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I wish to tell you a story.  A while back I purchased a Nokia E71 mobile phone.  It’s one of the latest from Nokia and has been given rave reviews for a smart phone.  I ultimately didn’t like it as it wasn’t for me.  After a few weeks, I listed it on eBay as I’ve done approximately 100 times before with other items around the house.  Now the item sold quickly and sold for roughly USD $490.  I demand in my eBay listings that the buyers use PayPal and that they have a verified PayPal account and a verified PayPal address.  I figure this is the safest route for both parties.

The transaction was completed as it was many times before.  I received the funds in my PayPal account, got the notice, and promptly used the PayPal UPS shipping service to print a label and have the shipping fees deducted from my account.  The process took about < 5 minutes and I was happy…again, as I’ve been many times before…never an issue.  Remember this was a $400+ item and in a category that usually has a lot of fraud (electronics).  This was 29 NOV 2008 when this all happened.  Transaction complete, funds immediately available, shipped, UPS deducted fees…all fine.

Fast forward (but only about a month and a week).

Every month we try to go around our house and look for things we don’t use and either donate them locally or if we think we can sell them, we list them on eBay.  This is a practice I generally recommend.  I sold Dell computer manuals for $25 one time.  Just the manuals that come with your computer (which are worthless mostly)…amazing.  This time around I had a Russian replica submarine clock that I had bought about 11 years ago.  A quick check on eBay showed they were getting bought, so what the heck.  Here was my listing: Russian Submarine Clock Vostok Hammer/Sickle RARE (note: this link might not be available in 60 days).  It’s a clock.  Not even an automatic one, it requires being wound every 4 days or so.  Something substantially less “valuable” than modern day sought-after electronics I’d argue.  Keep this in mind for later reading.

It sold and the buyer paid via PayPal and was a verified buyer and a verified/confirmed address.  Note that both of these are required for seller/buyer protection for PayPal transactions – again, following the guidelines set forth.  I went through my normal process and began printing out the label.  While the screen said this:

The error message read this:

So I was thinking What gives? and called support.  As I was talking to them I noticed the header of the “details” page of the transaction:

Payment review?!  First time I’ve ever heard of it.  At first I was thinking this was a good thing and PayPal just protected me from fraud.  Then I read the link which details out the reasons why something would be “on hold”:

    • You have been an eBay member for less than 6 months, and you sell an item for more than $100
    • You have an eBay feedback score of less than 100, and you sell an item for more than $100
    • You have a buyer dissatisfaction percentage* greater than 5%
    • You have an average DSR of less than 4.5
    • You have received fewer than 20 Detailed Seller Ratings in the last 12 months
    • You are listing your item in a high-risk category such as gift certificates, video games, cell phones, computers, or consumer electronics.

None of which applied to me.  I was now livid and let the customer service supervisor (I had asked to escalate), Marie 6168, know how unappreciative I was of this and explained that even *if* I fell into one of those buckets why did my November transaction (which fell into the last bucket of electronics) give me no problems and was for an amount significantly greater?  Her answer then moved from explaining that I was “in review” because of one of the above to “it’s random.”  Great.  Warm feelings all around now.  I was also then told that my hand-crank wall clock with no electronics was flagged because it is a high-risk category.  LMAO!

NOTE: I’m curious if the actual flag was because of the word “Russian” in the title.  I’ve had problems with dealing with legitimate commerce with anything Russian related in the past because financial institutions are leery.  Even if this is the case, the buyer and seller followed all rules for verification for all systems (eBay and PayPal) and therefore doesn’t seem like the title of the item should throw a flag!

At this point I’m pretty pissed.  I was told by Marie 6168 that I wasn’t being forced into doing anything and didn’t have to ship the item.  WHAT?!  How is that?  By not shipping the item (or waiting for the hold to be released), the buyer gets screwed and leaves negative feedback and my eBay reputation takes a hit (something very important in eBay land).  I felt like my eBay reputation was being held hostage.

So at this point I’ve been informed:

    • I’ve sold something and the verified buyer has sent funds to the verified seller.
    • The funds have been put on hold and I don’t have access to them.
    • The funds will be released sometime within 21 days
    • That I should ship the item.

That’s right.  PayPal, as the broker of the funds, has received money for an item I sold.  Then they are asking me to go ahead and ship that item to the buyer.  WTF?!  How is this protection for me?  It seems the buyer is the only one protected.  They will ultimately get the goods and if there were any issues with the funds, I’d be out the goods.  How is that protection on my end AT ALL?

It looks like I’m not alone either based on a conversation at Get Satisfaction.  I was not afforded any opportunity to escalate any further beyond Marie 6168 despite my best attempts.  All I could get was an email address I was told to be the executive offices – [email protected].  I hope their reading this.

I feel as a verified/Premier customer of PayPal since 2000 and a customer of eBay since 1998 (with a 100% rating) that some discretion should have been made here and the funds should be available.  This idea of PayPal managing when I get funds based on their rules versus standard commerce is ridiculous.

The problem is that the eBay/PayPal relationship is almost a requirement for online auction commerce.  Where else are you going to go for a world of buyers and a broker, which up until now, helped put a protective wall between the money?  Craigslist?  Sure that’s fine, but I knew that my local market wasn’t big enough for a Russian Sub clock!

PayPal – you currently are on my suck list.  Whatever systems in place that automate this payment holding process need revisiting.  You’ve made a verified/premier/long-term customer who follows the rules very angry. 

Win me back.

UPDATE 1: I shipped the item from my local UPS store.  Cost me $7 more than if I would have used my UPS account tied to my PayPal account.  So this process has cost me additional money in addition to not receiving funds for my item yet.

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as the holidays are upon us there always seems to be that one gift that controls your life while looking for it.  back in the early 1980s it was the cabbage patch doll, then many years later tickle me elmo was the hit (i remember that $30 item going for $2500 on a radio station).  it is amazing what we do as humans to satisfy others.

Many Christmases ago, I went to buy a doll for my son. I reached for the last one they had, but so did another man. As I rained blows upon him, I realized there had to be another way.

this year, it seems to be the nintendo wii.  my mother-in-law was putting all the game shops on speed dial and trying to flirt with them to hold one when she got in.  weird thing is about 2 months ago lisa and i got one for our festivus raffle and they were plenty in stock where i shopped (best buy).  i guess they aren't now, and there is a frenzy to get some. (side note: at our party there was some serious bidding going on to the winners of the wii, people were offering cash on the spot.)

yesterday my sister-in-law called me and was at toys-r-us and said they had a bunch of wii consoles in stock.  she of course wanted me to let my m-in-law know, which i did.  i also come to find out that my sis-in-law decided to be a bit of an entrepreneur and picked one up for herself.  not to sell to someone who was looking for one.  not to pick one up for a friend.  nope.  that's right, ebay.  she wanted to capitalize on the frenzy as well.

she just called me to say she sold it for $490 on ebay and was asking all sorts of questions about paypal, etc.  i explained some things the best i could over the phone.  she then said that the winner had an unverified address in the virgin islands.

wooop, wooop, wooop (my best attempt at writing a siren sound)

my fraud alert went off and i shared my concern with her.  i think she might be about to get screwed.  it reminded me about n00b ebayers and some guidelines they should use.  here's my rules (even as a 'veteran' ebayer)..

for ebay sellers

    • list items with real pictures...don't use the mfr pictures...include a link, but take a good photo of the item.  good photos of the actual item will sell it, not people wondering what it will look like
    • if you have all the original packaging, etc. -- note that
    • require instant payment -- you may lose 1% of bidders, but it is piece of mind for you
    • don't forget to set a reserve price if you are looking for a specific amount.  don't set it too high though or people will just walk away
    • state your bidding rules clearly in the listing
    • state your shipping rules clearly in the listing: i require united states only and a verified shipping address only.  i also make it clear where (city, state, zip) it is being shipped from and that buyer will pay all shipping/handling costs from that location...
    • offer incentives: i usually have a buy-it-now price and offer free shipping
    • don't put unnecessary bling on your listing -- i don't know why ebay offers sellers to put a counter on the listing -- the only person caring about the counter would be you -- reminds me of the 'hit counter' icons that were so cool in the mid 1990s.
    • when you get a buyer that you are satisfied with, leave feedback promptly
    • when an item is paid for, email the paypal user email address with confirmation of receipt of money and confirmation of address.  this is an additional fraud step for you (and them) and shows good communication
    • pay attention to your email -- ebay lives on email communication -- if you don't check your email often, get off ebay please.

for ebay buyers

    • be sure to see pictures of the actual item -- if they aren't there -- be suspicious and email the seller
    • only buy from reputable ebayers -- ebay has a decent reputation system...research the seller, look at the number of transactions they have...if they have none and are selling a brand new XBOX, be suspicious :-)
    • be cautious of buying 'overseas' -- this applies for US buying from non-US and vice versa.
    • look for fast ship options
    • look for return policies, it might not be important but if there is one, note it
    • don't leave feedback until you received your item as expected
    • PRINT OUT THE LISTING -- ebay purges listings over time and you might want to keep a record of more significant purchases
    • use respected payment vendors, be cautious of money-order only sales...paypal has always worked well for me
    • check your email/spam filters

paypal tips

    • get a premier account -- if you plan on buying/selling on ebay, upgrade your account.  i think this requires you to supply a verified checking account, but it is worth it
    • verify your address -- this may be a part of the premier account process now, but don't make your paypal account look suspicious
    • make sure your ebay username/email and paypal email are similar.  if your ebay email is [email protected] but your paypal account is [email protected] it looks like two different people
    • make sure your transaction is covered by their fraud protection -- do the research on the amount, etc.
    • consider using paypal secure id cards (something new they are testing) for added security

those are some of the rules i follow and have never been frauded (almost have but i followed my steps and discovered it before anything was shipped).  i think rookie ebayers/paypalers simply don't pay attention to the finer details and end up having to ship something to singapore and gave a fixed shipping rate of US$10...then realize they are screwed...among other mistakes.

so this holiday season, ebayer beware.