Paypal Cruel To Tivo eBayer

Reader Homerjay’s story bolsters our big prediction for 2007: Paypal is going down.

After selling a Tivo on eBay, Homerjay took several turns around the chargeback merry-go-round because the buyer couldn’t get the equipment to work.

At this point, the buyer is claiming the merchandise was sold, “not as described.” No matter how clearly Homerjay believes his Tivo was described, Paypal is unmovable.

Paypal refunded the money to the buyer. Paypal says that if Homerjay wants his money back, he has to sue the purchaser.

“Does this make ANY sense at all? I feel like I’m being scammed by the seller and Paypal doesn’t give a shit,” writes Homerjay.

They takes your money, and they takes your chances…but hey, Homer, why don’t you go sue him?

Homerjay writes:

    “A few months ago I sold an old Tivo on Ebay. 5 weeks after buying it he filed a paypal dispute because he says he couldn’t get it to work, therefore its broken. Before this I hadn’t heard a thing from this guy for 5 weeks.

    Fast forward a couple weeks and a few responses to his paypal dispute and Paypal decides in favor of me! Yay! They then put the money back into my account. I’ll spare you the details but I was SO in the right, here.

    A week later I get another note from Paypal. The guy filed a CC chargeback claiming the same thing. Within days Paypal decides that they can not fight this because “The buyer attempted to return the merchandise and I refused” which never happened- therefore I lose. And not only do I lose my money, I don’t get my product back either.

    A little digging reveals the Paypal Seller Protection, AKA: My saving grace. The User Agreement has all the details and it looks like its all in my favor so I make the call to Paypal.

    After MUCH digging they find the reason that I am not eligible to get my money back through seller protection:

      “Claims for

      not as described

      : Reversals arising from Buyer Claims for eBay items, or credit card chargebacks for any item, claiming that goods are “not as described.” To reduce your risk of “not-as-described” claims, PayPal recommends describing your item in a clear, detailed manner and including pictures of it in your listing.”

    Apparently, according to Paypal, This means that if someone files a claim as “not as described” that all bets are off concerning the seller protection policy. It doesn’t matter if you win or lose. If someone files the claim that way then you lose even if you win.

    I argued till I was blue in the face about the fact that the claim was denied and therefore found to be invalid which negates the claim. I argued how the policy is written to allow too much interpretation by their legal team to allow them to do whatever the hell they want. They didn’t give a crap.

    The answer to me was TS. Go sue the buyer. It ain’t our problem.

    Does this make ANY sense at all? I feel like I’m being scammed by the seller and Paypal doesn’t give a shit.

    Thanks for listening




Edit Your Comment

  1. homerjay says:

    Well, good question, Ben. Does anybody know the inner working of small claims? If I (in MA) sue a guy in CA and win (whether it be by default or by verdict)- how do I know I’ll be able to collect?
    I’ve heard it can be difficult or damn near impossible for such a distance.

  2. Ben Popken says:

    You could get his wages garnished.

  3. homerjay says:

    MMmmm…. sounds tasty.

  4. Meg Marco says:

    note to self, nothing on ebay is “as described” starting now…

  5. ViewFromHere says:

    You cannot garnish someone’s wages unless you first have a judgment against them. Lawsuit first. Collection action second.

  6. spanky says:

    I’m not sure about the court rules in other states, but I’m going to guess it’d be impossible or close to it to sue an out of state private party in your local small claims court.

    I had a problem like this a while back, where I was looking into suing a Florida company that was doing some hinky stuff here in Colorado. I couldn’t, though, because they didn’t have a local representative, as they were, IIRC, required to to do business in the state.

    I’m not a lawyer, though, and laws confuse me, so I could easily be wrong. But I THINK you’d either have to sue him where he lives, or maybe there’d be a way to do it if you kicked it up to civil court or something. Either of which would probably be prohibitively expensive.

  7. HawkWolf says:

    When a credit card chargeback is done, I think there isn’t any dispute process that happens as part of it. I mean, someone says, “charge them back” and if the CC company says okay, then the merchant has money taken back.

    I guess the merchant can then complain, but when my company gets chargebacks (almost always because people do that instead of properly receiving a refund, or when attemping fraud), we just pay it out and that’s that.

    If paypal does the same thing, that’s unfortunate, and probably against their ‘we’re not a bank’ thing, but it’s not terribly surprising.

    I may have no idea what I’m talking about.

  8. Bluefreak says:

    Homerjay–Regarding your scenario, if defendant has property or assets in MA, I believe you can return to the MA small claims court and have them issue an order seize/garnish assets (you have to go back to court with your original judgment if the defendant doesn’t pay up).

    If all the defendant’s assets are in CA, however, you’d have to take the judgment received from the MA court to a CA court to have it issue a sister-state judgment (which is more a formality–you generally don’t have to “re-prove” your case) so that a local sheriff/marshal can seize the appropriate assets to cover your claim.

    This page ( talks about the process for NJ, and most states would be similar.

  9. daze says:

    I had a problem selling a TiVo on eBay about 2 years ago. The buyer received it, signed for it, then a week later decided that it arrived damaged (he said the shipping box was smashed in) and wanted his money back. He offered to send the damaged TiVo back to me (at my cost) — but what good is that to me? If it arrived smashed via UPS, he should’ve filed a claim right there and refused delivery. It ended up that he had to deal with UPS for the insurance fee and blackmailed me to refund his shipping cost ($20 or so) so he’d leave me positive feedback. That’s my TiVo/eBay story.

  10. Magister says:

    Why would you still have money in Paypal after all that time? I thought you could just get your money out? Or is an account used for lots of auctions?

    Just not sure how this works.

  11. homerjay says:

    Thanks, Bluefreak. I’ll take a look at the link and will probably go through that process if it applies to me.

    As for the account, I use it a lot. I kinda have to keep money in there.

    I think the shitty part of all of this is PayPal’s so-called ‘seller protection.’ You’re not protected, its just a marketing gimmick.

    Off to Google Checkout!

  12. Plaid Rabbit says:

    Homerjay, do you have an email I can send you a comment to?

  13. LatherRinseRepeat says:

    Wow. This sounds like a scam. Or the buyer had some serious buyer’s remorse and nit picked the terms of agreement to find a way out.

    I’m not so sure small claims would be worth the time or money, since the buyer is in another state. I say, what goes around comes around. Check if the guy is selling anything on ebay. After you win the auction and receive the item, just contact PayPal and tell them that the item was “not-as-described” and get a refund.

  14. AlteredBeast (blaming the OP one article at a time.) says:

    My family is currently having a similar problem with ebay (I’ll try and keep this short, I’ll provide the details if The Consumerist would like…)

    My mother sold a 50+ year old chess table on ebay, listed as antique (a vauge term on ebay). Someone bought it from Englad for aprox $400. They get it, say it isn’t antique, and that it is pressed wood and scratched up. It is neither scratched up, nor pressed wood. It is olive wood. (I don’t think they even had pressed wood back then). Paypal blocked my mom’s account, holding $400 while this was decided. We recieved it back today in the mail, and it appears the top was forcably pulled up from the body of the table, with a clear gap. So my mom contacted paypal, and they put a hold on the refund. Not sure where it is going to go now, but it is crazy that this woman bought this item, and used paypal to just change her mind because she feels she overpaied.

    From now on, myself, and my family, will no longer use paypal for items above $100. Paypal protects the buyer, but screws the seller.

  15. gypsychk says:

    Paypal doesn’t protect anyone.

  16. “I had a problem like this a while back, where I was looking into suing a Florida company that was doing some hinky stuff here in Colorado. I couldn’t, though, because they didn’t have a local representative, as they were, IIRC, required to to do business in the state. … if you kicked it up to civil court or something.”

    It’d have to be kicked up to federal court for “diversity jurisdiction” (parties in two different states). But regardless, if they were doing business in Colorado, legally or not, you can make a good case they have to come to your jursidiction and answer you in your local court. Sometimes companies will settle just so they don’t have to go to the trouble of hiring a local attorney to go complain you sued in the wrong jurisdiction. :)

    Also, as the consumer and plaintiff, you generally get the preference on location, so even if you get booted to federal court, it will be your local federal court and THEY will be having to hire local counsel and/or fly in repeatedly. If you’re going pro se (for yourself, without a lawyer), this is costing you nothing. It’s costing them an arm and a leg to fly in their lawyers, put them up, and pay them. It’s even better if you live in the back ass of beyond — they might have local counsel in Denver, but if you life out in the boonies, they’re going to have to pay someone to drive there.

    I love suing big-city companies in rural courts. :D Particularly when they hire a real asshole from the nearest big city who comes out to the boonies like he’s cock of the walk and insults the judge first thing he walks in the room.

  17. fishfucerk says:

    From now on, myself, and my family, will no longer use paypal for items above $100. Paypal protects the buyer, but screws the seller.

    actually, paypal screws everyone. I once had a clear-cut case of seller’s fraud (the seller’s account had been suspended on ebay about a month after I purchased an item from them and never received it) and paypal basically said “Yes, the seller is at fault, but because the purchase was under $25 you are not covered by our buyers protection plan”. This despite that big ol’ “ARE YOU SURE YOU WANT TO PAY WITH A CREDIT CARD, IF YOU PAY VIA PAY PAL YOU GET BUYER’S PROTECTION” bullshit at checkout.

    fuck you paypal. I am eagerly awaiting you crashing and burning this year.

  18. Grrrrrrr, now with two buns made of bacon. says:

    The problem as I see it is that anything with Ebay/PayPal comes down to your word vs. theirs. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again (and this applies to PayPal as it does to any other huge corporation)..they don’t really care. They’ve made sure that they’ll get their money no matter what happens, their lawyers have made sure that once they get their fee, the rest is your problem.

    I’ve always had a rule that I won’t spend any more on Ebay than I could afford to lose, simply because once the money has left my person, if the person on the other end decides to keep it, it would cost me more time and money to get it back than it would just to let it go. The same can be said for selling. If you sell somebody a $300 item, they can come back and say it was damaged, or “not as described,” and then file a claim. The last step is small-claims court, and who knows whether or not the guy who’s claiming “not as described” spent the previous day smashing your Tivo with a hammer or scratching it up with sandpaper, and so he hauls what’s left of the unit into court and tells the judge that this was how it arrived.

    I’m guessing you’ll show the judge your pictures…the other guy will claim they’re faked….yada, yada, yada..he’ll show his pictures and claimed that it arrived that way…and after all that, it STILL comes down to your word over theirs and who the judge believes. Maybe after all that, he won’t show..but then you still have to collect judgement, and if the guy is a deadbeat, that might be even more costly and time consuming than going to court. I’m sure somewhere in their legalese, PayPal asserts that it’s only a service, and that ultimately it’s only the channel through which payment is given, and that ultimately the responsibility for the transaction falls between the buyer and seller.

    I’m guessing that to file a small claims suit, you’d have to go California to do it…so there’s $400 down the tube before you even start. I honestly don’t know anything about the process, but hopefully our resident lawyer will drop by and leave a comment.

    I’ve heard story after story about PayPal screwing people over, and the problem is so widespread, it’s spawned a number of websites like There have already been class-action suits filed against PayPal too. Legally, protection only seems to come if either a big corporation or a government entity is at risk for losing money, and so far, that hasn’t happened with Ebay and PayPal.

  19. d0x says:

    As an ebay seller you should have a paypal account for nothing more then receiving funds, that way you can take the money out right away.

  20. hc5duke says:

    I had a similar experience last year with a laptop. It was a used laptop and I’m pretty sure it was listed under open/used category on eBay. There was a power adapter issue, which basically required you to press F2 each time you boot, or you could fix it by purchasing a $30 adapter from Dell (all this was mentioned in the auction).

    A Russian lady in Brooklyn purchased the laptop, then told me the laptop was “broken” because she didn’t follow what I told her to do. I offered to fix the problem via email/phone but she just demanded her money back (around $1000). We even went through ebay’s conflict resolution service, where they sided with me, and I even offered to take the laptop back, but she demanded over $100 for shipping fee, so that fell through as well.

    Then the next week I find out PayPal took the money from my bank account and gave it to her. After consulting with the unhelpful pro-bono school lawyer (I was a student at RPI the time), I basically gave up and drove to Brooklyn to pick up the laptop from her.

    That’s already bad enough, but within a couple weeks of picking up the laptop, PayPal gave me the money back, and I ended up having to write her a check for the full amount, because at this point she was down $1000+ and I had the laptop. All in all, PayPal somehow managed to screw both the seller and buyer. Since then I closed my account, and have been using eBay much less frequently.

    Oh, and the laptop that was “broken” still works, and I use it as a secondary computer.

  21. Chongo says:

    The same thing happened to me when I sold a guitar for a friend. There were some clear dings and dents in the wood but the guy quickly used the BUY IT NOW feature without any contact.

    He obviously made a bad impulse buy and wanted his money back. I was told by PayPal that because I didn’t have any return policy and wrote “AS IS” that I was in the clear. Of course, that didn’t stop them from shutting down my account and going after my linked checking account. I quickly returned the money in fear that my rent check would bounce. havn’t paypal’d since

  22. zl9600 says:

    Paypal has no problem screwing anyone they can. But sellers take more advantage of it than buyers do.

    One clever way to defraud a buyer was used (successfully) on me this fall. I paid $180 for a fancy coffee grinder. I should have wondered why the seller had his feedback ‘private’, which I’d never seen before (and can’t believe Ebay would allow). But I didn’t.

    Further, I was suckered into fast-clicking right past the ‘pay with credit card’ instead of instant bank withdrawal, which precluded me from ever getting a chargeback (lesson learned there, too.)

    After weeks of not hearing anything from the seller as to where my item was, I decided to initiate a claim with Paypal for non-receipt of merchandise.

    Suddenly, my merchandise showed up a few days later. But to my surprise, it was a piece of shit scanner crammed poorly into a box and wrapped with paper towels.

    I contacted the seller, who was so apologetic and surprised, and “oh dear, I think I shipped the wrong item! I’ll make it right!”

    Well, after a few emails he writes me back saying ‘well the other person says they have the scanner, so I don’t know whom to believe’. So I sent him a photo of the scanner to prove it.

    I go to Ebay, and notice his profile had been deleted.

    So after another few weeks, I decide that I needed to get my money back as this guy was stalling and had no intention of paying me back.

    Well guess what? Paypal said Tough Shit, guy. You can only dispute a purchase ONCE. After that, you’re on your own.

    In fact, the rep on the phone at Paypal admonished me for not being more patient (say, like waiting six months for my merchandise), because “I could have made a claim, but now you can’t”.

    I tried elevating as far as I could go, until the circular argument became more costly than the item. I’ve since sent a few admonishing emails to this seller, asking that he do the ‘honest thing’ and return my money. Nothing.

    I agree with the poster above. Ebay is not worth anything more than you can afford to lose. I rarely even shop there any longer, and I have a feeling many people feel the same way. Paypal jus tmakes it worse with their horrendous policies and fraudulent, anti-customer behavior.

  23. clickable says:

    homerjay, this scenario happens a lot on eBay and there are some discussion boards there where they may be able to help you out with a bit more specialized info – check out Seller Central, Paypal, & maybe Trust & Safety. Even the Packaging & Shipping Board may have addressed this subject.

    Lurk for a while to see if your issues are addressed. If you want to post, it might be a good idea to set up a new eBay ID (very common and allowed by eBay) so no one can mess up the feedback on your main selling ID. Also keep in mind that most other posters with “0” feedback are also using posting ID’s and are actually veteran eBayers.

    You get to the discussion boards by clicking “Community” on the homepage.

  24. MeOhMy says:

    I often sardonically refer to them as “theftpal.” I used to think it was a great service, but lately I’ve been going back to cashier’s check or money order on the rare occasions I sell something on Ebay. That “Item Not As Described” loophole is way too easy to exploit and has been for a long time.