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Like Broken Glass

By Paul

Funds Sequestered

Suppose someone walks into the bank where you keep your checking account. They say to the cashier, ‘Hi, I am high on crack and am suffering paranoid delusions – I am also a pathological liar. By the way John Doe, whose account you hold, sent me an eBay parcel and it didn’t arrive. I’d like my $500 back.’

The cashier replies, ‘No problem sir. I’ll just sequester $500 from Mr Doe’s account and make his life hell while our 16 year-old investigations executive looks into the matter.’

If this sounds far-fetched, then believe me, this is pretty much how PayPal operate.

I had a customer file a complaint with PayPal that a parcel had not arrived. She had made no attempt to contact me about it – just went straight to PayPal, despite me being a six-year eBay veteran seller with a 100% positive feedback and being a Silver level PowerSeller to boot.

PayPal immediately sequestered about $500 in my account – froze it solid. They did this before asking me for my side of the story.

If my buyer had contacted me I could have told her, after a little research, that a) PayPal had provided me with an incorrect mailing address for her and b) her parcel would surely be returned to me as undeliverable.

Sure enough a couple of days later, the parcel was delivered back to me after a round trip across the Atlantic ocean.

End of story? No way. When I tried to resolve the ‘dispute’ on the PayPal web site I was given only three options: 1) Make a full refund 2) Provide on-line trackable proof of delivery 3)Whistle Dixie. (I might be wrong about the last one – maybe it suggested that I send my buyer a replacement).

I emailed PayPal and got a computer-generated one-size-fits-all standard reply. I rang them and spoke to a polite but impotent help line person. This guy probably had so little authority to make a decision that he had to ask permission to breath in – and ask again to breath out.

You see, the problem was that I had not sent the parcel via a PayPal required delivery system – i.e. one that is on-line trackable. So, I could not prove that the parcel had been delivered.

Oddly, PayPal could not accept my proof, by photograph and direct assurance, that the parcel was now back with me, in good shape, and ready to be mailed to the customer – provided I got a verified and correct mailing address.

I emailed my customer and suggested that she contact PayPal and withdraw the complaint as she stood no chance of me sending the parcel and then having PayPal decide to allow her chargeback, thus leaving me doubly out of pocket.

She, strange lady, admitted that she was not in the USA – where PayPal and eBay thought she was, but in Suffolk, England. Her address there turned out to be an ad hoc accommodation address that was actually an auction house. Her registered PayPal address did not exist as it had been somehow scrambled by the PayPal system.

She refused to withdraw the complaint. Why? I have no idea. Maybe she wanted the item and her money back.

Eventually, I got my account unfrozen. I did this by resorting to a low and devious piece of chicanery, the details of which I cannot reveal here as it was such a wonderful end-game move that I am keeping it close to my chest in case I ever have to use the ploy again.

My customer got her goods.

The lessons I have learned are: 1) Always mail via an insured on-line trackable delivery system. It is often unecessary and adds expense, which of course the customer has to pay. 2) Never keep any money in your PayPal account. They can make it go negative, but at least that is just an imaginary sum of money, not real hard-earned cash. 3) Don’t expect PayPal to listen to a word that you say.

Finally, some thoughts.

Why don’t PayPal keep their big beak out of what is essentially a private trade between two people and stop offering their rediculous ‘protection’ scheme? If I get ripped off I don’t need PayPal to fight my corner – I have the Police and the courts to do that for me. They should stick to being a simple mechanism for transferring money.

Who ‘investigates’ complaints? Are they trained? What experience do they have?

Why does PayPal immediately sequester funds – before any kind of proof is submitted other than a few words of complaint?

Why is there no independent review and appeals route? There is nobody official, with powers to compel, to monitor what PayPal is doing and tell them where they are getting it wrong.

So, my conclusion is that PayPal is a little like broken glass icecream – it’s fine and dandy until you are unlucky enough to bite down on a shard of glass, then you might just bleed to death.

Posted: May 8, 2012 at 8:23 am

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