eBay: More Calls To Your Solicitor Needed

By Dave E

Originally published in EUG #65

In the hope I might forewarn a lot of Retro Gamers, I would like to tell you all a story about Strip Poker 2 Plus for the BBC/Electron, a dishonest seller, eBay and Paypal. I've been buying and selling on eBay for over five years now and it has provided me with numerous items I would have spent a lifetime looking for (and probably never finding) on car boot sales. However, I have always thought it was quite a faceless organisation and, if things went wrong, that there would be no-one to complain to. Fortunately, the 'scammers' (persons who advertise an item they do not have to con money from a buyer) have generally have seen 8 bit software as a profitless enterprise - and steered clear of it!

Indeed, being scammed seems to come with the eBay territory to a certain extent. It had happened to me before; the realisation that an item I had ordered a few months ago had not arrived, the visiting of the auction site again to find the user had been suspended with 50+ negative feedbacks now against their name and the realisation that that CD or DVD was obviously not going to show up. But in the past it had always happened with replaceable items. Scam sellers probably suspect that if they don't send their buyer the EUROVISION 2003 CD, their buyer will just buy it somewhere else.

However, this is a story about what happens when you're scammed and the item you've bought is unique. It's also my account of dealing with eBay when I paid by its now preferred system of payment, Paypal, and not by the older system of personal cheque. Ultimately it has a happy ending, but in no way is this thanks to eBay or its sister-company Paypal; it is mainly through my knowledge of civil litigation, dogged persistence and ultimately sheer luck. I immortalise it here with no hope that eBay will change its procedures as a result of it. Rather to let you know what to expect and, perhaps, what to do, if you're scammed on that item you simply must have!

The item in question then. Its number was 8116576317, a 'lot' of Acorn Electron software including some prevalent Acornsoft titles and tucked in amongst them the ultra-rare Strip Poker 2 Plus by Anco. I bid, using eSnipe to make absolutely sure I won. I did win. Up came the 'Please make payment' screen with its options of Paypal or Personal Cheque. Paypal, as many of you will know, is an automated system which holds money in an account in your name in a cyberspace bank. You can transfer money from your regular account to it, withdraw from it or pay for goods with money in it (or through it). In all it's a fantastic device which transfers money from eBay Buyer to eBay Seller instantaneously. So the Seller gets his money quicker, and the Buyer gets his goods quicker.

However, there's one problem. When you pay by Paypal, your money is simply sent to an e-mail address. If there is a problem, theoretically, you can deal with it by writing to the Seller at that e-mail address. But, and it's a big one, if the Seller is a scammer, he could have set up an e-mail address for you to send the money to and then closed it down at the conclusion of the scam. As you don't actually have any more of his contact details, where do you turn?

When I paid by Paypal previously and didn't receive a CD from a previous seller, I let the matter drop there and then. It was only a few pounds I'd lost and I could buy the CD from someone else, etc, etc. But it could be another ten years before Strip Poker 2 Plus would come up for auction again! I frantically looked up the Seller on eBay: 'No longer a registered user' and seven negative feedbacks against his name, all stating the same thing: "I paid for my goods but they were never delivered. Beware!" Curses! Where do I turn?

The first step was to request the 'Contact Information' for the Seller from eBay. What came back from them was useless though. The member 'madaboutsa' had registered contact information of 'Name: Paul A Mapp', 'County: Middlesex' and a mobile phone number. I called that but it was disconnected.

Perhaps Paypal would be able to trace the actual payment I'd made though. At the Paypal web site, I was initially quite happy to find I might be covered by their 'Purchase Protection Programme' (and so at least able to reclaim the £13 I'd paid to 'madaboutsa') if I filled in an on-line form of roughly five pages. After I did so, I was unceremoniously told 'You do not qualify', presumably because I had taken longer than 30 days to report the non-delivery to them. I brought up the information on the transaction again though and saw payment had been made to a v.lambe@btopenworld.com. I sent an e-mail asking where my games were to this address but, again, there was no response.

My trace for more information began in earnest. I didn't doubt for a moment that the Seller actually had the game. Rather I suspected that, eBay having suspended him as a user, he simply thought he would save some money by not honoring the rest of his sales. Fortunately, the law of contract applies to on-line sales just as it does to other sales. Unfortunately, you can't commence a claim against an e-mail address or a disconnected mobile.

Figuring that I couldn't possibly be the first person to have found myself in this scenario, I searched all over eBay and Paypal for information on what to do next. If I'd used the old system and paid by Personal Cheque, of course, I would have the Seller's full postal address. In the meantime, I contacted eBay through its web site, and my nightmare of correspondence with them began. The actual emails I wrote and their replies are produced here in full, although I would advise skipping all repeated sections.

My first email:

  Reporting member: toffeeld 23
Member being reported: madaboutsa 7
Buyer Status: 1

Item number: 8116576317; UK !00000! 070104

Payment Method: PayPal
Date of Payment: 07/11/04
Dispute Resolution: None used
Seller Contact: No-The seller's phone number is incorrect

Customer concern: I have requested the Seller's contact information. eBay is not giving me an email address and the Paypal address of v.lambe@btopenworld.com is accepting my mail but no response is forthcoming. I would like the Seller's postal address so I can serve a claim upon them. Please advise me of how to proceed as the Seller is unlikely to send the items without at least the threat of court action.

 

And their standardised reply:

  Hello,

Thank you for contacting eBay to make a report about item #8116576317.

In order to allow us to review your report and provide you with assistance as quickly as possible, we are sending you this response based on the item number and payment information you submitted.

We have investigated your report. At this time, the seller you reported is no longer a registered user. This occurs when a user cancels his or her membership or the membership is suspended. Once a membership is cancelled or suspended, the user is unable to bid, sell, or leave or receive feedback on the eBay site. Due to privacy concerns, I am not at liberty to discuss specific details of any action taken. I hope you understand this position and that it assures you that your personal account history will always remain private.

Based on the information you submitted, we encourage you review the steps outlined below. More information on these, as well as other options available to you can be found on the "Buyer Protection Program" Help page at:

http://pages.ebay.com/help/confidence/isgw-fraud-protection.html

Please consider the following if you have not done so already:

Contact PayPal - PayPal provides a number of services to eBay members who have purchased an item that was not received or was misrepresented. More information on the services provided by PayPal can be found at the following address:

https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_pbp-info-outside

Review the eBay buyer protection program - Buyer protection services offered by eBay include an online fraud alert form that allows buyers and sellers to communicate with one another as well as a protection claim program that provides partial reimbursement to eligible buyers.

Since the price of the item listing in question was $25 or less, you are not eligible to file a protection claim, however, we encourage you to file an online fraud alert.

eBay's online fraud alert encourages communication between a buyer and seller by prompting a seller to get in touch with a buyer to resolve a transaction. eBay encourages buyers to file fraud alerts because these reports are internally tracked and weighed when considering a seller for possible disciplinary action. Please note that the time frame for filing a Fraud Alert is between 30 and 60 days after the listing ends.

To file a fraud alert with eBay, please take the following steps:

1. Select the "help" button at the top of most eBay pages.
2. Select the following Topics when the Help page appears:

   Safe Trading If Something Goes Wrong... Buyer Protection Program

3. Select the "Fraud Alert" link from the "Buyer Protection Program" page and follow the instructions provided.

If there are issues not addressed by this message that you would like us to review, please respond by using the reply function of your email program. In the event that you respond, we ask that you include any additional information related to the transaction that was not provided in your original message, including the seller`s User ID, item details, and any steps you have taken to resolve this situation. When making your report, keep in mind that eBay acts as a venue for buyers and sellers to meet. Although we are able to sanction accounts that violate our policies and suggest options to help you resolve your transaction, we are unable to take action on a member's behalf. This includes contacting a member directly to ask about the status of an item or taking action to force a member to live up to his or her obligation.

Thank you once again for contacting eBay.

Regards,

eBay SafeHarbor Department

 

None of the links took me any further to retrieving the game and I couldn't help but notice two things:

  1. the straight-jacketted response was a word for word copy of information on their web site.
  2. none of the links they provided gave me a procedure for retrieving the Seller's postal address, which is what I'd asked them for.

The on-line fraud section, I suspect, would interest the police if for a significant amount but a contract deal (a game in return for £13) is a civil claim, not a criminal enterprise. It was all starting to feel like a lot of trouble too, so I said as much:

  Dear Sir,

These automated responses are of no use to me. I need the Seller's address which he/she will have provided when joining eBay. I want to file a claim to have either the goods returned or my money refunded.

If you are unable to provide me with this information then simply say so and save me wasting more time on this.

Yours faithfully,


Mr D. Edwards

 

Although much of eBay's reply below simply restates the information in their on-line fraud section, they did offer me a glimmer of hope in the emboldened part:

  Hello,

Thank you for writing to eBay. I am sorry to hear that your seller has become unregistered after you had sent payment for item#8116576317. I understand your concern and will be happy to try and help you to resolve this matter.

Because privacy concerns are important to everyone we are not at liberty to discuss the details of another user's account. This includes information regarding the reasons for the seller being unregistered. I hope that you understand our position in this situation.

I strongly suggest you request your trading partner's contact information and give them a telephone call to see if this issue can be resolved amicably. Please note in line with our privacy policy, they will also receive your contact information.

eBay encourages open and honest communication, and we know from experience that issues of this kind are often resolved by a simple telephone call.

To request the other user's contact information, please go to:

http://cgi3.ebay.co.uk/aw-cgi/eBayISAPI.dll?UserInformationRequest

Once there please scroll down to the 'Contact Info, Request a member's contact information' section and enter the User ID of the user whose contact information you are requesting and the relevant item number.

Many misunderstandings occur because of issues with user's email account or other computer problems. Your seller may not be able to respond to you straight away for a legitimate reason. Therefore, it is really important to try to give the seller a telephone call.

Please also note that you will not be able to leave feedback while the Seller is unregistered. If the Seller's account is reinstated within 90 days of the end of the auction, you and the Seller will both be able to leave feedback on the transaction. If the Seller's account is unregistered more than 90 days past the end of the auction, neither you nor the Seller will be able to leave feedback.

If you receive feedback from this Seller you feel is unfair then please review our feedback removal policy at:

http://pages.ebay.com/help/community/fbremove.html

PayPal will investigate any transaction where the PayPal service was used to send payment. In many cases PayPal also may be able to provide reimbursement. Keep in mind that complaints must be filed with PayPal no later than 30 days from the date of payment. Information about how to file a complaint with PayPal can be found at:

http://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=p/gen/protections-buyer-outside

Unfortunately, eBay's Standard Purchase Protection Programme does not cover items of 15 or less in value (per item, excluding shipping costs), however, this does not make the offence any less serious and we recommend that you report this to your local Police Station.

If you choose this option, we will gladly help the Police with any inquiries they may have. Please have the investigating officer contact us through the UK Trust & Safety webform with the following information:

1. The case number 2. The officer's name 3. The officer's telephone number.

The UK Trust & Safety webform can be found at:

http://pages.ebay.co.uk/help/basics/select-RS.html

Although I can understand your request, per our Privacy Policy I am unable to disclose the full address of this seller. We will be happy to provide it through our legal department at the request of yourself or your solicitor upon receipt of a proper request showing that you will be using this information for a civil case to be heard through the legal system.

You can apply for this and any other information you may need to:

eBay (UK) LTD,
P.O. Box 9473
Dublin 15
Ireland

Please take a moment to read about our Standard Purchase Protection Programme:

http://pages.ebay.co.uk/help/community/fpp.html

We regret that our Standard Purchase Protection Programme is unable to compensate you on this occasion, but trust this information is helpful to you.

We thank you in advance for your cooperation, and wish you luck with your future eBay transactions!

Regards,


Katrina
eBay Customer Support Representative

 

Note carefully the wording of this e-mail. "We will be happy to provide it through our legal department at the request of yourself or your solicitor upon receipt of a proper request showing that you will be using this information for a civil case to be heard through the legal system." The natural question then:

  Dear Sir/Madam,

What documentation do you need to prove I am requesting the address of the seller as a "proper request showing that [I] will be using this information for a civil case to be heard through the legal system"?

Is a letter stating the following sufficient: "Dear eBay UK, I would like to begin a civil claim against a Seller who used your website to advertise a quantity of goods which they did not send on to me. The Seller's identity is "madaboutsa". Please could you inform me of the Seller's address so I may name them as the defendant on the court documentation. Yours faithfully, Mr D. Edwards"

I am loathe to begin proceedings at the moment as I do not have any information at all. The Court fee for commencing a claim is almost 100 which is ten times the amount I am trying to reclaim.

You advise me to go to the police but as you state this is a civil matter. I would have thought involving the police should be considered a last resort at this early stage of the claim.

Please advise me regarding my questions.

Yours faithfully,


Mr D. Edwards

 

And now here we go!

  Hello Mr. Edwards,

Thank you for writing to eBay's Customer Support. I appreciate the chance to answer your question concerning Large collection of Acorn BBC / Electron games Item number: 8116576317.

You wish to take your seller to court.

Your solicitor can apply to us for any useful information at:

eBay (UK) LTD
P.O. Box 9473
Dublin 15
Ireland

We are committed to your online trading success.

Best wishes,


Acton Charles
eBay Customer Support

 

What's this? I thought you just told me *I* could apply for it via a "proper request"! Rather frustrated now, so:

  Hi there,

I would rather not use a solicitor for this action as the claim is only going to be for around 100 (13 plus court fees). It would also be foolish to consult a solicitor to pursue a claim against a proposed defendant when I have no guarantee that the details originally supplied to you are indeed accurate.

I wish to use the Small Claims track of my local combined court in Teesside for the action. As you are no doubt aware, for small claims the court does not wish the parties to be legally represented. I would therefore be unlikely to recover costs from the defendant for letters the solicitor would need presumably to write (a) to you, and (b) to the defendant's address that you give. Solicitor's letters (and their time), as you are also no doubt aware, are not cheap.

I am finding eBay's lack of cooperation rather frustrating. I only require the seller's address because I wish to find out if there is in fact any chance of a successful claim. eBay gives out the address freely if one chooses to pay via personal cheque. So as I was involved in a transaction with this seller I cannot understand all the rigmarole. You keep suggesting I call him when the phone number he provided to you is disconnected/not working and you do not provide his email address because he is not a registered user. What other avenue am I left to pursue if you will not provide his postal address?

If you cannot provide me with his postal address without my going to a solicitor then frankly your Request Contact Details If Something Goes Wrong system is fundamentally flawed and sellers are able to dishonour contracts very easily. But, as I have said, numerous times before, if this is the case then you must inform me and, of course, I will decide not to continue with action against this seller.

Please advise me one way or another.

Yours faithfully,


Mr D. Edwards

 

eBay, it seemed had now changed their policy, so that, despite all my protestations, consulting a solicitor was the only avenue for me:

  Hello Mr. Edwards,

Thank you for contacting ebay's Customer Support. My name is Elizibeth and I would be glad to assist you regarding Item number 8116576317.

Unfortunately in our Request Contact Informaton form, you are not able to retrieve the full address of your trading partner. This is because of ebay's Privacy Policy. To know more about this, please visit the URL link enclosed below:

http://pages.ebay.co.uk/help/policies/privacy-policy.html

As stated in Acton's previous email to you, if you would like more information, your solicitor can apply to us for any useful information at:

eBay (UK) LTD
P.O Box 9473
Dublin 15
Ireland

We appreciate your patience and understanding regarding this matter.

Best Wishes,


Elizibeth Bond
eBay Trust and Safety

 

As I had pointed out to them, involving a solicitor was an unnecessary expense and my 'patience and understanding' was wearing dangerously thin by now. Four e-mails later and I still didn't have an idea of how to continue. "Go to a solicitor, give him the eBay information and let him charge a fortune for retrieving the address of the defendant," just wasn't good advice over a £13 debt, particularly when that information would've been given for free if I'd paid by cheque. But without the information I couldn't start a claim.

Another e-mail then:

  Arrrrrggghhhhh! That is the sound of me pulling my hair out in frustration. Take a moment to read the full thread of this email and the fact you never answer a single question I put to you.

For the final time, are you saying that I have to instruct a solicitor to retrieve the Seller's postal address?

Give me a yes or no response to this question. Now.

Yours faithfully,


Mr D. Edwards

 

Yes or No. That's all I wanted. But of course, with a sad predictability, I got this:

  Hello Mr Edwards,

I understand your frustration with this matter and I will do my best to explain. Please note for privacy reasons that we never give out a member's street address, you can only request the member's name, phone number, city and county/state.

Should you require more information, Please have the investigating officer contact us through the UK Trust & Safety webform with the following information:

1. The case number
2. The officer's name
3. The officer's telephone number.

The UK Trust & Safety webform can be found at:

http://pages.ebay.co.uk/help/basics/select-RS.html

Similarly, should you wish to pursue this as a civil matter, your solicitor can apply to us for any useful information at:

eBay (UK) LTD,
P.O. Box 9473
Dublin 15
Ireland

I do hope this information is helpful and don't hesitate to contact us again if we can be of further assistance.

Best wishes,


Josephine
eBay Trust and Safety

 

This standardised letter confirmed to me that eBay were not reading my e-mails at all. Struggling to keep my composure by this point, I wrote for what would be the final time:

  This is my sixth email to you regarding this item. In the previous five emails you have not answered the simple question: Do I have to consult a solicitor to retrieve the Seller's postal address?

I think I am beginning to understand your 'Customer Service' in this area. There is a protocol that staff cannot deviate from. They simply introduce themselves, say they are happy to help and then paste in a lot of information. They are forbidden to answer questions.

This is one of the theories I have. Possibly however there is something else at play. Perhaps the intention is to infuriate your customers to the point where they swear in their email and at that point you will 'legitimately' cease correspondence.

In either case, eBay seems completely uninterested in giving me information it would have provided as par for the course if I had paid my Seller with a cheque.

I have asked you time and time again "Do I have to consult a solicitor to retrieve the Seller's postal address?" It is not a hard question. But all I receive are standardised replies which do not answer it.

If you reply to this email message with a standardised reply, then I will assume this indicates you are completely uninterested in helping me.

If you reply to this email message with a standardised reply but add words to the effect that no assumption should be implied, you obviously are completely uninterested in helping me.

Either way, I will lay this matter to rest.

It really should not be necessary for me to do this. Now I look forward to your response.

Yours faithfully,


Mr D. Edwards

 

eBay's response: A wall of silence. Pathetic!

Fortunately for me, during all of this correspondence I had had another idea. Perhaps someone else who had bought from 'madaboutsa' had paid by cheque and received an address to send it to. I used the 'Contact A Member' section to write to everyone I could. I was in luck! Within the week I had the postal address of Mr Lambe and could write him an official letter, which, as we all know, should be sent recorded delivery and mention what failure to respond to it could mean:

6th September 2004

Dear Mr Lambe,

I am advised to consult you by post before proceeding with my claim in the Civil Division of the County Court (Teesside Combined Courts) for specific performance of a contract for a quantity of Acorn Electron games.

  1. You advertised a quantity of games for the Acorn Electron computer on the site http://www.ebay.co.uk/
  2. I was the buyer of those games and paid you by Paypal
  3. In a breach of the contract between you and I, you failed to send the games and have made no reply to any email communications since that time.

By signing for this letter you have acknowledged receipt of it. This letter and the postal records will be produced in evidence at the eventual hearing.

I am advised to extend the deadline for receipt of these games at the above address by seven days, which I consider a reasonable time.

If the games are received within the next seven days, my claim will proceed no further. If they are not, the claim will continue and you will be liable for the cost of the games (or specific performance of the contract) plus court fees, court time and interest. This will be a substantial amount, in excess of £100.

If you do not attend the court hearing then I may be awarded judgment in your absence and will make an application for enforcement which can involve Court Officers attending your premises to collect payment and/or seizing goods to the value of the claim.

I urge you to settle this matter now by sending me the games.

Yours sincerely,


Mr D. Edwards

This finally did the trick and within seven days, the box of games arrived and the treasured Strip Poker 2 Plus was amongst them. All I had needed, just as I'd suspected, was the Seller's address. No police needed to be involved. No on-line fraud investigators. No solicitors. No financial outlay at all, apart from the 70p to send a recorded delivery letter!

You might wonder if I would have gone so far as to file the claim. The answer is Probably. Rather than encouraging communication, eBay currently exacerbated the situation to such an extent that gaining the address of the Seller required a Herculean effort. To have let the matter lie afterward would have been unthinkable.

A victory for me, you might think. Well, no, I don't see it as one. I got my game because someone else provided me with the information I needed to continue. Neither eBay nor Paypal would do so. That's scandalous! eBay positively encourages its buyers and sellers to move away from paying by cheque and in favour of paying by Paypal. (It also has a vested interest in doing so because eBay owns Paypal!) Yet its response to my queries show how keen it is to divest itself of all responsibility, no matter what the cost may be to its members, even when the request is simply for information it would have provided anyway if a different payment method was used.

Put simply, if you want to sue someone, you need to know their address!
You should not have to pay a solicitor to get that information for you!

It seems to me that one thing is for certain as a result of this "non-disclosure to Paypal buyers" policy. Scammers everywhere will be realising that if they only accept Paypal payments for their goods on auction, eBay will protect them from facing their defrauded sellers. Protesting about legal costs, procedures and eBay's own double-standards cuts no ice with their staff who just send contradictory information. Everything is quite evidently designed to make you drop the complaint if it is for a small amount.

In all, replacing cheque payments with the Paypal system is convenient, but only in a genuine sale. It is atrocious in a false one. Think hard before you trust this system with small payments. Think harder before you part with your cash.

Dave E, EUG #65

Note: v.lambe@btopenworld.com is a fictitous e-mail address. I have protected the identity of the Seller because I did receive the goods in the end.