsible for this payment?
Answer: What a headache! But you can probably relax, said Craig Delsack, an Internet and technology lawyer in New York.
"Nothing has been shipped; no harm, no foul, and the seller can relist his goods," Delsack said. "Generally, I wouldn't say the parent is responsible for a contract entered into by an 8-year-old."
According to eBay representative Kim Rubey, your daughter should have read the conditions when she opened an eBay account, including the ones that say users must be at least 18 years old and that bidding enters them into a legally binding contract.
Apparently, your daughter must have checked "I agree" to the eBay conditions when she signed up and started playing with the big boys. (Though I'd bet my laptop she never even read the conditions before checking that tiny box.)
But can a child younger than 18 be held to a legally binding contract? Can parents be held responsible for their children's actions in such cases?
No, Delsack said.
"If the daughter, as an 8-year-old, signed up for eBay and was given an eBay ID, that agreement could be voidable," Delsack said. Sellers of children's items should beware of such potential pitfalls, Delsack said. "He's selling items that are attractive to children, right? So there is a risk when you are doing that that you're going to get a kid e-mailing back."
One qualifier: If the child had signed on to eBay using the parent's account, meaning the parent had given the child the password to that account, then the parent might be held accountable because the bidding was done under Mom or Dad's name, Delsack said.
In some cases, such as yours, buyers and sellers compromise, and the "buyer" agrees to reimburse the fee the seller had to pay to eBay to post the item, Rubey said.
Usually that fee is small, and you could try to get eBay to waive it under the circumstances, Delsack said. That fee can even be less than a dollar, according to the Web site, based on a complicated fee schedule tied to the listing price of the item.
Rubey said eBay will likely suspend your daughter's account, if you haven't already canceled it yourself, which will likely make you happy.
Meanwhile, you might want to have a heart-to-heart with your daughter, and check into installing some parental control software on your computer to block e-commerce sites.