A Piece of String

Piece of string


A funny little anecdote for the week:

Last month, just before Christmas, a former colleague from my DoD days sent me an eBay listing for these nifty little Android pocket computers (pack-of-gum-sized things that plug into the HDMI port of a television), bundled with a wireless handheld keyboard+mouse device.  The asking price, incredibly enough, was only $11 (with free shipping!).

Now, I didn’t have any explicit need for such a thing, but come on, $11?  The handheld keyboard thingy alone was worth that.  Yes, it seemed too good to be true, particularly as the seller was in China, so the shipping alone would seem cost-prohibitive, but his feedback was 98% positive over 500+ transactions.  Maybe he’d less-than-legitimately obtained a crate of them, and was trying to palm them off as quickly as possible?  I thought about it for a couple days before curiosity got the better of me, and I decided that sure, I’ll take a gamble for $11.  I placed the order, and got a tracking number for the shipment the following morning.  Cool.

Fast-forward a few weeks, and a package from China arrives in my mailbox.  It’s a padded envelope with the android computer clearly declared on the customs label.  Inside of that envelope, however, was not a little android computer.

Inside of that envelope, was a piece of string.

The bald-faced audacity of it was too amusing for me to really get upset.  I expected I might get nothing, but there was just something delightfully bizarre about the seller actively taking the effort to ship me a piece of garbage from China in a tracked package.

I looked back up the eBay listing, and found that it had been taken down, and the seller’s account suspended, so they’d obviously already gotten word of the scam (I imagine the seller must have utilized a pay-for-review service to generate all the positive feedback on his account).  Since I’d payed the seller’s PayPal account, I was referred to them to get a refund.

PayPal’s dispute resolution system is heavily automated, but my transaction had simply gone through my credit card rather than my own PayPal account, so it didn’t show up in my history for me to act upon.  As such, I used the general web form to explain this and the situation in general, ensuring I provided my transaction ID.

I received an automated response an hour or so later telling me to select the transaction on my account history and file an automated claim.  Awesome, they didn’t bother to actually read what I wrote.  I responded to the e-mail, reiterating the situation, and the next day I received a response saying my claim was escalated to PayPal.  O.K., cool.

A couple days later, I got another canned e-mail saying that the dispute had been decided in my favor.  They would gladly reverse the charge – just as soon as I returned the “item not as described” to the seller and provided them with a tracking number showing I did so.  Ah-ha!  So this was the core of the scam – the seller is banking on this policy (and the obtuseness of dealing with PayPal in general), in conjunction with the item’s just-low-enough price, to make it economically nonsensical to pursue the refund when it requires paying for the return shipping.  A pretty clever scheme, I have to admit!  Obviously not one I was going to play along with, though.

The e-mail address they had sent this request from obnoxiously did not accept replies, so I sent my response to first one they’d been using.  I (politely, I promise) explained that I did not feel sending a piece of garbage back to China was a reasonable course of action, that enforcing this policy would only perpetuate scams like this, and that if we could not work around it, I would simply have my bank rescind the charge.

(I could have simply pointed out that the return ‘address’ they gave me – nothing more specific or meaningful than “Beijing, Beijing, Beijing, China” – was not exactly one I could ship to, but you know, principles and all.)

A couple days after that, I received a canned response informing me that they were still waiting for me to send them the tracking information for the return shipment.  Good lord.

Tempted as I was to just go to the bank at that point, I decided to give them one more chance, and called the support number.  Naturally, I had to wait on hold for over forty-five minutes before anyone answered (all the while listening to a recording of someone touting how much easier and more convenient using the automated online dispute system would be than continuing to wait on the phone).

When I was finally connected with a person and gave him my dispute ID (I could hear him mumbling the words of my last e-mail to himself, so they did indeed receive it and add it to my case before ignoring it), it took all of about thirty seconds for him to go over the situation and put in a payment reversal, which I had an e-mail confirmation for as soon as I got off the phone.  Funny how much smoother things go when there’s actual communication happening.

Ah, well.  Caveat emptor and all that, I suppose.  (>^-‘)>

Oh, and a final note: I received one more e-mail from PayPal a few days afterward, asking me if I would have any interest in taking a short survey and providing feedback about my recent experience with their transaction dispute process.

Why, yes, PayPal  Yes, I would.


Bene scribete.