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Stuck in a Dispute Beetween PayPal and Itself

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  • Stuck in a Dispute Beetween PayPal and Itself

    October 12, 2013


    If PayPal isn’t the most reviled online company in the country, which is? The Haggler invites reader suggestions for this unhappy title, but before you write in, consider the sheer quantity of animosity that PayPal inspires. There are anti-PayPal Facebook sites, anti-PayPal YouTube tirades, PayPal-loathing Twitter accounts and more than 550 complaints about PayPal on

    The hate bar is high, in other words. It is going to take a lot of vitriol for any other company to clear it.

    What sort of corporate behavior, you may wonder, produces so much ire? This is hardly the worst of what you’ll read online, but it’s a start:

    Q. Last November, I sold a laptop computer on eBay for $611. The buyer paid with PayPal, the payment service owned by eBay, and I mailed the computer.

    In April, PayPal removed the $611 from my account as a “chargeback,” stating that the buyer “asked the credit card company to reverse” payment for the computer because the purchase was “unauthorized.” PayPal vowed to “dispute the reversal” and “work with the buyer’s credit card company” to get my money back. Then they deducted a further $20 from my account to cover a fee charged by the credit card company.

    Out both a computer and $631 despite following all of eBay and PayPal’s rules, I called PayPal customer service for help. That ended with a rep telling me PayPal had the contractual right to do precisely what it had done. So I began some investigations of my own and found the buyer’s phone number.

    When I called, he explained that his identity had been stolen and used to open accounts on eBay and PayPal — and that PayPal had extended to the perpetrator a credit line under Bill Me Later. It was through Bill Me Later, whose Web site identifies it as “a PayPal service,” that the fraudster acquired my computer.

    In other words, the “credit card company” to which PayPal referred was PayPal. Its promise of advocacy, then, would mean taking my money while disputing — with itself — the taking of my money.

    After I tried to appeal this chargeback decision, I received an e-mail from PayPal on June 25 with this gem: “Despite our best efforts, the buyer’s credit card company decided in favor of the buyer.”

    Translation: “We do not control the outcome of our own decisions.”

    I’m out $631, a substantial sum for a graduate student, and a computer. PayPal/eBay/Bill Me Later has effectively transferred all liability for issuing a fraudulent credit account to me.

    To no avail, I’ve filed complaints with the F.B.I.’s Internet Crimes Complaint Center and the Federal Trade Commission. Maybe the Haggler can succeed where these others could not.



    A. By the Haggler’s estimation, there are four candidates who could be stuck with the bill for this mess. Mr. Guffey is one, Larry Andrick is another — it was his identity that was used to open the fraudulent PayPal account. A third candidate is a woman who lives in Charleston, S.C., named Carol Vickery. According to the local police, who are investigating, either she or someone who forged her name signed for a package containing Mr. Guffey’s computer when it was delivered to an address listed as her home.

    A final candidate is Bill Me Later/PayPal. One could perhaps blame these companies for extending that line of credit to Ms. Vickery, or the person who forged her signature.

    PayPal opted to blame Mr. Guffey, or at least force him to bear the cost of actions that the police attribute to Ms. Vickery.

    To understate matters, this does not seem fair. And in ways that the Haggler can’t quite put a finger on, the sense of unfairness is compounded by the reality that PayPal, Bill Me Later and eBay operate under one corporate umbrella. In most credit disputes it’s the buyer against the merchant, with the card company mediating between the two. Here the credit issuer is Bill Me Later, which is disputing a charge with its parent, PayPal.

    When the Haggler asked the eBay spokesman John Pluhowski for the name of the PayPal spokesman and the Bill Me Later spokesman, he offered one name: John Pluhowski.

    Are claims filed through Bill Me Later evaluated by eBay/PayPal the same way as claims filed through, say, Visa or MasterCard?

    “Our claims review outcomes are consistent across credit card issuers,” Mr. Pluhowski said. “Each case is examined objectively on its merits.”

    That said, eBay/PayPal/Bill Me Later re-evaluated the merits of Mr. Guffey’s case and decided, after the Haggler’s inquiries, to restore $631 to his account. “We apologize for letting Mr. Guffey down,” added Mr. Pluhowski.

    The Haggler had to wonder: How exactly did eBay/PayPal/Bill Me Later let Mr. Guffey down?

    Here, things got a little fuzzy.

    “We want all our customers to have a satisfying experience,” Mr. Pluhowski said. “We regret that Mr. Guffey did not.”

    A quick Internet search suggests that Mr. Guffey isn’t alone in having this kind of experience, and there really ought to be a way to adjudicate these disputes without the Haggler. Mostly because the Haggler would spend all day and night forwarding complaints to PayPal. And the Haggler must deliver justice to consumers all over the country.

    He is a very busy man!

    A different tack would be to locate identity thieves and force them to hand it over. Easier said, it seems.

    Charles Francis, a spokesman for the police department in Charleston, said a detective was now searching for Ms. Vickery. So far, that effort has yielded just one insight, according to Mr. Francis: the woman has left the area.

    E-mail: [email protected]. Keep it brief and family-friendly, include your hometown and go easy on the caps-lock key. Letters may be edited for clarity and length.
    "To go bravely forward is to invite a miracle."

    "Worry is the darkroom where negatives are formed."

  • #2
    Interesting article, however the "graduate student" should not really be out anything, because he should have removed the money from his Paypal account long before the "chargeback" showed up. I know that whenever I sell on Ebay, which is not that often, I always withdraw or spend the proceeds of the sale soon after the item is delivered. If there is a LEGITIMATE reason for me to refund the money, such as the item was damaged in shipping, or the buyer needs to return it, then I can always transfer the money back and issue the refund. In the event of a fraudulent chargeback such as this, I'd simply let Paypal eat it, and send the alleged "debt" to collections. If that is what the "graduate student" in the article did, then he isn't really out a laptop or money--he just has a fraudulent collection on his credit report now.


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