Chargebacks: Protecting You From Scammy Online Sellers

Ashley ordered a special occasion dress from the website of a manufacturer in China. She didn’t realize that the company was in China, despite the “About Us” on their site saying so, and the deeply mangled English on display on many of the pages. But no matter–sometimes shopping direct on Chinese sites can be a pleasant money-saving experience. This wasn’t. Her dress looked nothing like the photo of what she ordered, and the company will only refund her if she ships the fluffy dress back to China. That will cost $138, when the dress cost only $142. She’s not the only customer in this bind. So what should she do?

Ordering factory-direct in a very literal sense might seem like a good deal, but remember that you give up protections that you’d get shopping in the US…such as the ability to complain to the Federal Trade Commission about false advertising.

I ordered a dress from [a small clothing site] thinking I was going to receive the one that they advertised on the website, the one that I paid for. When the dress comes in, it is not the same dress, It doesn’t even look like it- let’s just say this dress is very cheaply made, and it’s missing pieces like buttons on the back. I tried to fluff it out and it came apart,

I emailed the company and they said they would mail me the buttons to sew on – I told them I wanted a full refund and they said they would do that but I have to pay for shipping the dress back–to CHINA. Now keep in mind when I ordered the dress the website didn’t say anything about China it said US and UK.

The cheapest shipping cost was quoted by ups for $142.00 for me to ship the dress back. Since the dress cost me $138.00, I really cant afford to ship the dress back for $4.00. I feel cheated by this company and have no idea how to get my money back without having to pay for shipping. If you check out their facebook page, it is covered with stories just like mine. One story says she even mailed the dress back and they never gave her the refund.

I am at a loss-what can I do?

You need to request a chargeback by contacting your bank and explaining the situation. That’s what you do when you’ve purchased an item that didn’t arrive, is significantly not as promised, or when a store isn’t honoring its own return policy. Technically, this store is honoring its posted return policy–this policy just forgets to mention that shipping a poofy dress back to China ain’t cheap.

Check out this classic Consumerist article: “What Is A Chargeback?

Ashley paid with a debit card, but since the purchase was only a month ago, she’s within the time limit (typically about 2 months.) Yes, Visa- or Mastercard-branded debit cards do offer some chargeback protection.

Chargebacks aren’t something that you should take lightly. Be conscious of the time limit, but don’t rush to use them until you’ve tried everything to work things out with the merchant.


Edit Your Comment

  1. TheOnlyBob says:

    i see the problem, that dress is tiny!

    • That guy. says:

      Now I’m imagining if full sized clothes were sold on cardboard in that manner…

    • Blueskylaw says:

      “If Barbie were an actual woman, she would be 5’9″ tall, have a 39″ bust, an 18″ waist, 33″ hips and a size 3 shoe,” Slayen wrote in the Huffington Post. “She likely would not menstruate… she’d have to walk on all fours due to her proportions.”
      Slayen estimates Barbie would weigh 110 pounds and have a BMI of 16.24

      This is what Barbie would look like if she were a real person.

      • HogwartsProfessor says:

        Gah! That’s nightmarish.

        I never wanted to look like my Barbies. I just wanted their hair and wardrobe.

      • That guy. says:

        There you have it ladies! Those are your goals, now get to it!

      • Princess Beech loves a warm cup of treason every morning says:

        I used to dunk my Barbie in a barrel of water, cut their hair really short, and pop their heads off and on.

        It was good, clean fun.

    • CommonSense(ಠ_ಠ) says:

      The problem is she paid with a debit card and not a credit card for such a large online purchase.

  2. That guy. says:

    and the deeply mangled English on display

    That doesn’t rule out being written by someone in the United States.

    Also, if it cost nearly the price of the dress to ship TO China, how much did it cost to ship FROM China? (And why such a difference in cost?)

    • Lyn Torden says:

      The cost to ship can be a LOT cheaper when they have shipped in bulk, either direct, or through an agency in the destination country (they send a container of dresses in pre-addressed packages).

    • Blueskylaw says:

      I see deeply mangled English on Consumerist everyday.

      • That guy. says:

        So…Consumerist is actually a website from China, designed to undermine American consumer confidence in American & European companies! If we are afraid to spend $18k on Restoration Hardware patio furniture, we’ll turn around and buy the Chinese versions for $500!

    • unpolloloco says:

      Shipping from China to the US is pretty similar in price to shipping from a US location to a US location due to a combination of economies of scale and subsidies. Shipping back, on the other hand, is not quite as cheap. USPS Priority mail is better than the prices the OP quoted – $50 for a 5lb package (trusting USPS, on other other hand, might not be ideal).

  3. PadThai says:

    I wonder how much it cost them to ship the dress to her in the first place.

    • Lyn Torden says:

      Probably about $20 per dress. THEY are shipping in bulk, so they can get massive discounts. If they fill a whole container, it would be even less.

  4. ferozadh says:

    140 US Dollars for a dress made in China? Wow… I hope this keeps up pretty soon those jobs are coming back to America.

  5. Blueskylaw says:

    What was her original shipping charge for the dress? Was it in the $142 dollar range? If the original shipping cost was only $20 dollars or so then that means the dress wasn’t shipped to her from China which beggars the question: Why can’t she ship the dress back to where it was originally shipped from?

    • raydee wandered off on a tangent and got lost says:

      They probably want to make this as difficult as possible, in the hopes that people will give up and keep their crappy product. It’s the sort of anti-consumer policy that a lot of American companies seem to be trying to adopt.

      “Buy our worthless crap and when you complain, *sticks fingers in ears* lalala can’t heaaar you!”

    • Jawaka says:

      The shipping label should show how much it cost to ship the dress to her.

  6. MickeyMoo says:

    No debit cards. EVER.

    • Lyn Torden says:

      Or limit the funds you have in the account a debit card is associated with.

      • nicless says:

        That’s what I do… although it’s not by choice. You can have all $31 in my account, scammers!

    • ovalseven says:

      Why not? Just run it as a “credit” transaction, which is pretty much the default if you order something online. I’ve received a chargeback on a puchase made that way with my debit card.

      • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

        My concern has always been because of fraud, where my checking account is drained before I realize it, and then my mortgage, health insurance, and other bills would be declined.

        • jefeloco says:

          Switch to a credit union then. I have had two attempts in as many years to try to use my card number in nefarious ways but my CU noticed the discrepancy and puts a hold on the charge.

          • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

            I do have a credit union — Peoples Federal Credit Union.

            I’m mostly hedging my bets. I use a credit card for the points and if it is compromised and if (yeah, it’s a big if) a few thousand dollars worth of fraudulent purchases go through, it would be easier to handle.

      • alulim says:

        Nope, never. rules are different and no one gets direct access to my money

  7. crispyduck13 says:

    I have very little sympathy for someone like this, however, do that damn chargeback – there really is no other option when dealing with overseas sellers.

    Next time you want to be a cheapass consider checking out the seller’s Facebook page/Google results before you give them your money.

    • That guy. says:

      I don’t quite get your post.

      I mean, I can understand saying, “You get what you pay for”. The dress was a cheap price (I guess), and was cheap quality.

      But the hassle she is dealing with in returning it isn’t justified. Should consumer just assume they shouldn’t buy anything, ever, from China…and if the transaction goes bad it’s their own fault?

      • crispyduck13 says:

        But the hassle she is dealing with in returning it isn’t justified. Should consumer just assume they shouldn’t buy anything, ever, from China…and if the transaction goes bad it’s their own fault?

        Yes. A lot of women try to buy designer knock-off wedding/prom dresses from Chinese websites, this exact situation is very well known and happens frequently. You go into it as a gamble, maybe you’ll get something decent, maybe you’ll have just thrown your money away. As the writer stated – this girl somehow didn’t know this seller was in China even though it (apparently) was written in the ‘about us’ section of their website. So I can’t sit here and feel sorry that she got ripped off, in my own twisted mind she should have known better or at least understood the gamble and take the hit.

        It doesn’t make the scam right, but her sob story just rubs me the wrong way.

        • That guy. says:

          I see what you are saying. I can see the dress market (like designer bags, shoes, etc) being a target for scams.

  8. namcam says:

    i have shipped stuff all over the world, including running boards off of a BMW X3 to the UK which were grossly oversized and overweight for FAR less than that. i think she needs to have someone recalculate shipping!

  9. Important Business Man (Formerly Will Print T-shirts For Food) says:

    Ok, chargebacks really hurt merchants. Please use them as a last resort. I hate when people do chargebacks without even contacting the company first. Use them sparingly like the EECB.

    • alulim says:

      Sure they do, that’s the entire point. They allow a consumer shop safe in the knowledge that they will recieve the goods or services they paid for. Online it’s a godsend for both parties; a instant rapport is built with that little visa or mastercard logo. That means more overall purchases from any given merchant. Too many validated chargebacks, you can’t do business anymore with that processing company. If you initiate too many chargebacks the credit card company will drop you as an unnecessary cost.

      Personally I’ve only submitted one. It was against a major box retailer who offered me absolutely nothing. Not a return, store credit, exchange or, even partial compensation — all the way up the corporate ladder. Not only did I get a refund, i got to keep the “merchandise”. Don’t get too excited, after issue was settled it ended up in the trash.

  10. frank64 says:

    That is why I try not to do business with people who us e Paypal as their only option. The protections are still there, but it puts puts another company in the middle, and I think practically leaves you at Paypal’s mercy instead of your bank.

    I have only needed to use chargeback twice in my life, but just having it there is good peice of mind. It also keeps the merchants honest.

  11. Important Business Man (Formerly Will Print T-shirts For Food) says:

    Actually the reason it would cost her so much to ship it back is because she would probably want proof of delivery for her protection. She could ship it back postal first class mail international but tracking information is not available for cheap international shipments.

    • sirwired says:

      Tracking may not be available, but she could insure it for an additional $4.75

      • Important Business Man (Formerly Will Print T-shirts For Food) says:

        Even with insurance, have you ever tried dealing with USPS for ANY reason whatsoever? Getting an insurance claim will probably take 6 months and a lot of work.

    • ajaxd says:

      I was once shipping a laptop from US to Canada. The recipient wanted it the cheapest possible way without any confirmation. It was about $80 for first class mail (no confirmation or insurance – just postage) and it took 2 weeks to get there. UPS and Fedex were over $100. A dress is lighter than a laptop but it is also being shipped to a greater distance so the rate is not that surprising.

      • StarKillerX says:

        Something to consider, if your shipping items you’ve sold, from what I’ve been reading (can’t remember where offhand) is even if the buyer doesn’t request insurance on the item you as the shipper still have the responsibility to insure delivery.

        Simply put, whether the buyer requests insurance or not if the item is lost in shipment you are still responsible for it should it not make it to the customer.

        With that being the case I would always suggest using some form of confirmed shipping on everything, unless of course the item is cheap enough to simply replace if it gets lost (or the buyer gets it and denies doing so.)

  12. StarKillerX says:

    Wait, so what you saying is that buying a dress from an unknown company, that is in a country whose manufacturers have put melamine into baby formula, isn’t a good idea? Really?

  13. sirwired says:

    It only costs $142 to ship something to China if you don’t do any research. Go to the USPS instead, and they’ll ship a 5lb package to China for about $50.

  14. mikedt says:

    I’ve bought more than a few things from Chinese vendors off ebay. Luckily all of them have been for things under $10 because I’ve gotten a few screwed up orders and their response is always “mail it back.” In every case, postage far outweighs the cost of tossing the item out and ordering off someone else.

  15. StarKillerX says:

    Not sure about the grounds for a chargeback in this case.

    Is a company expecting the customer to return an item they want a refund on being unreasonable? Even if the shipping rates quoted by her are accurate IMO that is simply the risk someone takes when they buy items directly from a foreign country.

    • RandomLetters says:

      If the item is as described in the OPs email then they didn’t just sell her defective goods but goods that they had no intention of being of a wearable quality (sort of like a Chinese version of a bait and switch IMO). So a chargeback seems like a very reasonable way to recover funds being stolen from her.

      • StarKillerX says:

        Awesome, so I can buy stuff from halfway around the world and if I’m unhappy with the item I should just keep the item and demand the CC company gives me my money back rather then return the item for a refund?

        • RandomLetters says:

          If the company selling to you is attempting to defraud you then yes, take your money back however you can.

          • StarKillerX says:

            How is saying “okay, send us our product back and we’ll refund your money” attempting to defraud her?

            • RandomLetters says:

              The fraud is that they sent the wrong product and the product they sent is of such poor quality its missing pieces and its falling apart. This company knows exactly how much it will cost to ship this item back to them so they are hoping that the buyer will just go away. Thats your fraud.

              • StarKillerX says:

                Yeah, how dare they sell substandard goods to people buying cheap chinese knockoff!

                Damnit, I bet their Guicci bags wont be as good as the real ones either. lol!

    • alulim says:

      The goods or services the OP purchased didn’t meet the advertised standard. The offer for a refund required unreasonable expense. Chargeback, problem solved.

  16. StarKillerX says:

    “But the hassle she is dealing with in returning it isn’t justified. Should consumer just assume they shouldn’t buy anything, ever, from China…and if the transaction goes bad it’s their own fault?”

    How is expecting her to return the dress she wants a refund for unjustified?

    The hassle/cost is simply the result of her ordering it from a foreign country, it has nothing to do with the dress or company that made it.

    • alulim says:

      The expense is in returning the item. The merchant can send a postage paid container and deduct that cost from the overall gross return. Offered, nope, chargeback..;.

  17. Portlandia says:

    It would seem that the time to research an unfamiliar company is BEFORE you buy rather than after there’s a problem.

    I can’t imagine parcel post or even airmail USPS is $140. Either way, the company should pay for return shipping since the product was misrepresented.

    Chargeback is the way to go.

    • StarKillerX says:

      It sounds like she ordered a cheap chinese knock off and she got exactly that so how is that misrepresented?

      • Portlandia says:

        yes, I’m sure she intentionally saw a dress and said let me spend 140 on a dress that I know will
        Fall apart as soon as I touch it. Since most of the products we buy are manufactured in china or Asia it isn’t unreasonable to get at least a usable garment at that price point.


  18. ecuador says:

    Ehh. This is simple. The op asked UPS for a quote. Instead, she should have asked USPS. It will be $30-$40 and that will be the price for the lesson learned.

  19. who? says:

    The problem with buying something directly from China is that Chinese companies will have two production lines, one for exported goods, and one for the domestic Chinese market. The export goods are what we see on our store shelves here. The stuff that’s made for the domestic Chinese market is of much, much lower quality. Chinese consumers are willing to put up with inferior crap if it’s cheap enough. For items where it matters, laptops for example, the western quality stuff is available, and middle class Chinese know to seek out the better stuff, but prices are about 20% more expensive than here. The rest of the stuff is essentially sold by the equivalent of street vendors, for cheap prices with no warranty.

    If you order something cheap directly from China, guess which production line it’s coming from?

    • alulim says:

      That’s fine if somewhere in the description is “second rate south east asian goods”. A lot of the knockoffs have left china, gone elsewhere, and now depend on wholesalers. If a good or service does not meet the description and no reasonable return policy is offered, a “chargeback” is the only alternative. That said,I, generally pay a few dollars more and generally buy it locally.

  20. Killj0y says:

    Burn the dress, mortar the ashes until they’ll fit in a standard business envelope, send it back postage due.

  21. lovemypets00 - You'll need to forgive me, my social filter has cracked. says:

    In cases like this, I wish we could learn the name of the website or company, so others can avoid the same problem!