For the 2nd time in about a year I ran into what appears to be a fraudulent seller on Ebay. The last time it was someone who messed up by purchasing a large lot of bad memory chips himself, but who still went ahead and sold it off on Ebay (see my earlier post about this incident). I was not successful in getting my money back from Paypal back then because of a technicality.
3 weeks ago I purchased a (luckily) very small and inexpensive item, 2 RCA extension couplers for about $5 including shipping. I never received anything, never got a response to my emails to the seller, and was unable to get in touch with him otherwise. The seller, James H Linker who does business out of Las Vegas, seems to have disappeared from the face of the earth. His feedback on Ebay is private, so I cannot see what the other people’s damage is, but his negative feeback count is going up every day (see this archived page with serenitydigital‘s feedback, which I am sure will not be accessible online much longer). What is striking, though, is that for the better part of 2 years he seems to have been receiving exclusively positive feedback. All the negative feedback is from the past month.
Why would someone risk his reputation as a seller for $5? What happened? Did this person have an accident, become ill, get deported from this country? Maybe I will never find out.
What prompted me to start another blog entry about this incident is my increasing frustration with Ebay and Paypal, though. These companies have been able to establish a quasi-monopoly and they are becoming very sophisticated in disenfranchising their users by making it so difficult to claim a loss.
Ebay no longer handles claims themselves, but referred me to the Paypal dispute process. I just started a dispute there. This will take many weeks. I am just waiting for Paypal to send me back to Ebay, and this process continuing back and forth until I become too tired to continue.
As I read through various policy documents online, I come across some interesting stuff. For instance, Ebay requires buyers to pay for an appraisal if one of their sellers sells you Chinese junk instead of that Louis Vuitton handbag that you always wanted … There is a growing number of little nuissances that one has to put up with as an Ebay shopper. Unfortunately, the options are limited when dealing with a monopoly. I will look for alternative sources in the future, maybe pay a little more for having peace of mind. Ebay’s business model is built on circumventing basic consumer rights that it took a century to establish in this country. If they prevail with this model, other stores will start cutting back on consumer protection as well. I don’t want this to happen. Let’s avoid Ebay!
later on 5/28: I just found this thread on the Ebay forums (6/11/2008: this link is no longer good since Ebay removed the discussion from the forum). Nobody knows anything and everybody is speculating. What is interesting, though, is that some of the comments pointed me to the seller’s page on Ebay. Here the feedback is visible, and wow, there is a lot of negative feedback.
Update 6/8: PayPal refunded the $5.something today. This is nice, but since PayPal’s communication makes it sound like they did me a favor, the positive outcome does little to improve my level of comfort as a buyer. I feel that I am at the mercy of Ebay/PayPal with no leverage if a deal blows up. In my experience this happens with one out of every 30 transactions.