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Yahoo collecting fees on old auctions

The Internet giant is billing sellers for charges as low as 5 cents that have been sitting around for months or years.

Attention former Yahoo auction sellers: Your bills are coming due.

Yahoo is billing sellers for small charges that have been sitting around for months or years. The company formerly let charges accrue until they hit a certain threshold but is now sending bills for charges as low as 5 cents.

"The Yahoo Auctions billing systems have recently been upgraded. As a result, your account has been made current and you may have been charged for any previously uncollected balances you accumulated by submitting or featuring auctions on Yahoo," the company said in a note to sellers who had inquired about the charges.

Yahoo began notifying sellers last week and charging their credit cards for the outstanding charges, company spokeswoman Nancy Evars said. Evars declined to say how many sellers were affected. She didn't know the total amount of outstanding charges available but said "it wasn't a huge amount of money."

"This is basically to get all of our billing up to speed and current," she said.

Yahoo initiated listing fees on its auction site last year, but the company had previously charged sellers to feature their items or give them more prominent display. Upset over the new fees, many sellers abandoned the site last year, and the number of listings on Yahoo Auctions plummeted.

Faced with declining ad revenue, Yahoo has been trying to turn many of its free features into paid services over the last 18 months. The auction site was one of the first attempts at creating a fee-based service from a formerly free one. More recently, the company has begun to charge for data storage and for forwarding e-mail.

Although the company billed auction sellers for even minimal outstanding charges, they may not see such small bills in the future. The company will continue to allow charges to accumulate until they reach a certain amount, Evars said. However, the company has decreased that threshold, she said. Evars declined to say what amount of charges would trigger a bill.

One Yahoo user who wrote to said she receive a bill from Yahoo even though she hadn't sold anything on the site in at least a year and a half. She said she was frustrated that the company waited this long to bill her.

"What is frustrating (is) that I may no longer have any records to support that my bill was paid, if I ever owed them anything," the user wrote. "This was a long, long time ago."